Commentary

May 2016

Peter Boag 
President & CEO, Canadian Fuels Association
 

A lower carbon future – “We’ll take you there” 

 

How can we move toward a lower carbon (transportation) future…can we get there from here?

Two recent studies show deep GHG reductions are challenging to achieve, for our economy and particularly for transportation.    

The two reports - Canada’s Challenge & Opportunity: Transformations for major reductions in GHG emissions from the Trottier Energy Futures Project, and A Long Hard Road: reducing GHG Emissions in Canada’s Road Transportation Sector by 2050 from The Conference Board of Canada – come from different places but arrive at similar conclusions.  

While the Trottier report takes an economy-wide look at reducing fossil fuel consumption, the Conference Board report trains its eye on transportation challenges. 

Both studies are optimistic about the opportunities for near term progress, but see major challenges in achieving an 80% emissions reduction by 2050.  In examining potential reduction pathways, both reports flag significant and increasing marginal cost per tonne of mitigation costs.   

The Trottier report concludes that deep reduction pathways are “highly challenging and involve extensive energy conservation and efficiency measures, major restructuring of our energy infrastructure, deployment of promising but not yet commercially available technologies, and fundamental changes in how people think about and use energy”.   Reduction pathways come with uncharted abatement costs that “exceed $100 per tonne of CO₂-equivalent in the early years for all scenarios and increase over time to several hundred dollars per tonne (2011 dollars)”. 

Looking specifically at road transportation, the Conference Board observes that options do exist to achieve “significant reductions in Canada’s road transportation emissions”.  The Board cautions that many options are expensive and that “even as unit abatement costs are reduced, future emissions reduction may well reach a practical or economic limit” before these reductions can be achieved.   

Beyond abatement costs, a common thread that runs through both reports is the need for societal change to achieve deep reductions in Canada’s carbon footprint.  The Trottier report sums it up this way “the greatest challenge may not be technical or even economic as much as political and social/cultural. Deep GHG reductions will affect all Canadians and will therefore necessarily involve changes in lifestyle.”  The Conference Board echoes this in saying deep cuts “would require Canadians to make significant adjustments, including attitudinal and behavourial changes”.

At Canadian Fuels, we understand that ‘getting there from here’ will be a challenging journey, most definitely a marathon and not a sprint.   Like a marathon, the transition to a low carbon economy, and with it a low carbon transportation system, will require patience, perseverance and commitment from all Canadians.   We know that reliable, continuously improving petroleum fuels will have an enduring role as we make that transition.   It’s part of our brand promise - “We’ll take you there”.