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GHG Technology needs in a 2oC world: Deep Decarbonization Pathways for Canada

Canada’s 2oC Pathway. In the lead up to COP 21 and the development of Nationally Determined Contributions there is conjecture about the GHG reductions countries can deliver. The DDPP process, led by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, asked researchers from 15 countries, covering major emitters with 70% of global emissions to explore for their country a 2oC GHG pathway to 2050. To deliver the Canada chapter, Carbon Management Canada and Navius Research conducted economy-wide modeling to envision a 2o C GHG pathway where 2050 GHGs are 1.67 tonnes per capita, the DDPP global target for all countries.

For Canada, the DDPP scenario requires reductions from a BAU forecast of 900 Mt in 2050 to under 80 Mt. To model this transformation, we developed a technical potential scenario that deployed best in class technologies in all energy supply and demand sectors in the 2050 forecast. Issues of political and economic feasibility were set aside.

Deepening trends and NextGen pathways. The deep decarbonization pathway reveals two views on technology deployment. A deepening technology trends pathway builds on current technologies and policy trajectories. Standing out are energy efficiency trends in both vehicles and buildings, where building codes and vehicle efficiency regulations are continually ratcheting down, with current trajectories showing significant decarbonization. Contributing to this downward trend are global technologies spillovers as other countries also ratchet down standards and codes, sending signals that innovation pays, increasing energy performance and lowering technology costs. Deepening this trend is central to delivering on deep decarbonization at home and abroad.

A second deepening technology trends pathway is decarbonized electricity. All jurisdictions in Canada currently have regulations and incentive programs that are decarbonizing electricity. Doubling down on this trend is a major pathway opportunity for Canada.

But deepening current technology trends is not enough to align with the 2oC pathway. Instead there is a need to push hard into NexGen technologies in three areas. First, there is fuel switching to decarbonized energy carriers. This is particularly important in transportation where energy efficiency measures only deliver so much. To achieve the 2oC pathway in our scenario, optimistic assumptions were needed about the availability of NexGen biofuels, moving away from agricultural based feedstocks and into cellulosic ethanol. The scale of this transformation in the 2oC scenario is significant.

The second NexGen pathway is decarbonized electrification, where there is a significant expansion in low emitting electricity in the economy. In our scenario, renewable technologies can only go so far, necessitating the deployment of advanced forms of carbon capture and storage (CCS) on fossil based electricity. Expanded fossil electrification with some form of significant GHG controls is an important pathway.

The third component of any NexGen decarbonization pathway is controlling GHGs from industrial processes, especially in Canada’s oil sands. In the deep decarbonization pathway, virtually all industrial emissions in Canada need some form of carbon capture and storage, or other transformative technology.

There are clearly inherent risks in this NexGen technology pathway. The first is the heavy reliance on NexGen biofuels and CCS, which combined deliver more than half of all reductions. For both NexGen biofuels and CCS, technical feasibility remains a significant question, while other transformative technologies are slow to emerge. Further compounding the risk are weak global and domestic policy signals to innovate. This combination of limited technologies with questionable feasibility and weak signals to innovate indicate that a significant technology gap will remain for some time to come.

The technology narrative about deepening current trends and NexGen technology gaps reveals four policy lessons of interest:

  1. Deep decarbonization requires an increased level of global technology spillover and domestic innovation to drive down costs and increase feasibility.

  2. Global demand for Canadian petroleum products and natural gas in a decarbonized world is a significant uncertainty.

  3. Access to lower cost, globally sourced GHG reductions will be needed to back stop technology gaps and misaligned mitigation costs across countries.

  4. Significant global opportunity is emerging for low carbon technologies. It is clear that the global demand for primary and precious metals, biomass derived fuels, efficient vehicles and a host of other technologies will be significant.

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