Tyrone Burke, May 10, 2021
Transition Accelerator Report Assesses Pathways to Net Zero Emissions for Critical Sectors of the Economy
It is time for a major shift in the way that we approach the climate problem.
That’s the message of Pathways to Net Zero a new report from Transition Accelerator, a pan-Canadian Charity that works with groups across the country to solve business and social challenges while building viable transition pathways to a future with net zero emissions.
According to the report’s lead author Dr. James Meadowcroft, Canada must focus on measures to accelerate the transformation of the large-scale systems of social provisioning, such as the way we produce and distribute energy, move people and goods, and build our cities. These are at the source of our greenhouse gas emission problems, and focusing on key sectors will yield better results than trying to do a little bit of everything to find the lowest cost emissions reductions and meet short-term targets.
“To make progress on decarbonization, we need to define sector and regional pathways to build improved systems that can satisfy Canadians’ aspirations for better economic, health, welfare and environmental outcomes, while also meeting net zero goals,” explains Meadowcroft, a Research Director at Transition Accelerator and a Professor in Carleton’s Department of Political Science and School of Public Policy and Administration.
“This means defining inspiring visions of the future, as well as detailed pathways for how to get there. These pathways to net zero are not only about technology, but also about the sequences of changes to business models, social practices, and regulations that can make transformation possible.”
Pathways to Net Zero was written as a tool for those making climate policy and investment decisions. The report provides assessments of pathway elements for eight critical sectors, including transportation, housing, power generation and agriculture.
According to Meadowcroft, a sector-based approach is important because the obstacles to change and enabling factors vary across different sectors of the economy. Moreover, each sector is at a very different phase of its transition, and policies should be tailored to the actual conditions of a sector.
The report takes a transition and an energy systems approach, distilling lessons from historical transitions, such as the construction of railways, the birth of the automobile, or development of the internet. It evaluates the state of play in each sector, and provides a multi-criteria assessment of options for a low-carbon transition.
Some sectors already have clear solutions, and Meadowcroft emphasizes that government should act now to accelerate deployment of low-carbon technologies in those sectors. For example, there are already multiple carbon-free electricity generation technologies – they just need to be deployed more widely. Similarly, electric vehicles have emerged as the answer for light duty road transport, and we already have many of the tools required for mass building retrofits.
But not every sector has a readily available low-carbon alternative. In heavy industry, aviation, and agriculture, Meadowcroft argues that the focus should be on further research, development, and experimentation to develop solutions that can be scaled up once they are ready to be deployed.
“Governments have to step up to make choices and define priorities. The state has always played an important part in major transitions. Governments played a major role in building railroads, introducing nuclear power, and developing the oil sands,” Meadowcroft argues.
“For vehicle electrification, we need to move beyond incentives for EV purchases, and in to policies that accelerate EV deployment. We need to build a charging network, and ensuring an expanding supply of vehicles through a Zero Emission Vehicle Mandate. We need to set an explicit phase-out date for the sale of internal combustion vehicles, and to develop the zero emission vehicle value chain in Canada, so that there are economic prospects and jobs in this industry in Canada going forward.”