Generally Eclectic

January 1, 2016

A New Year's Message to Canada's First Ministers on Climate Change Plans for 2016

Congratulations on your work with other world leaders to create a consensus among nations to address climate change, the greatest world challenge since the rise of the nation state.

Congratulations as well for your commitment to work toward a uniquely Canadian strategy to address Canada's climate change challenges.

Nevertheless, as you are aware, climate science tells us that emissions need to approach zero, the sooner the better and no later than mid century. This will require a major transformation of Canada's economy in little time.

Current focus is on carbon taxes and 'cap and trade' programs. They are market-based programs which rely on price and cost mechanisms to decrease emissions. Significant activities and their related emissions will not be addressed by price and market mechanisms. For example, activities based on capital equipment will likely continue until the capital equipment needs replacement. Essential activities for which there is no readily available alternative technology will likely continue regardless of price. Price is not the only factor influencing citizen and business activity.

Consequently, to complement these market and price-based programs, alternative approaches are necessary. One alternative is to assume a low emissions future, and figure out the actions necessary to get there. Within this alternative approach, here are a number of actions that can be taken now, at relatively little cost.

Citizen Mobilization

The mobilization of Canadians to a common cause can produce amazing results. This occurred during two world wars. Canadians can be mobilized to address climate change, with major results. In fact, it is difficult to imagine a low emission future without citizen mobilization. Citizen mobilization requires clear and informed explanations of the implication of global warming for Canada. These explanations have not been forthcoming from Canada's governments.

  1. You can inform Canadians about the effects of global warming on Canada, including not only the local regional effects (droughts, loss of coastal land from rising sea levels, severe storms and related flooding, declining water supplies, melting permafrost), but also the impact on Canada from geopolitical events (mass migrations, destabilization of nation states, border disputes) resulting from droughts, crop failure, sea level rise and the creation of large tracts of unlivable land in North and South America and elsewhere.

Residential, Commercial and Institutional Emissions

These emissions come from the air and hot water heaters that use fossil fuels in homes, apartments, stores, offices, hospitals, schools and other institutions. Emissions totalled 9.9 percent of Canada's emissions in 2012. Of this, 5.9 percent occurred in the residential sector, and 4.0 percent in the industrial sector. For the most part, electrical energy can replace the combustion of fossil fuels. These emissions are not typically covered by 'cap and trade' systems, and would be sensitive to the price of fossil fuels only in new installations and equipment replacement, which occurs every fifteen to twenty years.

Here are some steps that you can take:

  1. You can alert owners of homes, commercial and institutional buildings that eventually they will need to convert to electrical energy at some time in the future and can encourage them to consider carrying out the replacement at the first opportunity when existing equipment needs replacement.
  2. You can instruct those responsible for residential, commercial and institutional building codes to develop codes that address the need for a low emission future. These codes could include the relatively simple requirement that new residential housing be pre-wired for electric furnaces and water heaters and vehicle plug-ins, on the premise that building created now will at some point use electrical energy for heating. In addition, building standards could maximize the potential for solar energy collection.
  3. You can ask municipal and community planners to create real estate development standards to accommodate a low emission future. The standards could include development designs that take maximum advantage of renewable energy sources such as solar and geothermal, and development-wide energy storage system.

Solid Waste Disposal on Land

Solid waste disposal on land accounted for 2.7 percent of Canada's emissions on land. As you are aware, burying paper, food waste and some other organic compounds in landfills eventually leads to the creation of methane, a greenhouse gas significantly more harmful than carbon dioxide. You can bring these emissions close to zero by:

  1. Encouraging municipalities and industry to develop waste management systems that keep these materials out of landfills, if they have no already done so.
  2. Informing Canadians of the importance of keeping these materials out of landfills, using existing recycling systems and composting where recycling systems do not exist.
  3. Ensuring that the operators of existing landfills maximize the collection of methane and either its utilization or combustion.

Food and Agriculture

Canadian agriculture accounted directly for 7.8 percent of Canada's emissions in 2012. Of these direct emissions, 4.3 percent came from agricultural soils, in large part due to fertilizers. Another 2.6 percent came from fermentation in animals, and a further 0.9 percent came from manure management. Indirectly, the production of ammonia and nitric acid, chemicals used to produce fertilizers, accounted for about 1 percent of Canada's emissions, and emissions from stationary agricultural sources (barns and equipment) accounted for almost 0.5 percent.

Changes in Canadian food choices and development of technologies for nitrogen fixation would substantially reduce Canada's agricultural emissions. Immediate steps you can take include:

  1. Advising Canadians of the emission implications of their food choices, particularly in relation to meat and dairy.
  2. Allocating research funding toward the development of nitrogen fixation technologies for crops relevant to Canada.
  3. Ensuring trade agreements do not hinder Canada's efforts to reduce emissions.
  4. Working with farmers, universities, scientists and industry to reduce agricultural-related emissions.


Railroads accounted for 1.1 percent of Canada's emissions in 2012. The technology to reduce if not eliminate these emissions - electrified rails - is in place in many places around the world, Overall, railways should fare well in a low emissions world, because they offer energy efficient transportation, they have the potential to operate with low emissions, and trade patterns should shift in their favour, as air and marine transport decline in a zero emission world.

  1. You can invite Canada's railroads to outline their operational plans for a low emission world.
  2. You can ensure that public infrastructure such as bridges and tunnels can accommodate electrification and other plans of the railroads.


In 2012, domestic aviation accounted for 0.9 percent of Canada's emissions, while international emissions were 1.3 percent. In addition to greenhouse gas emissions, air travel contributes to global warming through their condensation trails. To date, the primary response of the aviation industry is to increase the energy efficiency of aircraft. There are limits to this approach.

  1. You can request Canada's airlines to outline their operational plans for a low emission world, as the start of a dialogue on the industry's future.


Emissions from Canada's manufacturers accounted in 2012 for 14.3 percent of Canada's emissions, of which 6.2 percent came from the combustion of fossil fuels for energy and 8.1 percent from industrial processes. For the most part, current technologies can replace fossil fuels as an energy source. Carbon taxes and "cap and trade' programs can aid the replacement process. However, it is unclear what can be done to replace emissions related to industrial processes.

  1. You can invite manufacturing sectors to outline how they plan to reduce emissions in a low emission world, and where necessary, undertake to assist with research to reduce emissions, particularly in relation to industrial processes.

Renewable Resource Development Plan

In 2012, 81.0 of Canada's emissions were tied to energy. In a low emission world, fossil fuels will need to be replaced as an energy source. In 2012, Canada met 79 percent of its energy needs from fossil fuel products. Given challenges with nuclear energy, Canada will need to rely on renewable sources. As a large country with long tidal coast lines, abundant sunshine, plenty of wind, and considerable thermal resources, Canada is awash in renewable energy sources. The challenge is the development these sources into electrical grid systems that are sufficient, efficient and reliable. Planning is needed to guide the development of these renewable sources to complement the current approach to electricity systems, which relies ad hoc renewable energy developments that are accommodated within existing electrical grids.

  1. You could invite energy planners from across Canada to design a sufficient, efficient and reliable energy system for a low emission future based on current and expected renewable technologies, as a long-term planning tool.

Economic Transformation

We as Canadians and you as our political leaders are challenged with the need to transform Canada's economy toward a low emission society by mid-century. The foregoing suggestions can have a significant long-term effect at relatively little cost. They complement current plans for carbon tax and 'cap and trade' programs.

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