Canada’s biggest industrial emitters make progress on CO2 reduction, and economy still grows — imagine that!

Corporate Knights, Canada’s sustainable business magazine, crunched some recent numbers from Environment Canada and found that the country’s Top 10 industrial CO2 emitters reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by 9 per cent in 2008 compared to 2007. At the same time, the Canadian economy grew by 0.5 per cent. Given that the impacts of the economic downturn were felt mostly in 2009, an even greater drop is expected this year. Canada’s Top 350 emitters reduced greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 6 per cent during the same period. Toby Heaps, the magazine’s editor, said it’s proof that Canadian industry can meet carbon-reduction obligations while maintaining economic growth. “While our government says that reducing emissions by 20 per cent over 15 years is a heavy lift, our companies are showing the art of the possible: how almost half of that target can be pulled off in just one year,” said Heaps in a statement issued out of Copenhagen, where he attended the recent international climate talks. Corporate Knights is expected to have a more thorough analysis of the numbers in its January issue.

Ontario is pulling its weight, largely as a result of its coal-phaseout strategy, renewable energy deployment and conservation initiatives. As of the end of October 2009, greenhouse-gas emissions from fossil-fuel (coal and natural gas) power generation is down 40 per cent compared to same 10-month period the previous year, according to Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator. What can we expect with the introduction of carbon prices and a cap-and-trade system?

A recent research brief of New Energy Finance looks to Europe for answers. It found that five years after the introduction of a greenhouse gas emissions-trading system the European power sector is factoring carbon prices into future investment decisions. It also found that carbon prices are pushing the sector toward lower-carbon sources of electricity and accelerating the closure of the oldest and dirtiest fossil-fuel plants. “The answer is clearly that European power generators see that the EU ETS is here to stay and that it is starting to affect how they make multi-billion euro investments in new generation capacity,” said Guy Turner, the research firm’s director of carbon market research. “By 2020 the European generating fleet will be materially cleaner than it is today.”

Something to hope for? Let’s hope so. I’m more a fan of carbon taxes than cap-and-trade, but if the latter is designed correctly, and if we can learn off some of the early mistakes made by the Europeans, clearly it will drive emissions down. The question, then, will be how much it will drive them down, and whether it will be fast enough. That will ultimately depend on the price of carbon, and how many freebie carbon allowances are handed out to industry.

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