Climate Change is the long-term fluctuation in temperature, precipitation, and all other aspects of the Earth's climate due to natural greenhouse cycle and human induced greenhouse effect through the release of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
In 2007, the electricity sector accounted for 17% (126 Mt) of GHG emissions in Canada, down from a peak of 135 Mt in 2003. Recognizing the importance of proactively managing its GHG emissions while continuing to meet Canada’s electricity demand, the electricity sector has developed a broad spectrum of strategies to address GHG and other air emissions. Since the 1980s, the sector has made significant progress in managing its GHG emissions and supporting the development of cleaner, more efficient technologies.
The emission management successes experienced to date have been important, but significant further progress requires a long-term strategy that will facilitate a virtual transformation of the electricity sector. This transformation includes a transition towards low-emitting generation technologies, turnover of existing capital stock, increased energy efficiency and demand side management, and development of a smarter electricity grid. Such a transformation will require significant investment and innovation in the sector, facilitated by regulatory streamlining and certainty, as well as public education and outreach.
Recent Developments in Climate Change Policy
In the fall of 2009, Environment Minister Prentice indicated a ‘conditional’ plan to address Canada’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions would be announced prior to the December 2009 Conference of the Parties (COP) 15 meeting in Copenhagen. The plan would then be finalized when the US finalized its plan in order to ensure alignment – if not integration – with the US system. The US was also expected to develop an initial plan prior to Copenhagen in order to carry the current administration through Congressional Mid-term elections.
However, these intentions were confounded by both election speculation in Canada and by the fact that the US failed to announce a plan prior to Copenhagen due to its focus on domestic health care issues. As a result, the federal government retracted its intention to announce a plan prior to Copenhagen, stating that it would wait until after a US announcement or legislation in order to ensure alignment.
At COP 15, member states failed to reach an agreement which all parties accepted. The result of negotiations was the Copenhagen Accord, crafted by only a small number of countries – the United States, China, India, Brazil and South Africa. The Accord requires developed countries to submit GHG reduction targets for 2010 by January 31, 2010.
ELECTRICITY INDUSTRY RESPONSE
The Canadian electricity industry is committed to taking action on climate change and improving environmental performance while maintaining a reliable and cost-effective supply of electricity. Electricity generators have already made gains in areas such as low-emission technologies, energy efficiency, emerging renewable power, and emission offsets.
In addition, CEA is also a key member of the Conference Board of Canada’s Centre for Clean Energy, which is studying means to design and manage a transition toward clean energy systems.. CEA also supports the Clean Energy Dialogue, established in February 2009 by Prime Minister Harper and President Barack Obama to identify ways Canada and the US can jointly develop clean energy solutions to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) and combat climate change.
Currently, the electricity industry is working cooperatively with the federal government to find an equitable approach for emission reductions. Measures to address electricity sector GHG emissions and broader air issues must be designed, however, to address the diversity of technologies, fuel/generation sources, environmental pressures, political and socio-economic climates from region to region. Strategies adopted to address these issues generally adhere to a set of principles aimed at optimizing solutions:
- Continued provision of safe, cost-effective, and reliable electricity;
- Integrated management of GHGs and other air pollutant emissions (SO2, NOX, PM, Hg, and CO2);
- Accommodation of full fuel/generation source diversity;
- Consideration of regional differences, in electricity supply and demand as well as air quality issues;
- Flexibility of implementation mechanisms, allowing a full array of market and other instruments; and
- Consideration of GHG policies of the US, Canada’s primary trading partner.
With these principles in mind, companies are working along the four basic paths available for effectively managing air emissions: reducing electricity demand; reducing emissions associated with electricity generation; capturing/controlling emissions; and reducing emissions from other sources (offsets). Companies are developing and implementing strategies that incorporate some or all of the above pathways. Significant work has also been done through the implementation of processes and technologies that effectively reduce the level of emissions from generation and control releases. Ongoing research and development will continue to improve the effectiveness of these approaches. The industry also continues to pursue strategies to address GHG emissions that have significant implications for air quality emissions.
In order to facilitate a wholesale transformation of the electricity industry to one that can both meet electricity demand and reduce GHGs, significant investment and innovation in the sector is required – the International Energy Agency (IEA) projects required investment in Canada’s electric sector by 2030 to be on the order of $200 billion (CAN). To facilitate such investment and innovation, the sector requires increased regulatory streamlining and certainty, including clarity on federal government policies for reducing GHGs.
Director, Generation and Environment
- Poised for Transformation: Policy Priorities of the Canadian Electricity Industry (pdf) August 2009
- Managing Electricity Greenhouse Gas Emissions (pdf) February 2003
- CEA Letter to Ministers Addressing the Electricity Industry's Approach to the Kyoto Protocol (pdf) October 15, 2002
- CEA Perspectives: Electricity and Climate Change (pdf) October 2002
- The Emissions Performance Equivalent Standard, A Proposal by the Canadian Electricity Association (pdf), June 2002
- Electricity and Climate Change; Towards a Sustainable Future (pdf) February 2002
- CEA Commentary on the Federal Discussion Paper on Climate Change, CEA (pdf) June 2002
- Edison Electric Institute
- Natural Resources Canada: Climate Change Site
- Environment Canada: GHG Division
- US-Canada Clean Energy Dialogue