An 80% Carbon Reduction: It’s Not Just Business as Usual

January 21, 2013 electricity grid-shutterstock_36469870

By Ralph Torrie, Managing Director

An 80% reduction in Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions is achievable by 2050, according to the Trottier Energy Futures Project (TEFP)’s review of low-carbon scenario research from eight industrialized countries.

But the report, Low-Carbon Energy Futures: A Review of National Scenarios, shows that an 80% reduction is also transformative, requiring us to use energy and organize our economy in new and different ways.

The study captures key features, similarities, and differences in low-carbon energy scenarios produced in Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In all eight countries, deep GHG emission reductions relied on four types of changes:

  • Major improvements in energy efficiency
  • Greater reliance on electricity for heating, personal transportation, and some industrial processes
  • A transition to low- or zero-carbon electricity sources
  • Wider use of biofuels.

A Boom in Clean Energy Technologies

The Trottier Project undertook the National Scenarios research to make sure its own analysis and modeling was grounded in the best available work on low-carbon energy futures for wealthy, industrialized, largely urbanized countries like Canada.

That meant relying on the relatively thin body of research that goes beyond projections or wish lists of the low-carbon options that might be feasible by 2050: The studies were all based on long-range, quantitative scenarios that placed their analysis in the context of other desirable features of a future energy system, like resilience, sustainability, and economic efficiency.

The scenarios were all plausible, but they relied on levels and rates of new technology deployment that were larger than historical experience. To reach 80% by 2050, Canada would need a boom in clean energy technologies and low-energy practices on a par with the post-Second World War boom in fossil fuel consumption.

No one ever said it would be easy. But the scenarios show that an 80% GHG reduction is doable, and Canada has access to the same technologies and techniques that drove the eight national scenarios.

Which means the challenge for policy-makers and investors, designers and front-line practitioners is to push those options as far as they’ll go. The National Scenarios report gives us plenty of impetus and all the rationale we need to get started.

Click here to download a copy of Low-Carbon Energy Futures: A Review of National Scenarios.

Next: 80% Less Carbon: Get Ready for a Prosperous Future

Ralph Torrie is known for combining visionary thinking with rigorous analysis and has made original and important contributions in the field of sustainable development. He was the assistant coordinator of the Energy Research Group of the United Nations University and the International Development Research Centre, and went on to establish and run his own consulting firm. He pioneered the methods and conventions that are now used throughout the world in local greenhouse gas quantification and analysis. He is the co-inventor of environmental planning software that has been translated into several languages for use in more than 300 municipalities, companies and institutions on five continents. He has a lifelong interest in sustainable energy futures and produced the first low-carbon scenario analysis for Canada. He assembled and led the team that carried out the strategic policy analysis for greenhouse gas emission reduction for numerous public sector clients, including the States of California, Hawaii, Wisconsin, and Illinois, the governments of Canada and Ontario, the Western Climate Initiative, as well as a number of local governments including the County of San Bernardino and the City of Toronto. He is a recipient of the Canadian Environment Silver Award for his work on climate change response strategies.

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  1. Pierre Boileau says:

    Bravo Ralph,

    This is a critical piece of research in our quest for an energy revolution.



  2. Hi Ralph:

    This sounds like an important report. To be able to point to something Canada specific and say here is a plan we could follow, will be very useful.

    I look forward to looking at the details when time arises.

    Yours, Mike N.

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