Federal watchdog warns Canada’s 2030 emissions target may not be achievable

Canada’s environment commissioner said on Tuesday the country may not be able to meet its 2030 emissions reduction targets because the federal government’s current plan is based on “unrealistic” assumptions about the role hydrogen will play in the energy mix in the years to come.

Commissioner Jerry DeMarco today released a series of audits that document the federal government’s shortcomings on the environment – including its failure to produce a meaningful “just transition” plan for energy workers. displaced by the transition to a low-carbon economy and inequalities the application of a supposedly national price on carbon emissions.

But DeMarco was perhaps most scathing in his assessment of the government’s hydrogen strategy, which he says is based on “overly optimistic” assumptions that “undermine the credibility” of the whole. of the government’s emissions reduction plan.

Speaking at a press conference, DeMarco said the government’s questionable hydrogen emissions targets “raise concerns about their overall approach to climate modeling and emissions reductions in general.” .

“Canada needs to be more upfront and transparent about its assumptions for what is a fairly optimistic view of the role of hydrogen,” he said. “They have to be realistic.”

The federal government is committed to reducing Canada’s emissions to 40-45% below 2005 levels by 2030 and is counting on the widespread deployment of hydrogen — a carbon-free energy source that produces no greenhouse gases when burned — to help the country achieve this goal. ambitious goal.

The departments disagree on the impact of hydrogen

Two federal departments – Environment and Climate Change Canada and Natural Resources Canada – have said rapid adoption of hydrogen will lead to significant emission reductions because it can replace high-carbon fuels. But the commissioner found that these departments could not agree on the amount of emissions that would be offset by its use.

Environment and Climate Change Canada said the use of clean hydrogen technologies could result in an emissions reduction equal to 15 megatonnes by 2030, while Natural Resources Canada estimates a contribution of up to 45 megatonnes.

People inspect a see-through model of the hydrogen-powered Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell at the 2015 Canadian International Auto Show in Toronto. (Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press)

The commissioner said the two departments are probably off the mark because they used “unrealistic assumptions to model the potential for hydrogen.”

The commissioner said Natural Resources Canada expects “ambitious technology adoption” over the next eight years — an assumption he says isn’t necessarily grounded in reality.

While the government wants to increase the use of hydrogen to significantly reduce emissions, it essentially has no meaningful plans to achieve this, he said.

Expensive hydrogen

The commissioner said so-called “green” hydrogen – a form of fuel that is produced by electrolysis with no resulting emissions – may not be widely used by the end of the decade because its cost is prohibitive.

According to the commissioner’s report, a gigajoule of natural gas costs about $3.79 to produce, while a gigajoule of green hydrogen costs more than $60 if produced from electricity from renewable sources such as wind and solar.

Because of this huge price gap, the industry has little incentive to produce green hydrogen.

Citing government data, the commissioner said the actual annual production of hydrogen in Canada is only about 3 megatonnes – almost all of it “grey” hydrogen, a dirtier form that produces about two times more emissions than natural gas.

The commissioner also said there were doubts about whether hydrogen could play a meaningful role in Canada in the short term, as very little infrastructure needed – such as hydrogen pipelines and liquefaction plants – are in place.

“Ambitious Numbers”

DeMarco also said there is not enough carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) technology in place to produce “blue” hydrogen, a form of fuel derived from natural gas by a steam methane reforming process. CCUS is a process that captures and reuses or stores carbon dioxide emissions.

While Natural Resources Canada has publicly stated that switching to hydrogen could account for up to 15% of the emissions reductions needed to meet the 2030 target, the commissioner said the department’s own internal figures, based on “additional demand reports”, suggest that hydrogen will contribute only 0.5% towards the 2030 target.

The commissioner said the department did not find these lower emissions reduction targets “compelling” and instead opted to use “more ambitious numbers” when developing its emissions modeling plan.

“In our view, this plan is not fully transparent as it includes assumptions that are unclear and relies on certain policies that are not announced or in effect,” the commissioner said.

If the government “does not appropriately project the impact of hydrogen on reducing emissions, there is a risk that Canada will not meet its emission reduction targets,” he said.

Commissioner berates Ottawa for its non-existent ‘just transition’ plan

DeMarco said the government has done little to prepare for an expected wave of layoffs in the energy sector as the country moves away from fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas. in the years to come.

DeMarco said the government had long promised to produce some kind of “just transition” plan to help affected workers with income and retirement support and retraining. He said the government had been “slow to get started”, had taken “little action” and was sadly “unprepared” for possible mass unemployment.

Workers perform maintenance on an oil rig in Alberta. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

He said the government’s recent approach to coal industry job losses – Ottawa is overseeing a complete phase-out of coal-fired power by 2030 – leaves a lot to be desired.

Rather than develop a plan to address the specific needs of laid-off coal workers, DeMarco said the federal government is relying heavily on the existing Employment Insurance (EI) program. It needs to take a different approach to other emissions-intensive sectors that are expected to see job losses, DeMarco said.

Without further action, the country as a whole could experience something similar to the disastrous cod moratorium in Newfoundland and Labrador, DeMarco said, which resulted in the loss of thousands of jobs and the hollowing out of regions. rural areas of this province.

There are approximately 170,000 direct fossil fuel jobs in Canada and there needs to be legislation and a plan “to support the future and livelihoods of workers and communities affected by the transition to a low-emissions economy.” carbon,” he said.

“The current pace of just transition planning will make it difficult to manage the upcoming changes in the labor market.”