1.1 Updating the possible pathways


The provision of energy services in all sectors is essential to move people and goods, heat buildings and ensure the operation of society as a whole. Moreover, at around 81% of Canadian greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, slightly over the world average, energy production, transport and consumption occupy a central place in climate mitigation efforts. Assessing the impacts of pathways to net-zero emissions societies thus requires a deep understanding of what the current and expected energy developments mean for Canada’s future, to help enlighten policy and investment decisions in trying to reach net-zero objectives. As a result, energy outlooks, which test various futures in these respects, are an essential tool for supporting this task.

Since the publication of the 2018 edition of the Canadian Energy Outlook (Langlois-Bertrand et al., 2018), Canada, like many other countries around the world, has pledged to transform its economy in order to reach net-zero levels of GHG emissions by 2050. All over the world, these announcements of net-zero targets have bolstered modelling efforts to help determine the implications of these targets for all human activities.

Net-zero emissions are defined in this Outlook as society-wide neutral GHG emissions for those falling under the jurisdiction of the Paris Agreement. Under this Agreement, each country is responsible for the total emissions generated directly on its territory, irrespective of the final beneficiary of the emissions. For example, the emissions generated during the extraction of lithium, its transformation and the production of the battery are assigned to the countries where each operation is performed, not to that of the final user. Therefore, as per this international treaty, net-zero requires whatever GHG emissions occur in a given society to be compensated by an equivalent amount of emissions captured from the atmosphere by the emitting society. Although some technical issues lead to variations in the specific accounting of these emissions—and, by extension, in the exact meaning of being “net-zero”—the general idea is that such a society would have no “net” impact on the atmosphere in terms of GHG emissions, thus limiting its contribution to global warming.

Like this Outlook, other modelling reports focusing on net-zero targets give primary importance to energy-related activities and fugitive emissions, and also discuss other sources of emissions, such as agriculture and industrial processes. In the last year or so, other Canada-wide modelling efforts are worth mentioning:

  • Canada Energy Regulator’s Canada’s Energy Future 2020 (CER 2020), which focuses on the evolution of the energy sector up to 2050; CER’s hypotheses form the basis for most Canada-wide modelling, including this Outlook.
  • Environment and Climate Change Canada, in Canada’s Greenhouse Gas and Air Pollutant Emissions Projections 2020 (ECCC 2020), projects the effects of current and announced policies on the evolution of GHG emissions until the next target year (2030).
  • Through 60 wide-ranging scenarios up to 2050, the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices’ Canada’s Net Zero Future: Finding our way in the global transition (Dion 2021) explores possible pathways to net-zero in order to identify safe-bet and wild-card choices.
  • Using an analytical approach that evaluates the relevance and technological readiness of technologies, the Transition Accelerator’s Pathways to net zero: A decision support tool (Meadowcroft 2021) provides an alternative strategy for projecting decarbonization pathways.