OUR GOAL: Hold climate change to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius
Science shows that increases in global temperatures beyond 1.5 degrees literally put lives and livelihoods in jeopardy. As younger Canadians will bear the brunt of these risks, the escalating climate crisis is arguably the largest debt to be passed from one generation to the next in all of human history. That’s why we need to achieve a 45% to 60% reduction in emissions below 2005 levels by 2030 – on route to net zero emissions by 2050 – as has been affirmed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
For our goal to be meaningful (not just rhetoric), we need federal and provincial governments to commit to specific emissions reduction and adaptation targets, and to ensure we meet them by adopting strong accountability measures. We also need governments to motivate and adopt energy, building, manufacturing, transportation and agriculture practices consistent with a low carbon future, and to support communities and industries to make these transitions.
Table of contents
- Guiding principles
- Basic plan
We’re in this together
Climate change is the quintessential collective problem. It affects us all – and we all can (and need to) contribute to solutions. Recognizing that we’re all in this together entails sharing responsibility for achieving our goal, and ensuring positive collaboration between all levels of government – Indigenous, municipal, provincial, federal and global.
No One Left Behind
Vulnerability to the social, economic, health, and other impacts of climate change is uneven, so it’s important to pay attention to who’s likely to bear the greatest risks and costs as we design emissions reduction and adaption plans.
Of particular concern for Gen Squeeze is the fact that the lion’s share of climate impacts and adaptation costs will fall on younger people, simply because they will have to cope longer with a changing climate. To avoid the worst dangers of climate change, young people will have to change where they work, what they eat, how they commute, how they holiday, and much more. They’re left to shoulder this climate debt largely because older generations have so far chosen to avoid the inconvenience of making (and paying for) the policy, lifestyle, and other choices required to reduce emissions.
Some groups and communities will experience greater climate impacts because of the because of social and economic inequalities that shape our wellbeing and affect our ability to respond or adapt to changing climate conditions. Marginalization, discrimination, and social isolation can limit access to supports and services. Limited income may mean fewer options to prepare for or recover from climate damage. These uneven risks should be central to the design of climate change action plans, so that the benefits of climate action spread equitably across the country. This includes specific consideration for ensuring that climate action is undertaken in ways that advance reconciliation between Canada and Indigenous peoples.
In a large country like Canada, there are also regional differences in the impacts of climate change, and emission reduction and adaptation efforts. Regions most impacted by the transition away from fossil fuels should receive the support they need to secure a just transition. This includes attention to disproportionate impacts of climate change for northern, remote and coastal areas.
Uneven regional impacts also extend beyond Canada’s borders. We should consider historical carbon emissions using a global ‘fair share’ lens that considers discrepancies in the source of emissions (developed countries) versus who is experiencing a disproportionate share of the impacts (often developing countries). Our emission reduction and adaptation plans should help vulnerable regions and countries adapt to, or recover from, the impacts of a changing climate.
Reduce emissions AND adapt to climate risks
Reducing emissions is critical – there are plenty of data confirming that. But designing and implementing measures to adapt to our changing climate is also essential in order to reduce costs for our economy, infrastructure, and our health. As was confirmed in a 2022 report from the Canadian Climate Institute, combining emissions reduction with adaptation measures can reduce the costs of climate change by as much as 75% – considerably more than through acting on emissions alone.
Pillar one: Mobilize the market
Markets are powerful. The signals they send via the prices set for things we want, the supply of goods and services, or how they are taxed, all influence the choices we make about what and how much to consume. Market signals also provide incentives to purchase (or avoid) particular products based on how they affect things we care about – like our health, our pocketbook, or the environment. That’s why pricing pollution can motivate emitters to find cleaner options. It’s also why gas price increases are yielding numerous stories about people adapting to rising costs by driving less, taking transit more, or searching for more efficient vehicles.
Together, our decisions as consumers can help to mobilize the market to prioritize a healthy environment for generations to come. At the same time, our decisions about where to put our votes can point political leaders towards the measures we want them to take to marshal the power of markets for climate action.
Put a (high enough) price on pollution
One of the critical steps we can take to harness the power of markets to combat climate change is ramping up expectations for polluters to pay for their pollution now, versus punting these costs down the road for younger and future generations to pay.
In 2021, the Supreme Court of Canada affirmed that pricing pollution is constitutional – partly in response to a court intervention by the Intergenerational Climate Coalition, led by Generation Squeeze. That decision paved the way for Canada to put in place a nationwide carbon pricing system, one that directs revenue back to Canadians, and that leaves room for provinces and territories to design the specific pricing approaches that work in their jurisdictions. That’s a big step forward!
As inflation and living costs rise, however, our commitment to pollution pricing is under pressure. Questions are being raised about whether cutting things like carbon and gas taxes can help to reduce prices for Canadians, making it more important than ever to affirm that we can’t solve the squeeze on our wallets by ignoring or scaling back action on the climate squeeze. Evidence confirms that the short- and long-term damage caused by climate change will have escalating impacts on affordability and our economy, making it short sighted to think reducing or eliminating pollution pricing is the answer to a financially or environmentally sustainable future for Canadians. Instead, we need action to raise the price on pollution to levels that will provide a strong enough market signal to incentivize Canadian households, businesses, industries, and governments to do our part to limit climate change to 1.5 degrees.
As we raise prices on pollution, we should lower taxes on income for middle and lower earners. This tax shift will effectively ensure that things we don’t want (pollution) are taxed more while things we do want (labour and work) are taxed less. Income taxes could be lowered via cuts to tax rates, rebates (tax deductions or credits), dividends, or other similar mechanisms. The federal government's backstop plan for carbon taxation includes an income tax credit, an example of how we can pair market signals to reduce pollution and support productive paid work.
Eliminate oil and gas subsidies
We need comprehensive action to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies. Since these subsidies lower the price of something we don’t want (pollution), they make no sense if our goal is to incentivize a clean energy transition in line with 2050 net zero commitments. For markets to function, we need industries and consumers to understand – and respond to – the full costs of fossil fuel energy, including environmental and health impacts.
Invest in the green economy
We need action to get investors about the green economy, including:
- Mapping Canada's long-term path to a net-zero and climate-smart economy, sector by sector, with an associated capital plan
- Providing individual Canadians with incentives to connect their savings to climate objectives
- Establishing a standing Canadian Sustainable Finance Action Council to advise and assist the federal government in implementing the recommendation of the Expert Panel on Sustainable Finance
We also need action to bake sustainability into the financial system. Steps include:
- Establishing the Canadian Centre for Climate Information and Analytics as an authoritative source of climate information and decision analysis
- Defining and pursuing a Canadian approach to implementing the recommendation of the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures
- Clarifying the scope of fiduciary duty in the context of climate change
- Promoting a knowledgeable financial support ecosystem
- Embedding climate-related risk into monitoring, regulation and supervision of Canada's financial system – looking to the Canada Infrastructure Bank as an example
Finally, all Canadians should have options to invest in climate action. Action could include growing the number of green bonds, expanding Canada's green fixed income market, and promoting sustainable investment as ‘business as usual’ within Canada's asset management community.
Pillar two — Support Canadians to become climate leaders
Canadian businesses, workers, and communities can all take steps to become leaders in climate action, and to support just transitions towards a greener future for Canada.
Help Canadian businesses become cleaner and greener
Helping Canadian businesses, including farmers, to navigate a green economy transition includes supporting the adoption of new technologies, investing in research and development, and expanding strategies to share our expertise with the world. Necessary actions include:
- Reducing costs or other barriers to internal deployment of clean technology
- Supporting early-stage innovation, development, commercialization
- Exporting Canadian clean economy solutions for goods and services
Help Canadian workers join a clean economy education and skills strategy
Reorienting Canada’s workforce towards the green economy requires assessing needs and developing strategies for upgrading skills – including for workers in the fossil-fuel industry. We must also focus on training new workers who are ready for, and can help to build, the clean energy economy. Governments can then leverage this new supply of skilled workers to meet public procurement requirements, and to provide incentives for private investment. A strategy to support Canadian workers should intersect with plans to recruit skilled labour via immigration, but there should be an explicit commitment to hiring Canadian talent first for good-paying clean economy jobs.
Help Canadian communities transition to greener futures
Cities and towns across Canada will have to make the transition to greater sustainability. We need action to facilitate this transition in urban planning (to combat sprawl, and increase density and walkability); in building systems (to align with net-zero-emission objectives); and in community and economic development (to increase diversity, livability, and green economy sectors and jobs).
Pillar three — Upgrade our lives with a carbon makeover
A cleaner and greener Canada requires action to reduce the carbon we are using and emitting now. As discussed (below) under carbon budgeting, the scarcest resource in the fight against climate change is our atmosphere’s very limited remaining capacity to absorb carbon. We have to budget our carbon usage within this hard limit – or risk escalating weather extremes we are already witnessing. There are five immediate areas for action.
Clean and renewable electricity
We need action to move Canada toward 100% reliance on clean and renewable sources of electricity (which doesn’t include nuclear energy, because it is not renewable). This transition will require East-West intelligent grid connections that allow provinces producing low-carbon electricity to sell to their neighbours. It also requires the full range of potential clean electricity sources across Canada, including wind and solar. The potential for expanded wind and solar production in Canada is well documented, particularly in places like Alberta.
Alongside a clean supply of electricity, we need action to advance clean energy more generally. This includes:
- Transitioning away from oil and non-renewable gas production in a just way – ideally, not leaving anyone behind, and in line with aggressive reductions in domestic and global demand
- Clean electrification of industrial energy/power systems
- Capture of industrial non-energy emissions, such as methane leakage from oil and gas
Transportation accounts for one quarter of Canada’s carbon emissions. We need action to advance clean transportation for individual consumers, and across our transportation networks. This includes:
- Expanding the use of electric and hydrogen powered vehicles – and the infrastructure to support them, such as charging stations
- Growing public transit infrastructure – with over 80% of Canadians living in urban settings, fast and reliable public transit is a sound investment, both economically and environmentally
- Expanding active transportation options, including walking and cycling infrastructure
Zero-emission homes and buildings
We need action to advance zero-emission homes and buildings. This notably includes electrification of heating systems and enhanced energy efficiency – recognizing a limited niche role for renewable natural gas. Measures to reduce building emissions must be connected with efforts to restore housing affordability, given that the residential sector contributes one-quarter of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions. As we increase the supply of housing, and build more affordable rental and co-op units, we have a generational opportunity to ensure that those new homes are also green.
Smart land use
We need action to advance smart land use, particularly within urban settings. This includes action to combat urban sprawl, linked with our earlier focus on helping cities and towns to make transition plans. It also includes landfill gas capture, and protection of agricultural and greenbelt lands within and around urban boundaries.
Pillar four — Commit to carbon drawdown
Action is urgently needed to advance carbon drawdown and sequestration. Removing carbon from the atmosphere is necessary to help reduce some of the worst risks of climate change – emissions reductions going forward are no longer enough. This can be accomplished via the nature-based solutions, reform of agricultural practices, and by further exploring whether sequestration technologies can make meaningful and cost-effective contributions.
Protecting, managing, and restoring natural and human-modified landscapes is critical to reduce the worst risks of climate change, and to protect against climate change impacts already being felt in communities across Canada. Working with nature to reduce our contribution to climate change can be a path to win-win solutions that benefit people and the planet. Nature-based actions include:
- Protecting natural forests, grasslands, and wetlands
- Protecting, managing and restoring wetlands, peat bogs, and coastal ecosystems to drawdown carbon
- Transforming agriculture to grow and deliver more food using practices that regenerate soils, increase carbon stored in the soil, and reduce emissions
- Restoring coastal ecosystems to increase the carbon content of oceans
- Restoring degraded soils
- Planting trees
Evidence confirms that vast quantities of carbon are stored in soils, and that the dominant industrial food production system used in Canada has a large carbon footprints compared to other similar countries. Growing food using regenerative farming practices provides an opportunity for Canadian farmers to be leaders in reversing ecological and climate harm. These practices include increasing soil carbon sequestration by minimizing soil disturbance, maintaining soil cover using cover crops or crop residue, fostering plant diversity, decreasing synthetic fertilizer use by enhancing natural nutrient cycles, and improving water management.
Changing how food is grown in Canada without reducing food production can keep more carbon in the ground and out of the atmosphere – and to recapture existing atmospheric carbon in restored soil structures. At the same time, these measures yield important additional benefits, such as increased biodiversity, improved water resources, and enhanced protection from erosion and flooding.
Climate friendly food systems
Action is needed to ensure that the food we eat does not accelerate climate change, while also reducing food loss and waste. Globally, food systems (including agriculture) contribute one third of total carbon emissions. Eating sustainably produced food, more plant-based foods, in-season foods, and foods grown and processed locally, provides every Canadian with an opportunity to take individual-level action to curb climate change. This will require us to:
- Reduce meat consumption and transition to more plant-based foods to limit land clearing for livestock grazing, reduce intensive water and fertilizer use required for many livestock feed crops, and methane produced by many grazing animals (a potent greenhouse gas).
- Nudge Canadian farmers to transform their production to low-carbon and ecologically sustainable systems by increasing demand for climate-friendly and sustainably produced foods.
- Manage our supply chains to ensure that a greater share of the food consumed in Canada comes from low-carbon and regenerative agriculture systems, and is in-season and locally grown.
- Reduce food waste. More than half of food produced in Canada is lost as waste annually – much of which is edible and has potential to be repurposed to reduce emissions and address food insecurity. Avoiding food waste would reduce emissions almost instantaneously.
Although the jury is still out on the scale and value of technological solutions to reducing carbon emissions, these approaches may play a role in supporting transitions by industry, particularly in the fossil fuel sector. Technological solutions most visibly include capturing carbon already released into the atmosphere and sequestering it underground safely – often referred to as CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage).
A precondition for a viable approach to carbon capture and storage is greater certainty in carbon pricing, to enable businesses and investors to plan for larger, and longer-term, investments. The prospect of future governments changing course on carbon pricing commitments makes investments riskier, and capital harder to raise.
Pillar five — Weather the storm
Climate change is already having serious impacts on our lives, in the form of flooding, fires, extreme temperatures, and other hazards directly affecting our communities – with associated impacts on natural environments that affect food production, recreation, human health, etc. Eco-anxiety is also a concern, with evidence documenting the impacts of climate change on mental health and wellbeing, especially among youth.
As we implement the actions in the above pillars, we need also to plan to weather the storm that we’re already facing. Five areas of actions are outlined below.
We need action to reduce the hazards and disaster risks increased by rapid-onset climate-related events (like floods, wildfires, etc.). These actions should align with the four components of emergency management: prevention, preparedness, response and recovery.
Protect health and wellbeing
Climate change influences our health through changing disease patterns and exposures, poor air quality, and increased risks of water and food-borne contamination. At the same time, many social determinants of health influence the vulnerability of individuals or groups to the impacts of climate change, including income and social status, social support networks, education, and literacy. We need to increase the resilience of people and communities in the face of a broad range of health impacts associated with climate change.
Build resilient infrastructure
Infrastructure is all around us – road, buildings, bridges, powerlines, communications systems, water systems, and waste systems are all examples of infrastructure on which Canadians depend every day. However, much of this infrastructure is not resilient in the face of growing risks of damage and service disruption due to climate change, with the potential for billions in repair and adaptation costs. Meeting our emissions reductions commitments means building large amounts of new infrastructure, as well as retrofitting existing structures and systems. Designed wisely, new infrastructure can be more resilient to future climate impacts.
Support vulnerable regions and people
We need action to support vulnerable regions and people. This starts with special emphasis on Canada's northern, coastal and remote regions, given their particular vulnerability to climate change impacts (like permafrost thaw, coastal erosion and rising sea levels), and the often more limited supports and services available in these areas. It also includes understanding and responding to the needs of marginalized groups who are especially at risk to the social and economic impacts of climate change, and who may have more limited capacity to adapt to changing circumstances.
Build resilient supply chains
We need action to make our interconnected supply chains more resilient in the face of climate disruption. As much as is possible, we need to ensure the goods and services we import and export are not disrupted by climate impacts beyond our borders. This requires greater attention to assisting vulnerable countries and regions around the world to adapt and be resilient to climate impacts. It also motivates greater attention to things like local agriculture, to enhance domestic food security.
Canada has made important commitments to addressing climate change domestically, and as part of the global community. Strong accountability measures are necessary to ensure that we meet these commitments, and that there are consequences if we fall behind.
Our atmosphere has very little capacity left to absorb carbon without further undermining the climate now, and in the future. We need to ‘spend’ this scarce capacity as carefully as we spend our money.
Just as governments provide annual budgets identifying priorities and plans for allocating taxpayer dollars, we need governments to provide regular carbon budgets documenting how much carbon absorbing capacity is left, and what we will use this capacity for while we are on route to achieving net-Zero by 2050. Carbon budgets are a key way to signal to the market the urgency of operating within our very tight atmospheric capacity limits – and to therefore sufficiently value the actions needed to reduce carbon use, such as a high enough price on pollution. Carbon budgeting can also demonstrate to Canadians the value of supporting and investing in the clean energy transition through their own choices.
Empower independent oversight and advice
Canada has set many climate goals – and failed to meet them. To ensure better accountability for delivering on our commitments, experience in other jurisdictions confirms the value of independent bodies to provide non-partisan and evidence-based advice and monitoring of federal, provincial and territorial climate actions.
In particular, the Government of Canada should resource an expansion of the mandate for Canada’s Net-Zero Advisory Body (NZAB) to include a lead role in defining emissions reduction targets, and serving as a ‘watchdog’ for their implementation. Currently, net-zero legislation includes little reporting for actions prior to 2030, limited transparency in emissions modeling and projections, no requirement for independent advice, and no clear implications for failure to meet targets. Instead, the Act permits the government to self-determine whether it is on track to meet targets. Empowering the NZAB to provide independent monitoring and oversight will solidify accountability for meeting Canada’s climate goals.
Account for climate costs in planning
Climate risks and potential costs are not adequately accounted for in decision making by governments, businesses, or individuals. To account for the economic threats posed by a changing climate, we need governments to build climate impacts into economic analysis and decision making, so that all policy and budget decisions reflect the very real costs of choosing not to invest in emissions reduction and adaptation measures. In addition, governments should encourage (or require where possible) private sector actors to do the same in their risk management practices. Check out this resource from the Canadian Climate Institute for more information.
Capturing climate impacts in decision making would be facilitated by more and better data, and by mandatory risk disclosure. That’s why governments should accelerate climate risk disclosure practices across Canada, and generate more climate data to support them. This includes data on climate related infrastructure risks (currently inconsistent and incomplete), to enable all infrastructure owners and investors to account for climate risks in their decisions. Governments and regulatory bodies also should ensure that owners, lenders, investors and other financial system actors are analyzing, disclosing, and managing climate risk. The Canadian Climate Institute’s report on infrastructure risks and costs provides more information.
SOURCES FOR THE CLIMATE CHANGE GAME PLAN
- Pan Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change
- Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project
- Generation Energy framework
- Re-energizing Canada pathways
- Recommendations of the Expert Panel on Sustainable Finance
- Recommendations of the Expert Panel on Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience
- Project Drawdown
- The 2021 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
- Reports from the Canadian Climate Institute, notably: Damage control and Under Water
- Information on the potential for renewable energy production in Canada can be found here for solar, and here for wind
- Information on nature-based climate solutions
- Information on regenerative agriculture
- Information on carbon in soils
- Information on food production carbon footprints in Canada compared to other similar countries
- Information on greenhouse gas emissions from food systems
- Information on environmental impacts of food supply chains
- Information on greenhouse gas and the environmental impacts of dietary choices
- Data on food loss and waste