Canada’s federal government is to negotiate with the provinces to achieve a nation-wide clean fuel standard that will cover not just what goes into the gas tank of your car, but into buildings and industry as well.
On Friday, environment minister Catherine McKenna announced the plan, which looks to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 30 megatonnes annually by 2030.
A handful of provinces already have fuel standards, but as with clean electricity policies, the regulatory challenge is complicated by a patchwork of different rules. Ontario and Saskatchewan have had renewable fuel requirements since 2007, under which gasoline or diesel must be blended with a minimum amount of renewable fuel. Some jurisdictions in addition require that the renewable fuels that are used in blending meet a certain greenhouse gas standard. British Columbia (BC) has the most stringent such rules, requiring a reduction in the full life-cycle emissions intensity of fuels, which means that emissions not just from combustion of a fuel, but all the emissions produced as a result of the manufacture of a fuel must be counted.
The federal plan aims to emulate the BC model, but extend it to heating fuels for homes and other buildings such as natural gas, as well as fuels such as coke used in industrial applications. Other fuels to be covered include propane and heavy-fuel oil, (HFO) used in furnaces or boilers, notably in ships and the pulp and paper industry, but also for the generation of substantial amounts of electricity in the Atlantic provinces
BC’s fuel standard has reduced GHG emissions by 0.9 million tonnes a year, and is responsible for a quarter of the province’s emissions reductions achieved between 2007 and 2012. The province expects this will reach a reduction of 3.4 million tonnes annually by 2030.
In addition, the new federal standard will employ a BC-style life-cycle analysis of fuels. This is likely to put the squeeze on many biofuels, as some first and second-generation biofuels have been found to be even worse than fossil fuels when all emissions involved in production are counted.
By preferring an emissions-performance based approach rather than encouraging a particular fuel option or technology, the government hopes other options such as electricity, biogas and hydrogen will also be promoted alongside low-carbon agricultural fuels.
Full details were not announced, as Ottawa must first negotiate with the provinces over what form the new rules will take, but the prime minister is set to discuss climate and energy policies at the First Ministers’ Meeting scheduled for 9 December. This meeting aims to finalise a national strategy that will meet Canada’s international pledge of reducing emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 – in other words, knocking the country’s emissions back to 524Mt per year. A discussion paper on fuel standards is to be published in February next year.
Energy economist Mark Jaccard helped design BC’s carbon tax, and he still supports it. But he questions just how politically viable a stringent tax—at the level needed to meet climate targets—can really be. So he also continues to explore how other policies that the public find more acceptable could work.