Canada's new net-zero advisory panel to explore 'carbon budget' as part of 2050 goal

Report from Canada's climate change advisory panel says governments need to act "urgently" rather than wait and be forced to make steeper and more sudden emissions cuts later.

OTTAWA — The co-chair of an expert panel designed to advise Canada on how to reach net-zero emissions says it is exploring the idea of creating budgets for greenhouse gas emissions.

Dan Wicklum says the net-zero advisory body authored a report summarizing what other groups in Canada and beyond have said about ways to neutralize carbon-related emissions by 2050.

The Liberal government recent passed legislation enshrining this target into law, meaning by that year, whatever greenhouse gas emissions still get released must be offset by other measures.

The expert panel's first report says one of the principles that will inform the panel's future work is the need to "act urgently" and not wait too long to make steeper emissions cuts.

The panel found the plans most likely hit net-zero "are the ones that start now, use a carbon budget as a basic tool, and increase ambition to keep the 2050 goal within reach."

Generally, a carbon budget sets how many cumulative carbon-related emissions are allowed within a certain amount of time, which the report says means pollution has to fall to a certain level by a particular year.

Wicklum said in an interview that while the panel isn't recommending Canada adopt such a policy, carbon budgets are one way to measure progress.

"Intuitively people understand budgets," said Wicklum, who is president and CEO of the Transition Accelerator, a charitable organization.

"So the concept of a carbon budget is definitely something we'll be exploring."

The federal New Democrats recently aided the Liberal minority government to pass Canada's net-zero legislation, though insisting on amendments to increase the frequency of public reporting.

The Opposition Conservatives have panned the advisory panel as being stacked with so-called "climate activists," which it says threatens to provide advice that will harm the country's oil and gas sector, already hit with job losses. The panel of 14 includes Canadians with backgrounds in climate, labour and business.

Wicklum said more than 120 countries have set a goal to hit net-zero by 2050 and the issue is not one that pits the provinces or Western Canada against Ottawa.

"When I think of the oil and gas sector, they need to drive to net-zero because of this global imperative, not simply because of what the current national government is thinking," he said, adding the advisory panel doesn't represent specific interests.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 7, 2021.

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

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