How Lessons from Business Can Help Canada’s Climate Agenda

FROM THE NOVEMBER ISSUE: Canada's business sector can help the country realize its climate goals.
By Andrea Kent | October 16, 2018

Before the inauguration of President Trump, the unravelling of the North American Free Trade Agreement, or the interprovincial  disagreement on how to best tackle change, Prime Minister Trudeau promised decisive action.

Many forget that in 2015, on the very top of the Canadian government’s to-do list was an ambitious plan to reduce emissions, put a price on carbon, deliver green jobs and spur innovation in a thriving clean-tech industry. In fact, the liberal party’s 2015 election platform was crystal clear in its published plan, “Real Change: A New Plan for Canada’s Environment and Economy.” It states, “It is time Canada put a price on carbon pollution. We’ll work with the provinces within 90 days of the Paris U.N. climate change conference to establish a framework for reducing Canada’s collective carbon footprint. We’ll invest in clean technologies. We’ll look to the future and develop a Canadian energy strategy that delivers security and energy conservation while investing millions in new clean tech.”

Nearly three years into its mandate, the Trudeau government is rounding the corner on reaching some of the key priorities of its climate agenda. The federal carbon pricing system will apply on Jan. 1 in each province or territory that requests it, and in any jurisdiction that does not have a carbon pricing system that meets the federal benchmark. For the Clean Fuel Standard, proposed regulations regarding liquid fuels are expected in spring 2019 and final regulations in 2020, with requirements coming into force by 2022. For gaseous and solid fuels, proposed regulations will come in fall 2020 and final regulations in 2021, with requirements coming into force by 2023.

The stakes are high—for the government, the climate, and Canada’s domestic ethanol producers. For example, of the CFS’s 30 megatonne greenhouse gas reduction target, ethanol alone can deliver up to 15 megatonnes should the policy optimize ethanol’s potential. 

Progress is being made but the transition to low carbon fuels is complex. Understandably, the government has relied on extensive consultations and stakeholder engagement as part of its policy design process. Renewable Industries Canada (RICanada) thinks productive consultations are essential for policies like the CFS to execute and deliver. And everyone at the proverbial table has to come forward with solutions. 

Industry, such as the businesses represented by RICanada, needs to share its practical understanding of what it takes to compete, grow market share and effectively deliver goods and services to consumers. For its part, the government should design policies that help keep that marketplace competitive and responsible. It’s a healthy balance and an important relationship, and one RICanada’s founding member companies are proud to be part of.

As private sector companies, RICanada’s founding ethanol members (Greenfield Global and IGPC Inc.) are already taking it upon themselves to find ways to make their ethanol less carbon-intensive on a life cycle basis by reusing and selling the carbon dioxide (CO2) the plants produce, among other efforts.

One example is partnerships to sell the CO2 from the fermentation process to other companies, allowing it to be reused instead of going to waste. Some of it is sold for use in other industrial processes or even in the food and flavor market in carbonated drinks. This helps ensure every step of the biofuel production process is the least carbon-intensive possible. Greenfield Global, in collaboration with municipal partners, has developed a large-scale anaerobic digester adjacent to its Varennes ethanol plant to convert organic waste into biogas (methane and CO2). The biogas is piped into Greenfield’s ethanol plant, significantly lowering the carbon intensity of the ethanol produced. These are just some examples of how the private sector is already thinking of economically viable solutions that better the health of the planet and work for their businesses.

The benefits of biofuels to the Canadian economy are real. The biofuels industry contributes $3.5 billion each year and creates approximately 14,000 direct and indirect jobs in the country and more than 1,000 direct and indirect jobs annually. The benefits of the CFS are also poised to be real. The CFS can be an opportunity to harness the expertise of business leaders, who successfully built Canada’s renewable fuels industry, to develop policy solutions that will work for both the economy and the environment.

The relationship between business and government works best when economic enterprise and public policy collaborate. As the government reaches this pivotal time for implementing the CFS and other carbon-based policies, the perspective of renewable fuel producers and clean tech businesses can be especially useful. After all, RICanada’s member companies prove that climate policy doesn’t need to be the economy versus the environment when ethanol is part of the mix.

Author: Andrea Kent
Vice President of Government and Public Relations, Greenfield Global
Board Member, Renewable Industries Canada
[email protected]