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Shaping the Canadian

Low-Carbon Economy.

A Discussion Paper

At a Glance

• Canada’s transition toward a low-carbon economy has begun. Ambitious targets

have been set internationally and domestically, and the policy framework to guide

the transition is being actively debated on a daily basis.

• Many businesses and institutions are examining options for reducing their

greenhouse gas footprint, and some are exploring new growth opportunities in a

lower-carbon world.

• An initial pan-Canadian policy framework has been introduced but is still a work in

progress, with differences on objectives and policy in some important areas.

• This discussion paper articulates and develops an overall framework that will help to

define the research program for a new centre at The Conference Board of Canada,

the Centre on the Low-Carbon Growth Economy.

BRIEFING MARCH 2017


For the exclusive use of Glen Hodgson, hodgson@conferenceboard.ca, The Conference Board of Canada.

Shaping the Canadian Low-Carbon Economy

A Discussion Paper

Executive Summary

Canada’s transition toward a low-carbon

economy has begun. Ambitious targets have

been set internationally and domestically,

including the goal of reducing greenhouse

gas (GHG) emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.

The policy framework to guide the transition,

and specific proposals and actions, are now

being actively debated on a daily basis. Many

businesses and institutions are examining

options for reducing their GHG footprint, and

some are exploring new growth opportunities

in a lower-carbon world.

Yet these are still early days; progress is uneven across Canadian

sectors, regions, and governments. An initial pan-Canadian policy

framework has been introduced but is still a work in progress, with

differences on objectives and policy in some important areas.

At this still-early stage of development, now is a good time to articulate

and develop an overall framework for shaping the low-carbon economy

in Canada. The framework outlined in the discussion paper will help to

define the research program for a new centre at The Conference Board

of Canada, the Centre on the Low-Carbon Growth Economy.

We envisage four cornerstones for the ongoing low-carbon

transformation in our economy: energy consumption; its complement,

energy efficiency; energy production and generation; and engaging firms

of all types and sizes in the low-carbon business opportunity. The first

two cornerstones represent changes in our approach to the consumption

of energy resources and services; the third, the supply of energy

and related technology, goods, and services; and the fourth, a mix of

strategies as some firms adopt approaches to reduce energy costs, and

others seek business opportunities by engaging in the clean technology

value chain for innovative low-carbon goods and services. Each of the

four cornerstones is developed in detail in the discussion paper.

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In a wellfunctioning

democracy,

the public must

continue to buy

into any transition

process.

An array of policy tools will need to be developed and enhanced, which

can help to guide the transition. These tools include:

1. Carbon pricing: Carbon pricing is an anchor policy for changing

incentives for consumers and businesses to reduce their carbon

consumption. A carbon price creates incentives to innovate and reduce

the consumption and production of hydrocarbons and GHG emissions

with a significantly lower impact on GDP than relying on regulations.

2. Standards and regulations: Developing and implementing regulations

and standards that are complementary to carbon pricing will help to

ensure full policy coverage, effectiveness, and fairness. For example,

best-in-class building codes, construction methods, and emissions

standards for vehicles can be more effective in achieving lower future

GHG emissions than relying on carbon pricing alone.

3. Policy spending and investment: The overall structure and specific

nature of government spending and investment can directly influence all

four low-carbon cornerstones. Seeking ways to reduce GHG emissions

should be a mandatory criterion when creating strategies, and evaluating

proposals, for new government spending and investment.

4. Low-carbon government procurement: Governments are significant

purchasers of goods and services, and their procurement policies

and practices should be aimed at reducing GHG emissions.

5. Carbon credits and other policy tools: To hit emission targets, Canada

and its provinces could purchase carbon credits from other jurisdictions

(like California) that are more advanced in building a low-carbon

policy framework.

In a well-functioning democracy, the public must continue to buy into any

transition process. The pace of change therefore matters, to maintain

and build public support for the low-carbon transition. We believe

a successful strategy would articulate how the Canadian economy

will transform toward low carbon while sustaining sufficient inclusive

economic growth, with broad buy-in by consumers and businesses.

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For the exclusive use of Glen Hodgson, hodgson@conferenceboard.ca, The Conference Board of Canada.

Shaping the Canadian Low-Carbon Economy

A Discussion Paper

Context

Canada’s transition toward a low-carbon economy has begun. Ambitious

targets have been set internationally and domestically, including the

“stretch” goal of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 80 per

cent by 2050. The policy framework to guide the transition, and specific

proposals and actions, are now being actively debated on a daily basis.

Many businesses and institutions are examining options for reducing

their GHG footprint, and some are exploring new growth opportunities

in a lower-carbon world.

Yet these are still early days; progress is uneven across Canadian

sectors, regions, and governments. An initial pan-Canadian policy

framework has been introduced but is still a work in progress, with

differences on objectives and policy in some important areas.

Now, at this still-early stage of development, is a good time to articulate

and develop an overall framework for shaping the low-carbon economy

in Canada—what it might look like and the policies and practices that

will guide us there. The framework outlined in this discussion paper will

help to define the research program for a new centre at The Conference

Board of Canada, the Centre on the Low-Carbon Growth Economy.

Why Is the Conference Board the Right

Organization to Form the Centre on the

Low‐Carbon Growth Economy?

• The Conference Board has a critical mass of expertise in research and

facilitation, and a long track record of producing results, which sets it

apart from many other applied research organizations in Canada. 1

• It has the demonstrated capacity to conduct comprehensive analysis

of the priority elements of the low-carbon economy, as will be discussed

in detail in this paper.

• It has demonstrated market leadership in quantitative economic analysis

and research, using detailed macroeconomic and sectoral energy

1 See Appendix A for a detailed list of activities in the area of energy and environment.

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models, and in public policy research. It can therefore link together

environmental policy options and economic and fiscal impacts.

• The Conference Board understands both the public policy context and

the perspectives of business, which positions it well to identify growth

opportunities from the low-carbon economy.

• It has convening powers with many parts of the economy and society—

business, government, academia, and civil society—and can create

forums for open conversations based on evidence.

• Its mandate is to provide independent evidence-based analysis and

advice, not to advocate for specific interests or causes.

Underlying Assumptions

Societal consensus is building and maturing quickly on the need to

reduce Canada’s GHG footprint significantly. Most Canadians appear

to understand that climate change is real and something must be done

to reduce global GHG emissions and adapt to the new climate reality,

which is allowing the discussion in Canada on carbon pricing and other

policy instruments to advance. However, as is often the case, the debate

is at times being polarized by those most at risk of disruption and those

with ambitions and high expectations from new opportunities.

As a collective, Canadians are still seeking how best to embark on

this ambitious journey, with measures to smooth out the transition and

promote systemic growth. More consensus-building will be required.

The public seem increasingly ready to accept and vote for low-carbon

change—if it does not severely constrain our standard of living and

lifestyles. Gloom-and-doom scare tactics have not worked in building

public support for change; a more successful strategy would be to

articulate how the Canadian economy will transform toward low carbon

while sustaining sufficient and inclusive economic growth. Canadians

are most likely to be looking for steady, progressive change over time.

The pace of change also matters, to maintain and build support for

transition to a low-carbon economy. In a well-functioning democracy,

the public must continue to buy into any transition process.

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For the exclusive use of Glen Hodgson, hodgson@conferenceboard.ca, The Conference Board of Canada.

Shaping the Canadian Low-Carbon Economy

A Discussion Paper

Role for the Centre on the Low-Carbon

Growth Economy

As it builds its operations, the Centre should develop an array of communications

channels—conventional, digital, social media, etc.—for sharing its research

and activities, and for regular engagement of the public in its activities. Regular

surveys on the attitudes and actions of Canadians, and their views on possible

trade-offs, should be undertaken in order to create a more structured feedback

loop, which could help governments to calibrate the policy direction and pace

of change.

Four Cornerstones of the Low-Carbon Economy

What could Canada’s low-carbon economy look like? How will it be

shaped? We envisage four cornerstones for the ongoing low-carbon

transformation in our economy: energy consumption; its complement,

energy efficiency; energy production and generation; and engaging

firms of all types and sizes in the low-carbon business opportunity.

The first two cornerstones represent changes in our approach to the

consumption of energy resources and services; the third, the supply

of energy and related technology, goods, and services; and the fourth,

a mix of strategies as some firms adopt approaches to reduce energy

costs, and others seek business opportunities by engaging in the clean

technology value chain for innovative low-carbon goods and services.

The following sections outline and develop what each of these

four cornerstones might look like in the decades ahead as both

a likely and a desirable outcome to the transition.

1. Energy Consumption

The first cornerstone of the low-carbon economy is energy

consumption—specifically, shifting the sources of energy consumed. If

Canada is to steadily reduce its GHG emissions, it will need to change

how it consumes energy—how and why we use energy, as well as

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the technologies and fuels we rely upon. Fundamentally, this means

a steady transition toward lower-carbon sources of energy for heat,

transportation, and other uses. Energy consumption will have to shift

progressively toward electricity in many areas, with a growing reliance on

renewable sources.

Transportation

Let’s start with transportation. The technology already exists for both

electric cars and light trucks, as well as for natural gas local and longhaul

transportation. For example, electric vehicles represent about 3 per

cent of new vehicle sales, a share that should steadily rise over the next

decade as electric vehicle production scale grows, manufacturing costs

decrease, and supporting infrastructure becomes more widespread and

economically viable.

Canada’s policies to date have aimed at promoting electric vehicles,

expanding the renewable fuel standard, and requiring continuous

reductions in emissions from internal combustion engines in line with

U.S. standards. And yet, due to a growing economy and population,

plus geography, it has been difficult to reduce overall emissions from

moving passengers and freight. The right mixture of price incentives—

specifically pricing the carbon in fuels—and more stringent emissions

and regulatory standards for manufacturers will help guide the shift

toward low‐GHG or zero-emitting vehicles. Vehicle fleets for businesses

and public institutions offer a specific opportunity for a more rapid pace

of transformation.

Urban public transit provides a high-priority opportunity. Electrification

of urban public transit can contribute to much-reduced GHG emissions,

as can expanded public transit service that offers wider choice to

consumers. Passenger rail is another priority candidate for electrification

or hydrogen fuel cells, based on existing and potential technologies.

Most passenger rail in Canada already receives operating subsidies from

the federal government, and additional subsidies would likely be required

to convert to electrification or fuel cell technology.

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For the exclusive use of Glen Hodgson, hodgson@conferenceboard.ca, The Conference Board of Canada.

Shaping the Canadian Low-Carbon Economy

A Discussion Paper

The greatest

low‐carbon policy

opportunity in

public transit may

be to improve

ridership and

reduce the use of

private vehicles.

The greatest low-carbon policy opportunity in public transit may be

to improve ridership and reduce the use of private vehicles. Public

and alternative transport modes have long been a policy target; the

challenge going forward will be to make these modes both appealing

and even the default choice, thus changing the way we think about

transportation services, so that we make behavioural decisions that

reduce GHG emissions.

Reducing GHGs from other forms of transportation will be more

challenging. Long-haul ground freight is provided by a combination of

rail and trucks. Rail transport is already less carbon intensive than road

freight, but full rail electrification in Canada is an expensive option that

would require a particular set of circumstances. Conversion of rail from

diesel to natural gas may be one interim option. Further reducing GHGs

from trucks by a significant degree will be difficult in the near term. The

Conference Board is now undertaking research on the potential for deep

GHG reductions from long-haul freight. We will examine the available

options, including potential technologies, alternative energy sources with

reduced GHG emissions, and expanded use of intermodal shipping.

For most aircraft and maritime transport, there are currently not many

suitable, reliable, and economically viable low-carbon technology options

available. An industry and policy discussion has begun on biofuels and

weight reduction for aircraft and maritime vessels, but we are a long way

from commercial and technical viability for renewables and low-carbon

power sources. Other policy options will need to be examined, including

greater and more standardized use of carbon offsets. More stringent

carbon pricing may also contribute to consumers and businesses

re-examining how they use these services, such as by relying less

on global value chains and more on regional or local inputs of goods

and services. This could well be the key to achieving deep emissions

reductions from transportation. The policy challenge will be to combine

fuel choice, technology choice, and different logistical decisions about

how we use transportation services.

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Built Structures

Built structures provide a second major category where energy

consumption is being reshaped. Reducing the carbon intensity of

fuels being used, together with improving the energy efficiency of built

structures (i.e., essentially improving the thermal efficiency of the building

shell), will lower the carbon footprint of the build environment. There

is also an opportunity to store carbon in building materials. There are

three broad dimensions to consider:

1. new structures versus refits/renovations

2. residential structures—singles and multi-unit

3. commercial and institutional structures

The ability to adopt low-carbon energy sources is obviously much

greater for new structures than for existing housing and commercial or

institutional buildings. For new structures of all types, a choice can be

made from the outset in favour of more energy-efficient design and lowcarbon

energy sources, including passive heating inherent in building

design. There is an array of available energy options like electric heating,

steam, district heating, or geothermal. New structures could also be

designed to have the capacity to adjust more easily to new sources

of energy over time, as energy technology evolves and becomes more

economically attractive.

Refits and renovations of existing structures face additional constraints

in adopting new energy sources. Unlike transportation and vehicles,

the useful economic life of a house or building can be very long, so

full replacement is generally not a feasible option. Existing structures

can be refitted to improve energy efficiency and shift energy sources

toward ones with lower GHG emissions, although options such as district

heating or geothermal energy may be physically constrained by the

original design of the property and by the surrounding community.

Shifting energy consumption in structures is closely interrelated with

improvements in energy efficiency. Built structures have been a focus for

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For the exclusive use of Glen Hodgson, hodgson@conferenceboard.ca, The Conference Board of Canada.

Shaping the Canadian Low-Carbon Economy

A Discussion Paper

energy improvements for decades, but opportunities still exist. Building

codes, municipal bylaws, government programs, industry guidelines, and

private sector programs (such as LEED 2 or BOMA 3 BEST) will all play

a role.

Infrastructure

Infrastructure is a third category that will undergo a shift in energy

consumption, both for the infrastructure itself and as the underpinning

for other forms of low-carbon energy consumption. We have already

discussed areas of transportation infrastructure like urban transit and

passenger and freight rail, where electrification or other low-carbon fuels

could reduce GHG emissions significantly.

Perhaps the more important aspect for infrastructure will be the

development and build-out of new infrastructure that will help to lower

GHG emissions across the economy. This new low-carbon infrastructure

could include:

• vehicle electrical recharging stations and systems;

• community heating and cooling;

• the use of natural infrastructure (e.g., urban trees or vegetation such

as green roofs);

• dedicated cycling, walking, and skiing paths

• (as noted) the expansion and electrification of public transit and rail;

• other forms as they emerge.

Some of these new forms of infrastructure may be able to offer

commercial returns and attract capital and risk-taking from the private

sector, or from commercial Crown corporations (notably those in

power generation), particularly if the projected cost of carbon is fully

included in the project evaluation. Other types of infrastructure will

require government financing or risk-sharing, either at the outset while

the concept is still being tested for commercial viability or because the

infrastructure is a public good.

2 Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

3 Building Owners and Managers Association.

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Disruptive Innovation

The fourth and final category is what we are calling “disruptive

innovation.” This fourth category is intended to capture the emergence

of new technologies and processes that could accelerate the shift

toward lower-carbon energy consumption.

Just as Uber and Airbnb have disrupted the taxi and hotel businesses

and regulators, we are seeing early signs of other innovations that might

disrupt traditional industries and public services, reduce the demand for

conventional energy, and shift the economy toward low-carbon energy.

These innovations may occur at any point of a sector’s value chain.

They may be large or small in terms of impact and cost, but together

they could have a significant impact on how and how much energy

is consumed.

For example, automated or self-driving vehicles, powered by electricity

or hybrids, could transform certain modes of urban transportation from

a product (buying and driving a car or light truck) into a service. This

service would compete not only with vehicles, but also with public

transit, taxis, and matchmaking software like Uber. The ethical, legal,

and economic debate on automated vehicles has yet to take place in

earnest, but we should anticipate that this and other forms of disruption

will emerge, with specific as well as broad consequences for energy

consumption, efficiency, and GHG emissions.

2. Energy Efficiency

The second demand cornerstone of the low-carbon economy is energy

efficiency, which is a close complement to the shift to low-carbon energy

consumption. The combination of shifting toward lower-carbon forms of

energy and power, and simultaneously seeking ways to increase energy

efficiency, can together provide a positive boost in defining a low-carbon

pathway for Canada. Improvements to energy efficiency could also

provide a positive and welcome boost to economic activity, in two ways:

through increased private and public sector investment and construction

activity; and through ongoing energy cost savings for businesses,

governments, families, and individuals, which could be recycled into

other activities.

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For the exclusive use of Glen Hodgson, hodgson@conferenceboard.ca, The Conference Board of Canada.

Shaping the Canadian Low-Carbon Economy

A Discussion Paper

The design and

construction of new

homes or buildings

should reflect

the widespread

use of state-ofthe-art

building

codes in terms of

energy efficiency.

There are numerous options and opportunities for improved energy and

carbon efficiency, which are closely related to the earlier discussion on

changes to energy consumption. These energy efficiency measures

would apply to new construction and to refits and renovation of existing

structures and infrastructure. There would also be energy efficiency

savings and GHG reductions from consumer and business products

and services and related energy use.

Regarding built structures, energy efficiency should be expected to apply

differently to new structures (be they houses, multi-units, or commercial

and institutional buildings) and to refits or renovations of existing

structures. Henceforth, the design and construction of new homes or

buildings should reflect the widespread use of state-of-the-art building

codes in terms of energy efficiency. Existing buildings and houses could

also be made more energy efficient, with resulting energy cost savings,

although appropriate standards for refits and renovations will need to

be widely defined and applied.

As noted earlier, energy efficiency can be promoted through building

codes, municipal bylaws, government programs, industry guidelines, and

private sector certification programs. Several Canadian municipalities

are already making strides in this direction by requiring sustainability

checklists or audits as part of the permitting process for major

renovations. This practice helps to ensure that energy efficiency is being

considered as part of the retrofit. As this approach becomes more widely

adopted and more stringent, improved energy conservation will result.

A sharp improvement in energy efficiency in our homes and in

commercial and institutional buildings will require a new set of lowcarbon

standards for construction; for refitting and renovation; and

for operation and maintenance. All three levels of government, but

particularly provinces and municipalities, will have an important

leadership role to play in modernizing building codes and construction

techniques and inputs.

For existing buildings, specific barriers to improved energy efficiency will

most likely need to be addressed through public policy. These barriers

include insufficient consumer, professional, technical, and business

knowledge of better practices; financial and risk-capacity constraints;

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and inadequate price signals. Carbon pricing could be an important

policy driver for energy efficiency, by creating greater financial incentives

to reduce energy costs. But other public policy issues, like financial

capacity and mitigating the impact on low-income households, would

need to be addressed through smart policy design.

Similar analysis of energy efficiency opportunities and the optimal public

policy framework to promote those opportunities are being developed

in several other areas of energy use and GHG emissions. These policy

approaches can be strengthened in areas such as:

• energy efficiency standards on products, such as appliances, heating

systems, and water heaters;

• industrial facilities and equipment;

• vehicles and public transit;

• urban design;

• waste management;

• energy production and distribution;

• resource extraction;

• agriculture.

There are also a few special cases in Canada that deserve particular

attention in terms of the significance of energy consumption and

efficiency. One such case is the North, which has unique problems with

energy security and energy use because of its harsh and cold climate,

distance and remoteness of most communities, and sparse population.

Another important case is the expanded and strategic role of carbon

sinks in Canada, which absorb GHGs and could complement or reduce

the need for greater energy efficiency and reduced consumption in

some areas. Candidates for an enhanced role as carbon sinks include

Canada’s forests and greenspace, agriculture, urban design, carbon

capture and storage projects, and others to be identified.

Each of these areas would benefit from in-depth research and analysis

under the Centre on the Low-Carbon Growth Economy.

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For the exclusive use of Glen Hodgson, hodgson@conferenceboard.ca, The Conference Board of Canada.

Shaping the Canadian Low-Carbon Economy

A Discussion Paper

3. Energy Production and Generation

The third cornerstone of the low-carbon economy is transformation in

energy production. Energy production plays a fundamental and central

role in the growth of Canada’s economy, and will do so for decades to

come. It is an important source of net exports, incomes, employment,

and wealth creation for many Canadians, most prominently in Alberta

and Newfoundland and Labrador, but also in other regions and sectors

across the Canadian economy. It would be foolish to neglect the energy

production sector and its many supporting sectors like energy distribution

and construction, particularly while global demand for oil and gas is still

on the rise.

But with the reality of climate change and the imperative to transition to

a low-carbon economy, transforming how Canada produces energy must

be an essential part of a low-carbon strategy. Doing so in the smartest

way possible presents a formidable technical, business, and policy

challenge, but also an enormous opportunity—particularly if Canada’s

production of energy is to be transformed without sacrificing economic

growth and wealth creation.

What are the central elements of a transformation toward low-carbon

energy production? They include the following.

Low-Carbon Electricity

Renewable, low-carbon electricity can be the foundation for future

energy production. Canada is already at more than 80 per cent

renewable electricity production, but there are sharp differences among

the provinces in their sources of electricity. Electricity produced in

British Columbia, Manitoba, Quebec, and Newfoundland and Labrador

is largely from hydro and other renewables, while other provinces

have a mixed power generation platform, with Alberta, Saskatchewan,

and Nova Scotia largely dependent on coal to produce electricity.

Nuclear electricity production is low carbon but presents its own set

of issues. The transition to lower-carbon electricity will continue, and

the federal government’s recent commitment to eliminate coal as an

input for electricity production by 2030 provides an important policy

signal. The ongoing transition should seek to balance renewable energy

objectives with the cost-competitiveness of economic outputs.

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Overall, the

energy footprint of

Canadian oil and

gas production

is shifting, but its

transformation

will take time.

Reshaping Oil and Gas Production and Distribution

A shift in Canadian oil and gas production toward lower-carbon energy

will be guided by numerous competing forces, among them global

energy market developments. Global demand for oil and gas is still rising

and may continue to rise for some time to come, notably in emerging

markets. Reaching global markets would reduce dependence on the

U.S. market and provide Canadian energy producers with better prices.

The production of Canadian oil is also rising, even as production from

renewable energy sources is growing. Canada’s hydrocarbon producers

are working hard to reduce the energy they use to produce and process

their product, thereby reshaping the sector’s carbon emissions footprint.

This process must continue, and even accelerate. Refineries have also

demonstrated success at adding carbon capture to their operations.

Overall, the energy footprint of Canadian oil and gas production is

shifting, but its transformation will take time, particularly if stranded

energy assets and lost investments and jobs are to be minimized.

De-Carbonization

Canada is among the world leaders in carbon capture and storage.

However, there is still only one post-combustion carbon capture unit

operating as part of electricity generation in the country. Continued

research and operating experience may result in breakthroughs for

this technology set. This could also provide an important business

opportunity for Canadian technology, if technological developments can

be successfully combined with economic and financial criteria. Ideas are

also being developed to make captured carbon a useful input in industrial

and business processes.

World Low-Carbon Business Leadership

Canada could be positioned as a world leader in terms of energy

research and development, diversification of energy production,

green tech, and low-carbon managerial and technical expertise. Many

Canadian firms have already demonstrated expertise and innovation

in the energy sector; that expertise and innovation could be taken to the

next level, further expanding the global sales of Canada’s expertise in

lower-carbon energy supply and management.

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For the exclusive use of Glen Hodgson, hodgson@conferenceboard.ca, The Conference Board of Canada.

Shaping the Canadian Low-Carbon Economy

A Discussion Paper

Other Energy Sources

Other low-carbon energy sources (e.g., geothermal and district heat

and cooling) can be developed and expanded. Canada has limited

experience in district power supply, and geothermal is in its infancy.

These and other options, and the policies to make them viable

alternatives, merit closer examination.

Electricity Trade

The opportunities for trade in electricity production across the country

can be maximized. In contrast to the north–south North American power

grid, which is well developed in some regions, there are considerable

opportunities to strengthen east–west power grid integration and

commercial opportunities. The recent agreement between Ontario

and Quebec is a positive step in that direction.

Electricity Distribution

The right balance between centralized and decentralized electricity

production and management needs to be found. As solar cells, local

storage, and system-management technologies become ever more

established and financially competitive, the supply of electricity to the

power grid could be rebalanced, perhaps reducing the need for large

investments in central electricity production capacity—but also creating

a risk of stranded assets if not managed properly.

Defining the Transition Pathways to Phasing Out Fossil

Fuel Production

G7 leaders have committed to end fossil fuel subsidies by 2025, and

to end fossil fuel use by the end of the century. Various pathways to

engineering the transition toward lower-carbon fuel will need to be

defined and examined.

Again, each of these areas could benefit from in-depth research and

analysis under the Centre on the Low-Carbon Growth Economy.

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4. The Low-Carbon Business Opportunity

The fourth and final cornerstone of the low-carbon economy is the

opportunity for business. This fourth cornerstone has often been undervalued

or even ignored by commentators and policy-makers, but it

represents an opportunity to engage the wider business community in a

decades-long transformational growth opportunity. In our view, Canadian

businesses have a central role to play, in two ways.

First, Canadian businesses could develop and adopt low-carbon best

practices across their entire business model. This would be achieved

through a combination of energy efficiency measures and by switching

to or providing lower-carbon energy sources. Some firms have already

taken active steps to reduce their business’s carbon footprint, which is

commendable. However, this self-analysis and action is only a starting

point. A firm’s carbon footprint includes not only its own operations and

activities but also those of its numerous suppliers and its buyers, clients,

and even surrounding communities. A firm that wishes to be a true

market leader in carbon reduction would need a comprehensive strategy

affecting the full value chain of its operations and activities.

And second, businesses could seize the low-carbon growth opportunity

by developing strategies and concrete action plans to sell low-carbon

goods and services into global value chains, and to clients everywhere.

Simply put, every Canadian firm could adopt a low-carbon mindset—

examining how to create and engage in a global low-carbon market that

is going to grow rapidly over the coming decades. Developing clean

tech is one part of a low-carbon mindset and strategy, but there is

much more; it could be applied to all goods and services being sold; to

recurring sales; to investment in Canada and abroad; and to domestic

and international business opportunities.

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For the exclusive use of Glen Hodgson, hodgson@conferenceboard.ca, The Conference Board of Canada.

Shaping the Canadian Low-Carbon Economy

A Discussion Paper

Role for the Centre on the Low-Carbon

Growth Economy

There are many areas where the Centre could contribute to the public debate on

transformation toward a low-carbon economy. Research could be conducted on

aspects of all four cornerstones outlined above. Individual studies could:

• examine the existing research literature on a specific well-defined topic;

• seek out global-best policy and practices to lower the GHGs from energy

consumption and production, and boost energy efficiency;

• identify existing data sets on the energy and green economy, in Canada

and globally, and develop new data for Canada through surveys and

other techniques;

• examine how federal and provincial carbon-pricing systems will interact with

each other, and with U.S. and international carbon-pricing systems;

• consider related topics like carbon price policy design, including stringency,

revenue recycling, and measures to mitigate the impact on the competitiveness

of trade-exposed sectors;

• examine the cost-benefit of a government procurement carve-out for start-up

suppliers of low-carbon goods and services;

• develop scenarios and options;

• analyze the economic and social impacts of these scenarios and options and of

business practices;

• identify and define best practices in low-carbon business;

• provide recommendations for consideration by policy-makers and

business leaders.

Members of the Centre on the Low-Carbon Growth Economy will work with

Conference Board staff to develop a detailed and evergreen research plan

and will contribute their insights to the research as advisors and reviewers. As

noted earlier, a number of channels would be developed for communicating the

research findings and engaging with leaders and the public.

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The Conference Board of Canada

Facilitating Transformation: Policy Instruments

The previous section provided a sketch of what a low-carbon economy

might look like. To get there, an array of policy tools will need to be

developed and enhanced to help to guide the transition. The five policy

tools are briefly discussed below.

1. Carbon Pricing

Carbon pricing is a powerful tool at the disposal of governments to help

Canada transition toward a low-carbon economy. It is an anchor policy

for changing incentives for consumers and businesses to reduce their

carbon consumption. A carbon price creates incentives to innovate and

reduce the consumption and production of hydrocarbons and GHG

emissions with a significantly lower impact on GDP than relying on

regulations, according to the research already undertaken by Canada’s

Ecofiscal Commission and other analysts.

Carbon pricing can take place directly through a carbon tax (or levy) or

via a cap-and-trade system. A carbon tax focuses on the price required

to curtail energy demand and reach emissions targets, with rising price

stringency over time. Cap-and-trade focuses principally on reducing the

quantity of GHG emissions through the issuance of emissions permits,

with a market-determined carbon price facilitating the trading of permits.

Each system has strengths and weaknesses—and future refinements

should be expected.

The conversation on carbon pricing in Canada has evolved quickly in

recent months. Several provinces have introduced their own carbonpricing

systems tailored to local economic and GHG emissions

circumstances, and the federal government has proposed a pan-

Canadian approach to ensure minimum standards and emissions

reduction targets being attained in every province.

But there are still some prominent challenges in carbon-pricing policy

design, notably how federal and provincial carbon-pricing systems will

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For the exclusive use of Glen Hodgson, hodgson@conferenceboard.ca, The Conference Board of Canada.

Shaping the Canadian Low-Carbon Economy

A Discussion Paper

interact with each other and with international carbon-pricing systems.

The election of a Trump administration has added a layer of uncertainty

to U.S. climate change policy, including the role of carbon pricing

beyond California. Sufficient carbon- price stringency will be needed

to achieve meaningful GHG emissions reductions. Recycling revenues

from carbon pricing is another political and policy challenge, even more

so if recycling takes place across provincial or international boundaries.

There are issues with respect to the international competitiveness of

certain trade-exposed sectors with high GHG intensity when carbon

pricing is introduced.

2. Standards and Regulations

The second policy area for shaping a low-carbon economy is standards

and regulations. Carbon pricing may be an anchor policy for changing

price incentives for consumers and businesses, with a lower impact on

GDP than relying solely on regulations, but complementary regulations

and standards will help to ensure full policy coverage, effectiveness,

and fairness. Best-in-class building codes and construction methods are

a prime example of where regulations can be more effective in achieving

lower future GHG emissions than relying on carbon pricing alone.

Similarly, the standards for reducing the carbon used in and emitted by

goods and services are an important area for regulatory action, such

as emissions standards for vehicles, fleets, and manufacturers. Projectrelated

environmental assessment and project approval regulations

and processes are another aspect of regulation, although stringent

carbon prices should allow cumbersome project review processes

to be streamlined.

3. Policy Spending and Investment

The third policy area is spending and investment by governments.

The overall structure and specific nature of government spending and

investment can directly influence all four low-carbon cornerstones

discussed earlier—energy consumption, energy efficiency, energy

production, and business engagement and innovation.

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The Conference Board of Canada

Government procurement

policies

and practices

should be aimed

at reducing GhG

emissions, with

best practices

applied at all levels

of government.

For example, seeking ways to reduce GHG emissions should be a

mandatory criterion when creating strategies, and evaluating proposals,

for new government spending and investment on public infrastructure.

Government innovation strategy and policies should be examined

through a low-carbon lens, as should its support for research and

development, which is often key to spurring innovation and establishing

value chains in innovative industries. A low-carbon evaluation could be

applied to many other areas of government spending, to the tax code,

and to credit and investment provided by public agencies.

4. Low-Carbon Government Procurement

The fourth policy area is government procurement. Governments are

significant purchasers of goods and services. Their procurement policies

and practices should be aimed at reducing GHG emissions, with best

practices applied at all levels of government. Governments will also

want to examine the benefits and costs of a procurement carve-out for

start-up suppliers of low-carbon goods and services and adopt the best

management practices if they decide to pursue this policy option.

5. Carbon Credits and Other Policy Tools

The fifth and final policy area is carbon credits and other policies. In the

near term and in order to hit 2030 emission targets, Canada and its

provinces could purchase carbon credits from other jurisdictions (like

California) that are more advanced in building a low-carbon policy

framework. The cap-and-trade systems in Quebec and Ontario are

likely best suited to allow firms in those provinces to engage with other

carbon-trading markets and purchase credits.

But Canada could also become a seller of carbon credits as a

comprehensive Canadian climate change policy model and lower-carbon

policies and business practices are developed. Exports of Canadian lowcarbon

expertise and Canadian direct investment abroad using stateof-the-art

low-carbon technologies and practices would both create the

potential for making GHG credits available to other jurisdictions.

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For the exclusive use of Glen Hodgson, hodgson@conferenceboard.ca, The Conference Board of Canada.

Shaping the Canadian Low-Carbon Economy

A Discussion Paper

The treatment of energy exports and related GHGs is a specific topic

that deserves policy discussion. Should the GHGs from exported energy

become the problem of importers to manage, or does the exporter

have a role in mitigating those emissions? This is an important and

complex question—one that deserves thorough examination from a

Canadian perspective.

As mentioned earlier, some Canadian industries and firms with high

GHG emissions as a share of output are heavily exposed to international

trade competition. They may require special treatment to ensure they

can remain competitive as they adapt, as British Columbia has done for

the cement sector. Various policy tools, such as alternative international

consumption-based GHG emissions inventory systems or the costbenefit

of carbon price border adjustments for select exposed sectors,

could be examined.

Challenges

Lastly, a number of challenges should be expected when considering

transformational change. These challenges will need to be borne in mind

and addressed while shaping the low-carbon growth economy. They

include the following.

Pace of Transformation

As we argued earlier, in a well-functioning democracy the public must

continue to buy into any transition process. The pace of change therefore

matters to maintain and build public support for the low‐carbon transition.

We believe a successful strategy would articulate how the Canadian

economy will transform toward low carbon while sustaining sufficient

inclusive economic growth, with broad buy-in by consumers

and businesses.

Federal-Provincial-City Policy Alignment

The second challenge will be to ensure a high degree of policy alignment

among the federal, provincial, and municipal governments—specifically

major cities with the majority of Canada’s population and economic

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The Conference Board of Canada

A successful

strategy would

articulate how the

Canadian economy

will transform

toward low carbon

while sustaining

sufficient inclusive

economic growth.

activity. Policy alignment in our complex federation is a chronic challenge,

but also an essential condition if low-carbon transition is to be achieved

with sustained economic growth. We cannot afford our three levels of

government, and numerous ministries, to be misaligned on low-carbon

policies, since misalignment wastes time, money, and energy.

Business Buy-In

Much the same can be said about the role of the business community—

its full engagement in a low-carbon transformation is a critical piece of

the puzzle. Businesses can do so by minimizing GHG emissions in their

own business operations and those of their suppliers and buyers and

by seizing the business opportunity to develop strategies and concrete

action plans to sell low-carbon goods and services into global value

chains and to clients everywhere.

Tolerance for False Starts and Errors

The final challenge: There is no proven pathway for the shift toward a

low-carbon economy. False starts, misalignments, and errors in policy

and practice are bound to occur. Collectively, we must be prepared to

accept “learning by doing” and understand the need to make course

corrections in the strategy.

Next Steps

This discussion paper has proposed an overall framework for shaping

the low-carbon economy in Canada—what it might look like and the

policies and practices that will guide us there. The framework will help

to define and guide the research program for the Conference Board’s

new Centre on the Low-Carbon Growth Economy.

Active engagement in and support for the Centre is now being sought

from businesses, governments, foundations, and other thought leaders.

Such engagement and financial support will allow the Conference Board

to launch the research plan in earnest, in order to inform the policy

and business conversation in Canada on how to shape the low-carbon

growth economy.

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For the exclusive use of Glen Hodgson, hodgson@conferenceboard.ca, The Conference Board of Canada.

Shaping the Canadian Low-Carbon Economy

A Discussion Paper

Acknowledgements

The author would like to thank Celine Bak and an anonymous reviewer for their

valuable feedback. Thanks also go to Louis Thériault and Len Coad of the

Conference Board for their input.

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Appendix A | The Conference Board of Canada

APPENDIX A

The Conference

Board of Canada Is

a Leader in the Area

of Energy and the

Environment

Table 1

Notable Conference Board Activities

Meeting Title Meeting Type Start Date City

Centre for Transportation and Infrastructure Centre 2010–Ongoing Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto

Canada’s Oil Extraction Industry: Industrial Outlook Summer 2010 Biannual Report 2010–Ongoing

Business Council for Sustainability Council 2010–Ongoing Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal,

Halifax, Calgary, Vancouver,

Canmore

Reshaping Energy 2017 Conference 4/11/2017 Ottawa

GHG Emissions Reductions in Canada: A Primer Report 02/01/2017

Oil Change: The Potential Impact of High and Low Prices on

Canada’s Economy

Recorded Webinar 11/14/2016

Managing Mobility: Transportation in an Aging Society Briefing 10/19/2016

Power Shift: Electricity for Canada’s Remote Communities Report 9/27/2016

Finding Our Balance: How Changes in Oil Prices Impact Canada’s Economy Report 8/23/2016

From Oil to Diamonds: Employment Opportunities for the

Aboriginal Workforce

Report 7/19/2016

Under Pressure: The Future of Canada’s Rail & Related Infrastructure Recorded Webinar 5/25/2016

Informing Canadian Policies on Greenhouse Emission Reduction WKSP 5/12/2016 Ottawa

Canada’s Oil & Natural Gas Extraction Industries: Weathering the Low

Commodity Price Storm

Recorded Webinar 5/4/2016

Building for Growth: Trade, Rail, and Related Infrastructure Report 4/7/2016

(continued …)

Find Conference Board research at www.e-library.ca. 25


For the exclusive use of Glen Hodgson, hodgson@conferenceboard.ca, The Conference Board of Canada.

Shaping the Canadian Low-Carbon Economy

A Discussion Paper

Table 1 (cont’d)

Notable Conference Board Activities

Meeting Title Meeting Type Start Date City

Newfoundland and Labrador’s Offshore Oil and Gas Industry: A New Era Recorded Webinar 4/5/2016

of Exploration

A Webinar on Reducing GHG Emissions in Canada’s Road Transportation

Sector: A Long, Hard Road to 2050

Recorded Webinar 3/1/2016

A Changing Tide: British Columbia’s Emerging Liquefied Natural Gas Industry Report 2/29/2016

A Long, Hard Road: Reducing GHG Emissions in Canada’s Road

Transportation Sector by 2050

Public Private Partnerships: Assessing Major Projects in the

Transportation Sector

Report 11/12/2015

Recorded Webinar 10/29/2015

Progress Energy Leadership Development Program Program 2014–2015 Kananaskis Village

Canadian Energy and Environment Strategy Conference 9/23/2015 Ottawa

Finding the Mix: The Choice of Generation Technologies in Canada Report 9/1/2015

The Burning Question: The Future of Wildland Fire Management Recorded Webinar 8/6/2015

Tracking the Energy Revolution: Top 10 Trends Driving the Global

Energy Transition

Recorded Webinar 7/22/2015

Saskatchewan’s Export Potential: The Impact of Rail Access Report 6/25/2015

Canada Energy Conference Conference 5/20/2015 Ottawa

Canada’s Energy Sector: The View from China Recorded Webinar 5/8/2015

The Sustainability of the U.S. Shale Gas and Tight Oil Revolution Recorded Webinar 4/28/2015

Clearing the Air: The State of Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Canada Recorded Webinar 4/22/2015

Biodiversity Offsets: Balancing Economic Opportunity with Conservation Recorded Webinar 4/21/2015

Innovation and the Circular Economy Recorded Webinar 4/13/2015

Oil Change: The Updated Industrial Outlook for Canada’s Oil

Extraction Industry

Recorded Webinar 3/23/2015

Automated Vehicles: The Coming of the Next Disruptive Technology Recorded Webinar 3/18/2015

Impact and Benefit Agreements—Key Issues for Communities and Industry Recorded Webinar 2/25/2015

Automated Vehicles: The Coming of the Next Disruptive Technology Report 1/21/2015

Regional Shake-up: The Impact of Lower Oil Prices on Canada Recorded Webinar 1/21/2015

Regional Shake Up: The Impact of Lower Oil Prices on Canada’s Economy Briefing 1/20/2015

The Impacts of Oil Transportation Infrastructure for Canada: Pipeline Dreams Recorded Webinar 11/13/2014

Getting It Right: Evolving Place-Based Approaches to Sustainable

Resource Development

Recorded Webinar 9/18/2014

Seeds for Success: The Value of Seed Treatments for Ontario Growers Report 7/10/2014

Seeking Tidewater: Understanding the Economic Impacts of the Trans

Mountain Expansion Project

Report 6/26/2014

Working Overseas: Opportunities and Challenges for the Mining Sector Recorded Webinar 5/30/2014

Opportunities for Ontario’s Waste: Economic Impacts of Waste Diversion

in North America

The Views and Interpretations of Transportation Policy Experts: What’s

Next for Transportation Policy?

Briefing 5/28/2014

Briefing 3/11/2014

We Have Been Here Before: Supply Management in Transportation Briefing 12/16/2013

The Value of Travel Time and Reliability: Commuting on 407 ETR Report 12/10/2013

(continued …)

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Appendix A | The Conference Board of Canada

Table 1 (cont’d)

Notable Conference Board Activities

Meeting Title Meeting Type Start Date City

Corporate-Aboriginal Relations: Building Mutually Beneficial Partnerships Recorded Webinar 12/6/2013

Changing Tides: Economic Development in Canada’s Northern

Marine Waters

Where the Rubber Meets the Road: How Much Motorists Pay for

Road Infrastructure

Report 10/28/2013

Report 10/17/2013

Growing Canada’s Economy: A New National Air Transportation Policy Report 9/26/2013

Canada as a Global Leader: Delivering Value through Public-Private

Partnerships at Home and Abroad

Report 8/21/2013

Cultivating Opportunities: Canada’s Growing Appetite for Local Food Report 8/20/2013

Reducing the Risk: Addressing the Environmental Impacts of the

Food System

Report 8/8/2013

Fast and Fresh: A Recipe for Canada’s Food Supply Chains Report 7/25/2013

Energy Futures for Canada: Four Plausible Scenarios Recorded Webinar 5/29/2013

How Canada Performs 2013: A Report Card on Canada Executive Summary 5/2/2013

Energy Futures for Canada Briefing 4/22/2013

Understanding the Truck Driver Supply and Demand Gap and Its Implications

for the Canadian Economy

Report 2/21/2013

The Role of Natural Gas in Powering Canada’s Economy Report 12/17/2012

Fuel for Thought: The Economic Benefits of Oil Sands Investment for

Canada’s Regions

Report 10/24/2012

Driven Away: Why More Canadians are Choosing Cross Border Airports Report 10/2/2012

Energy Management in Commercial Buildings: The Value of Best Practices Report 5/10/2012

Cheap Enough? Making the Switch from Diesel Fuel to Natural Gas Report 4/23/2012

Shedding Light on the Economic Impact of Investing in

Electricity Infrastructure

Report 2/13/2012

Taking Stock of Canada’s Progress in the Transition to Clean Energy Briefing 1/9/2012

Northern Assets: Transportation Infrastructure in Remote Communities Report 12/14/2011

Ethanol’s Potential Contribution to Canada’s Transportation Sector Report 11/7/2011

How Canada Performs 2011: A Report Card on Canada Executive Summary 9/13/2011

Connecting Jobs and People: Exploring the Wider Benefits of Urban

Transportation Investments

Report 8/15/2011

Greenhouse Gas Mitigation in Canada Report 6/1/2011

Measuring the Mining Supply and Services Sector Briefing 5/26/2011

Are We Ready to Step Off the Gas? Preparing for the Impacts of Alternative

Fuel Vehicles

Report 4/27/2011

Carbon Capture and Storage Business Forum Conference 4/12/2011 Calgary

Canada’s Electricity Infrastructure: Building a Case for Investment Report 4/5/2011

Tapped Out: Efficiency Options for Closing the Municipal Infrastructure Gap Report 3/14/2011

From Earth to Berth: Improving the Efficiency of Canada’s Grain

Supply Chain

Employment and Economic Impacts of Ontario’s Future Offshore Wind

Power Industry

Report 2/28/2011

Report 12/8/2010

(continued …)

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For the exclusive use of Glen Hodgson, hodgson@conferenceboard.ca, The Conference Board of Canada.

Shaping the Canadian Low-Carbon Economy

A Discussion Paper

Table 1 (cont’d)

Notable Conference Board Activities

Meeting Title Meeting Type Start Date City

Progress Toward Clean Electricity Case Studies of Three

Report 11/12/2010

Canadian Jurisdictions

Carbon Disclosure Project Report 2010: Canada 200 Report 10/4/2010

Shared Corridors, Strange Bedfellows: Understanding the Interface Between

Freight and Passenger Rail

The Economic and Employment Impacts of Climate-Related

Technology Investments

Briefing 9/9/2010

Report 5/4/2010

How Canada Performs 2009: A Report Card on Canada Executive Summary 3/24/2010

Global Climate-Friendly Trade: Canada’s Chance to Clean Up Report 3/23/2010

Freight Trucks and Climate Change Policy: Mitigating CO2 Emissions Briefing 3/16/2010

The Economic Impact of Public Infrastructure in Ontario Report 3/10/2010

Climate Change Adaptation in British Columbia: Ten Actions by

Leading Organizations

Adapting to Climate Change in Atlantic Canada: What Organizations Are

Doing Today to Prepare for Tomorrow

Executive Action Report 3/5/2010

Executive Action Report 1/29/2010

Transition to a Low-Carbon Economy: Insights on Emerging Opportunities Executive Action Report 1/19/2010

Getting the Balance Right: The Oil Sands, Exporting and Sustainability Briefing 1/12/2010

Canadian Roundtable for Environmental Health Roundtable 2010 Ottawa

Leaders’ Roundtable on Climate Change Adaptation Roundtable 2010 Ottawa, Calgary

Carbon Disclosure Project 2010 Montreal, Toronto

Roundtable Series on Climate Change Adaptation Roundtable 2010–2011 Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa

Roundtable Series on Clean Energy Roundtable 2010–2012 Toronto, Montreal, Calgary,

Ottawa

Source: The Conference Board of Canada.

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About The Conference Board of Canada

We are:

• The foremost independent, not-for-profit, applied research organization

in Canada.

• Objective and non-partisan. We do not lobby for specific interests.

• Funded exclusively through the fees we charge for services to the

private and public sectors.

• Experts in running conferences but also at conducting, publishing,

and disseminating research; helping people network; developing individual

leadership skills; and building organizational capacity.

• Specialists in economic trends, as well as organizational performance and

public policy issues.

• Not a government department or agency, although we are often hired to provide

services for all levels of government.

• Independent from, but affiliated with, The Conference Board, Inc. of New York,

which serves nearly 2,000 companies in 60 nations and has offices in Brussels

and Hong Kong.


For the exclusive use of Glen Hodgson, hodgson@conferenceboard.ca, The Conference Board of Canada.

Insights. Understanding. Impact.

Shaping the Canadian Low-Carbon Economy: A Discussion Paper

Glen Hodgson

To cite this briefing: Hodgson, Glen. Shaping the Canadian Low-Carbon Economy: A Discussion Paper.

Ottawa: The Conference Board of Canada, 2017.

©2017 The Conference Board of Canada*

Published in Canada | All rights reserved | Agreement No. 40063028 | *Incorporated as AERIC Inc.

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