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Just Transition explainer: Reducing our Emissions

Canada must set and meet climate targets that address the crisis

The Canadian federal government must do its fair share to reduce domestic emissions, while supporting other countries to reduce their emissions. Canada is one of the leading emitters per capita, which means we have a moral responsibility to support countries that have contributed the least to the crisis and are bearing the brunt of it with their just transitions.

Reduces emissions by at least 60 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, and makes significant contributions to emissions reductions in countries in the Global South

When it comes to this demand, “reducing emissions” is the key phrase. This call for legislation is not a call to offset or “capture” emissions, it is a demand to create fewer emissions, period. We need to put less carbon – 60 per cent less than in 2005, at a minimum – into the atmosphere, and we need to do it by the end of this decade.

Currently, we’re not only falling short of the emissions targets needed to keep global heating to 1.5C, we are careening towards 2 degrees of warming as early as 2034.1 We don’t have decades to make the necessary changes. We have mere years. Meanwhile, the federal government’s emissions reduction target of 40 per cent is not nearly good enough. And even with this milquetoast goal, we’ve yet to have a federal government that’s met an emissions target it set.

Reducing emissions by 60 per cent in the next 7 years will require nothing short of the transformation of our economy and our society. The fixation on economic growth as the primary indicator of economic success has to end: we cannot continue to “grow” the economy and reduce emissions at the same time.

This is a monumental task, but it’s one we should embrace with open arms, not only because the survival of human civilization is at stake, but also because many of the steps we will need to take in order to reach this goal are steps that will lead to better, happier lives and reduced inequality in this country, and in the world at large.

How can reducing emissions make our lives better?

Income inequality in Canada is growing and has been for decades.2  And the term “income inequality” doesn’t provide the whole picture of the devastating gap between rich and poor in this country. Wrapped up in this is inequality of transportation, inequality of housing, inequality of heating and cooling, and countless other forms of inequality that make life for poor people in Canada difficult, degrading, and dehumanizing.

It may not make immediate intuitive sense, but there is a direct connection between our highly carbonized economy and this devastating economic divide between rich and poor. One of the areas where this is most obvious is in public transportation. Canada is a vast country where hundreds or even thousands of kilometers may lay between two population centres, with little between them. And yet it is not a country with a highly developed and efficient system of intercity rail transit. This means that for many people, the only way to get around the country is by private vehicle or plane – or, for those without means, not at all. And because companies like Greyhound weren’t taken into public ownership as the Council and others have called for, when they ceased operations in recent years they left many without intercity and rural transportation options. The transportation sector makes up more than one quarter of GHG emissions in Canada, and of that 27 per cent, almost half comes from the kind of light-duty vehicles that people use to get around.3

Making radical investments in electrified public transit, both within cities and between them, would reduce emissions while also making it much more possible for people who can’t currently afford to get around to do so. Expanding public transit while reducing the use of private vehicles would also allow us to make the case for an outright ban on private jets in the country. In 2022, Canada implemented a 10 per cent luxury tax4 on private jets and yachts, but this doesn’t go nearly far enough. The people who can afford their own private jetliners are not people who are going to be discouraged by an extra 10 per cent tax on their purchases.  

Even without the climate crisis, Canada is a country of extreme, even deadly, temperatures. And the people who die in heat waves are not the wealthy. They are people who live in rental housing with inadequate air conditioning. By decarbonizing the electrical grid and making power generation a public matter, while decommodifying the housing market, we can not only reduce emissions, we can prevent the needless deaths of people who cannot currently afford to purchase cooler air for their homes, or who are forced to live without any housing at all.

Renewable energy is cheaper than it’s ever been

The biggest barrier to reducing emissions through the widescale implementation of renewable energy like wind and solar power is not the cost of these technologies, but the profits of extractive industry. The cost of new solar and wind projects has been decreasing over time5 with the cost of solar falling by 90 per cent and the cost of wind power falling by 70 per cent since 2009.6 It is now less expensive to use these not-so-new technologies than it is to rely on existing coal and oil plants. In Canada, we have all the material resources we could possibly need to make the transition away from coal, oil, and methane (so-called natural gas) quickly.

What’s holding us back is a lack of political will due to the corporate capture of our political institutions, as well as insufficient buy in from communities. Reducing emissions through decarbonizing Canada’s electrical grid will require both grassroots support for such projects and political pressure at the highest levels of government. These two things are of equal importance: reducing emissions quickly and drastically requires the power and resources of a centralized government, and creating the conditions necessary for a centralized government that has not met a single climate target this century to finally do so will require people and communities to be engaged, mobilized, and enthusiastic about reducing emissions through renewable energy. 

Canada owes a debt to lower income countries – we can begin to pay it by aiding their energy transition

Canada has consistently been among the wealthiest countries in the world, and a great deal of that wealth comes from resource extraction, in particular, mining, in less wealthy countries. It is therefore both ethical and practical for Canada to provide material support to other countries to help reduce their emissions. Lower income countries have long borne the brunt of colonialism and extractive capitalism – the exploitation of their natural resources by developed nations like Canada is what keeps them underdeveloped and impoverished in the first place – and these same countries are often the ones that experience the most devastation from climate change.

In 2020, 69 per cent of Canadian mining assets came from mining operations abroad, with many of those operations located in extremely poor countries like Panama, Peru, Mali, Zambia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.7 Canada has an ethical obligation to these countries, and others, to provide material support for reducing emissions in the form of financial aid, infrastructure, and expertise. Canada’s prosperity has been built on the backs of these countries. Providing them with the financial resources to make an energy transition is not charity, it’s a moral imperative.

But even without the ethical obligations that come from having exploited the resources of these countries, aiding other countries in reducing their emissions has a practical aspect as well. Although Canada is one of the world’s top 10 emitters, and one of the top three per capita emitters, our emissions make up only around 1.6 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions8 due in large part to the fact that we are also one of the least densely populated countries on the planet.9 The climate crisis knows no borders and if Canadians want to mitigate the catastrophic floods, fires, droughts, heat domes, and biodiversity collapse that the climate crisis brings, we must act to ensure that economically oppressed and exploited nations have the resources, financial and otherwise, to implement a speedy transition of their own.

What to know

  • Canada needs to reduce emissions by at least 60 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 and support other countries in emissions reductions.
  • Economic growth cannot continue to be the primary indicator of success: we cannot continue to “grow” the economy and reduce emissions at the same time.
  • Radical investments in electrified public transit, both within cities and between them, would reduce emissions while also improving access and reducing inequality.
  • Renewable energy, like wind and solar projects, is cheaper than it’s ever been, but a lack of political will due to the corporate capture of our political institutions, and insufficient community buy-in are holding us back from widescale implementation.
  1. Analysis: When might the world exceed 1.5C and 2C of global warming? – Carbon Brief
  2. Canadian Income Inequality – The Conference Board of Canada
  3. Links between fuel consumption, climate change, our environment and health (
  4. Luxury tax registration –
  5. New Solar, Wind Now Cheaper than Existing U.S. Coal and Gas Plants, Analysis Shows (
  6. By the Numbers – Canadian Renewable Energy Association (
  7. Minerals and the economy (
  8. 4462-ghg-emissions-report-v03f.pdf (
  9. World Population Day: Last densely populated countries in the world (

Find out more about our vision for a just transition here.

Alex Birrell

Alex Birrell is one of the Council of Canadians Communications Officers, specializing in Research and Analysis.

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