From black to green

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From black to green


The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed many flaws in our societies, and in particular in our economic model. The climate crisis, the aging of the population, the increase in inequalities have for years accentuated the pressure to change perspective. Fortunately, there is no shortage of ideas, nor of initiatives, and on this front, Quebec has little to envy the others. Today: decarbonisation, fourth of six texts.


The energy transition is at the heart of the Quebec government's latest sustainable development plan released this fall, which focuses more than ever on the electrification of transportation.


© Getty Images / iStockphoto
The energy transition is at the heart of the Quebec government’s latest sustainable development plan released this fall, which focuses more than ever on the electrification of transportation.


“Carbon neutral in 2050.” The objective is ambitious, but must absolutely be achieved to slow down and stop the train of climate change. Humanity is approaching the wall still too quickly. Canada picked up on that rallying cry this fall, although it is not known how it will meet its target. Other countries, cities and companies, which have made the same commitment or even promised to do better, are already at work.

Aiming for the carbon neutral economy is, despite what some prophets of doom believe, an opportunity, an opportunity to change the economic model so that it is more respectful of the planet, but also more efficient and resilient. And no, it is not synonymous with unemployment or impoverishment. Even companies that have taken the train can gain by the exchange.

To arrive safely, however, multiple strategies must be implemented by governments, businesses and citizens to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated especially with fossil fuels. The famous energy transition is also at the heart of the Quebec government’s latest sustainable development plan released this fall, which focuses more than ever on the electrification of transportation.

It’s not for nothing. “Today, in Quebec, 50% of the carbon we emit comes from oil, the most expensive source of energy and it is linked to an incredible loss of productivity in the Quebec economy,” explains Pierre-Olivier Pineau , professor at HEC Montréal and holder of the Energy Sector Management Chair. “Quebecers have larger and larger vehicles and more and more vehicles per 1,000 inhabitants, which is costing us more and more in congestion, rutted roads, urban sprawl and, of course, in infrastructure. ”

A supporter of “smart decarbonization” which would also focus on saving energy and reducing the number of vehicles, he underlines the relevance of targeting transport. This sector is responsible for Quebec’s inability to meet its GHG emissions reduction targets. “If we miss our 20% target in 2020, it is only because of individual transport and goods. […] Paradoxically, and this is not well known, in Quebec, the sectors where we observe real reductions in GHG emissions are the industrial sectors. Taken as a whole, they exceeded the 2020 target, ”continues the researcher.

Profitability

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And if businesses large and small have done so, it is because it is profitable in most cases: energy savings, productivity gains through the adoption of more efficient processes, recycling of residual materials and creation of shorter supply chains. All this, by frequently adopting strategies specific to the circular economy.

The Quebec iron and steel sector, for example, is in the process of drawing up a portrait of its entire value chain in order to identify, among other things, the possibilities of circularity allowing a reduction in GHG emissions. The initiative is supported by the Government of Quebec through the Green Fund.

It is not always simple or easy to make these meshes, warns Mr. Pineau, however. “Big companies are looking for projects that are profitable with a short-term return on investment. They are reluctant to change their processes for fear of experiencing supply disruptions. […] They also want to protect their competitive advantage and may resist disclosing certain information. ”

The slow return on investment can actually be a drag when the costs associated with modernizing existing machinery, as may be the case in older foundries, are high, explains Céline Bak, President of Analytica Advisors who advise companies in the development of their decarbonization plan.

But things are moving. Last fall, a new investment of 875 million was announced for the construction of a biofuels plant in Varennes by the firm Enerkem, in partnership with Shell, Suncor, Proman and Hydro-Quebec. The Recyclage Carbone Varennes project will convert more than 200,000 tonnes of non-recyclable residual materials and residual forest biomass into biofuel, using an electrolysis process using hydroelectric energy.

As a fossil fuel producer country, Canada cannot achieve a carbon neutral economy without government support, notes Mme Bak, who for years portrayed the Canadian cleantech sector. Particularly in producing regions, although Alberta has one of the best wind and solar potential in the country.

The decarbonization of the economy is an emergency, insists the economist François Delorme, teacher at the University of Sherbrooke and collaborator of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). “We already know what to do, but the longer we wait, the more the cost of inaction increases, and that every year. We cannot shovel the problem forward. The climate problem is the only one where we cannot push back the wall. It is a unique problem in economics and that is why we cannot only within the framework of the existing economic paradigm. ”

“There is a very strong link between GHG emissions and the linear economic model”, underlines Daniel Normandin, director of the new Center for Intersectoral Studies and Research in Circular Economy (CERIEC), of the École de technologie supérieure. .

The adoption of new models could therefore be a game-changer. A study carried out for the Club of Rome and published in 2016 showed that the five European countries examined would benefit from adopting an economic model favoring the circular flow of resources. This would promote job creation, reduce GHG emissions and improve their trade balance.

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