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,” noted the Conference Board of Canada in a recent report. “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, the conference board noted, 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.”

From April 11-12 in Ottawa, the Conference Board has scheduled a conference that will help to address these issues.

The Conference Board noted that several policy tools will need to be developed and enhanced, which can help to guide the transition to a low carbon economy. 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: 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 Conference Board stated in its report. “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.”