Our process helps Canada achieve sustainable development solutions that integrate environmental and economic considerations to ensure the lasting prosperity and well-being of our nation.


We rigorously research and conduct high quality analysis on issues of sustainable development. Our thinking is original and thought provoking.


We convene opinion leaders and experts from across Canada around our table to share their knowledge and diverse perspectives. We stimulate debate and integrate polarities. We create a context for possibilities to emerge.


We generate ideas and provide realistic solutions to advise governments, Parliament and Canadians. We proceed with resolve and optimism to bring Canada’s economy and environment closer together.

4.0 Creating a Foundation for Low-Carbon Growth

Framing the Future: Embracing the Low-Carbon Economy

Creating A Foundation cover

Canada needs a low-carbon growth plan to guide a strategic transition toward a low-carbon economy. An effective plan will augment Canada’s policies related to innovation, investment, trade, and labour markets and skills to support the transition and ensure appropriate governance mechanisms are in place.

Low-carbon growth is central to greening the global economy, recognized the world over as critical to sustainable development. In a green economy, wealth and jobs derive from public and private investments that reduce carbon emissions and pollution, enhance energy and resource efficiency, and prevent the loss of biodiversity and ecosystems. Low-carbon growth, then, implies economic growth in the context of both the reduction of GHG emissions and the enhancement of energy efficiency.

Gathering knowledge about where Canada is today is an important step toward articulating what actions and focus are needed to enable low-carbon growth in Canada into the future. This chapter first summarizes commonalities and differences across international low-carbon growth plans and defines the key elements required for a Canadian plan. It goes on to acknowledge the importance of underlying “essential conditions” in shaping Canada’s success and then provides an overview of each key element and assesses Canada’s low-carbon-preparedness with respect to each.

4.1 Key Elements in Low-Carbon Planning


A low-carbon growth plan (LCGP) charts a path toward a prosperous low-carbon economy. Maintaining economic growth while addressing climate change is a central feature of existing plans around the world. Many link a country’s economic competitiveness to environmental objectives like developing clean energy capacity, improving energy efficiency, and reducing the carbon-intensity of specific sectors. Drivers for undertaking comprehensive planning range from energy security, sustainable development, and competitiveness, to economic development and the establishment of an analytical basis for discussions around burden sharing in the context of common but differentiated responsibility. The framing and reach of LCGPs differs among countries (e.g., a “green growth strategy” for South Korea or a “low-carbon transition plan” for the U.K.), but all seek to build on existing competitive advantage through economy-wide improvements in the energy and emissions intensity of the economy. Table 6 lists a number of countries that have issued low-carbon growth plans.

Table 6

Table 6

Plans tend to include detail on GHG reduction pathways and associated costs but are less precise on requirements to enable the low-carbon transition and are variable in setting targets and timelines. Although it is too soon to evaluate the effectiveness of existing plans or any implementation barriers and challenges, the lack of attention to the following elements is noteworthy:

// comparisons of carbon-intensity between a nation and its trading partners or competitors;
// leading indicators of performance such as levels of spending on research and development (R&D), targeted education spending, and levels of low-carbon infrastructure investment; and
// analysis of economic dependence on carbon with particular reference to large economic sectors that may be carbon-intensive.

This report builds on earlier NRT publications that address the need for widespread carbon-pricing policy to drive domestic reductions in GHG emissions. Because of the world’s dependence on fossil fuels, ceasing production of Canada’s fossil-fuel energy supplies is not an option that is feasible or desirable in the short to medium term. The challenge for Canada is to define a long-term path that will transition Canada from the current carbon- and energy-intensive economies of today to a future that involves sustainable resource use and substantially lower GHG emissions. Canada’s federal, provincial, and territorial energy ministers recognize the onset of a transition to a lower-carbon economy.43 Recent discussions on pan-Canadian collaboration with respect to Canada’s energy future have covered the need to diversify Canada’s energy sources and the importance of long-term transition to a low-carbon economy.

The NRT sees a need for a more comprehensive low-carbon growth plan for Canada to guide a strategic transition. Through our research and stakeholder consultations we have concluded that a low-carbon growth plan for Canada should include the following elements: innovation, investment, trade and market access, labour markets and skills, and governance (Figure 9). Each of these elements can create value through supporting a reduction in the emissions intensity of the Canadian economy and through capitalizing on opportunities to respond to shifts in international demand for LCGS.

We conducted an in-depth analysis of each of these elements to understand the current state of play globally and within Canada and to identify strengths and weaknesses and policy gaps for each. A more fulsome analysis is presented in Appendix 6.4, but we present the highlights of our analysis below.

Figure 9

Figure 9

[43] Public Policy Forum 2011a