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Political cost key part of hitting net-zero emissions in Canada

UVic climate policy expert is assessing ways Canada can meet its greenhouse gas emmissions targets while winning support from everyday Canadians
Katya Rhodes (left) and Aaron Hoyle (right).

Canada is in a climate crisis and it has an emissions problem.  

Studies show that Canada will likely miss its targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) to 40 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 and to net-zero by 2050.  

University of Victoria climate policy expert Katya Rhodes says the situation is urgent, and her research offers hope that Canada can fulfill its international obligations.  

Rhodes’s latest project, “Achieving Canada's net-zero emissions target: Effectiveness and acceptability of climate policy pathways,” is assessing ways Canada can meet its GHG targets while winning support from everyday Canadians.  

The stakes are high, for the environment, for the economy—and for governments trying to implement smart climate policies. The good news? Rhodes says the technology and know-how exists to fight the climate crisis, but politicians need to choose policies that are both effective and acceptable to voters. 

“The climate crisis, it’s getting worse and worse,” Rhodes says. “My vision is to reduce climate change in B.C., Canada and worldwide. For that, we need compulsory and politically acceptable climate policy.” 

For example, Rhodes’s research shows that although many economists and policy advocacy groups recommend increasing a carbon price to reduce emissions, carbon pricing remains a divisive issue for voters. In B.C., Rhodes says measures such as the clean electricity standards and low-carbon fuel standard have led to significant emissions reductions—more than the province’s carbon tax, in some cases—without political opposition. 

“There are multiple ways to achieve Canadian climate targets,” Rhodes says. “What we’re interested in is understanding characteristics of public support around alternative options.”  

Her net-zero study will be the first to assess existing and hypothetical climate policies to achieve Canada's emissions targets. The study will also measure the chances of long-term policy survival by calculating the political cost of various policies per tonne of greenhouse gas emissions reduced. 

Rhodes, an assistant professor at UVic’s School of Public Administration (SPA) and member of the Institute for Integrated Energy Systems (IESVic), has enlisted the help of PhD student Aaron Hoyle, who previously worked at the Canada Energy Regulator.  

A climate and energy policy researcher with a background in mineral resources engineering and energy economics, Hoyle will develop an energy systems model that can better assess greenhouse gas emissions and the economic impacts of policies that hit Canada’s climate targets. 

He’ll then devise a range of hypothetical climate policy packages, and conduct web surveys with Canadians on which measures they support or oppose—and why. It’s the combination of modelling and survey work that makes the research unique.

“We’re trying to design a study that paints a realistic vision of different futures for people, and those are tied into modelling different policy packages,” Hoyle says.

The findings will be shared with partner organizations in Rhodes’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Insight grant, including the federal government’s Environment and Climate Change Canada and the think-tank Canadian Climate Institute. 

Hoyle, who grew up in a family of environmentalists, says it’s exciting to have the chance to directly inform how Canada tackles the climate crisis and to work with leading researchers like Rhodes.

“I believe that climate policy has to work for people for it to work for the planet,” Hoyle says. “SPA and IESVic are committed to the kind of interdisciplinary research that needs to be done, given the nature of our emissions problem.”

Through students like Hoyle, Rhodes is helping train a new generation of researchers dedicated to climate action. She hopes to empower citizens and politicians alike to make informed choices to curb runaway climate change.

“In the end, it will be people on the ground, regular citizens, voting for climate-sincere governments, switching to electric vehicles and heat pumps, and perceiving this as a good thing,” Rhodes says. “The transition will increase quality of life, create jobs and save the planet.”

For more information about UVic’s climate research projects, visit this page.