Canada’s Carbon Capture Renaissance: A Double-Edged Sword

By: Lauren Breen

Edited by: Yang Ran Cheng

In the quest to mitigate climate change, Canada finds itself at a crossroads,  balancing hope and skepticism. Carbon capture technologies promise a lifeline for our planet, offering a path to reduce emissions and save our environment. Yet, as this article unfolds, you’ll discover that amidst the optimism, there are shadows of doubt lurking in the Canadian landscape, raising essential questions about the true potential of these ambitious innovations.  

The 2015 Paris Agreement, signed by Canada and 195 other parties, commits countries to drastically reduce emissions to limit warming to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels. In September 2023, Canada was called out at the UN General Assembly for its failure to fulfill climate commitments by allowing the continuation of new oil and gas developments. In response, PM Trudeau announced that a framework to cap oil emissions and investments in other innovations of carbon management would be in place by the end of the year.  

Carbon Capture and Storage (CSS) technology has been pushed by the Canadian Government as an environmental lifeline for the oil sands industry. Forms of carbon management include Carbon Capture,  Storage, and Utilization (CCUS), Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR), Biomass Carbon  Removal (BiCCRS), and enhanced mineralization. Each of these technologies works, is integrated, and is applied differently. They are also at different maturity levels in the research and development process; some projects are only at the planning stage, while others are nearly kickstarting operations. Overall, innovation and adoption are needed to utilize these technologies on  a large national scale to meet climate targets.  

Canada’s wealth of knowledge and expertise in developing cutting-edge carbon capture technologies, driven by research institutions and industry collaborations, positions itself as a global leader in CCS innovation. These advancements have led to diverse applications for CCS technologies beyond the energy sector, such as  agriculture, where biomass carbon removal and the use of biochar can enhance soil health and crop productivity. 

Moreover, oil sands producers in Canada have jumped at the opportunity to get involved. The Pathways Alliance for one has committed to creating a CCS hub by 2030. This consortium is composed of six companies, including Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., Suncor Energy, Cenovus Energy, Imperial Oil, ConocoPhillips Canada, and Meg Energy. Together, these companies make up 95% of the oil industry. Recent advertisements created by the group have popped up on television networks and social media, promoting the idea of “working together to lower carbon emissions”. The concern is whether Pathway’s discursive influence will be coupled with effective action and guaranteed reductions in carbon emissions.  

That is, while the use of Carbon Capture technologies in Canada are promising, they are not without their limitations and challenges. One of the major hurdles facing carbon capture is its high cost. The construction and operation of carbon capture facilities are capital-intensive, posing financial barriers for many industries. The Pathways group alone predicts that their CCS hub will cost $16.5 billion, turning to the federal government for financial support and investment . Secondly, many carbon capture methods are  energy-intensive, potentially offsetting the emissions reductions achieved. 

Moreover, the sheer size and varied geography of Canada present logistical challenges for the establishment of infrastructure for the transportation and storage of captured carbon. Effective implementation of carbon capture technologies also relies on supportive regulatory frameworks and government policies. The absence of consistent policies and clear incentives hampers widespread adoption. Finally, public perception of carbon capture is mixed. Concerns about the potential leakage of stored carbon, long-term storage site effectiveness, and the need to transition to renewable energy sources have led to skepticism among some communities. 

The growing prevalence of carbon capture technologies in Canada is a testament to the nation’s dedication to combat climate change. However, these technologies are a double-edged sword. Their potential for significant emissions reductions is coupled with challenges, such as high costs, energy consumption, and public hesitancy. Additionally, the relentless tick of the clock adds urgency to the battle. 

As we navigate this complex landscape, we must confront several essential questions. Are we on the right path to meet our climate commitments, and can we successfully implement carbon capture solutions? Furthermore, as time becomes an increasingly scarce resource in the fight against climate change, what other innovative strategies and collaborative efforts can Canada explore? From transitioning to renewable energy sources and embracing sustainable agricultural practices to promoting electric transportation and investing in nature-based solutions, the options are multifaceted.  

The road ahead may be challenging, but the collective dedication of Canada and the international community to address these pressing questions and seek multifaceted climate solutions remains our most potent asset in the battle against climate change.



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Image Citation: Pembina Institute. (2016). Carbon Engineering pilot plant in Squamish, B.C. [Photograph]. Flickr. Retrieved October, 28, 2023, from