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Canada’s GHG commitment problem

For the past decade, Canada’s GHG emission targets were framed by the Kyoto Protocol, in which Canada committed to a 6% reduction in emissions by 2012 relative to 1990 levels (590 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, or Mt CO2e). In spite of signing this treaty and its ratification through Parliament in 2002, Canada has continued to increase emissions.

In 2009, Canada’s 690 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2e) emissions were 17% higher than 1990 levels. But using 2009 makes us look better than we are due to the impact of the recession. In 2008 emissions (734 Mt) were 24% higher; in 2007 (748 Mt), 27% higher.

Having abandoned responsibility for adhering to the Kyoto Protocol, Canada signed on to a Kyoto replacement, scandalously cobbled together in Copenhagen in 2009. Under this new deal, our commitment is the same as the US, to reduce GHG emissions to 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 (a new target of 607 Mt).

Currently, there is a wide gap between this commitment and emissions reduction planning from federal and provincial governments. A new report from Environment Canada, Canada’s Emission Trends, estimates that existing government actions are expected to reduce GHG emissions by about one-quarter of the reductions in GHG emissions needed to meet the 2020 target. Under business-as-usual conditions, emissions will soar to 850 Mt in 2020; with existing government actions, only to 785 Mt.

Alas, even this commitment is cast under doubt by a new report from the National Roundtable on the Environment and Economy, one of those distinguished panels the feds love to appoint. They look backward and evaluate programs implemented for their effectiveness and find that Canada’s actions achieved only about half of what had been predicted (good synopsis here).

One wonders why the feds even bother issuing reports like Canada’s Emission Trends when they show off a government that is failing to move on its own inadequate targets. It is like a thumbing of the nose to the rest of the world: “sure, we’ll sign yer dang treaty but don’t expect us to actually implement anything.”

But I’m glad the report is out because one useful thing it does is break down emissions by industrial category, rather than the more opaque “sources of emissions” in the Kyoto accounting system. In Table 3, we learn that (surprise, surprise) the oil and gas industry will account for 46 Mt (86%) of Canada’s anticipated increase in emissions between 2005 and 2020. It also shows the rise of the oil sands as a source of GHG emissions. Emissions from the oil sands are anticipated to triple to 92 Mt in 2020 relative to 30 Mt in 2005 (this is somewhat offset by a drop conventional oil production).

And these are only the emissions from getting the gunk out of the ground and any processing in Canada; emissions from burning those fossil fuels in the US are several times larger, but those count in the US inventory.

Bottom line: Canada cannot achieve its Copenhagen commitment until it takes on the oil and gas industry and compels emission reductions by putting a moratorium on new development, and phasing out the existing industry. As long as Stephen Harper is Prime Minister, such action is unthinkable (though please surprise me, Steve). So Canada’s reputation for not living up to its international commitments will continue to worsen, and any announcements to the contrary should be captured and sequestered underground where they hopefully will not leak back to the surface.

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Comment from Donald Hughes
Time: August 4, 2011, 8:18 pm

There’s a big leadership gap on climate change. There are a few parties that have their heads in the right space on this issue, like Quebec solidaire and Projet Montreal. Unfortunately in Ontario we’ve gotten to the point where the NDP is running on a platform to cut gasoline taxes. The Liberals in New Brunswick were elected a few years ago in part because of their plan to cut gasoline taxes, too. I guess B.C.’s carbon tax is the outlier but as you’ve pointed out there hasn’t been the underlying shift in urban structure and energy consumption to match.

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