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Behind The Numbers

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Behind The Numbers delivers timely, progressive commentary on issues that affect Canadians, including the economy, poverty, inequality, climate change, budgets, taxes, public services, employment and much more. Contributors include staff and research associates from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA).The views expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributors, and do not necessarily represent the views of the CCPA. Visit the blog at Behindthenumbers.ca.

Canada's GHG commitment problem

| August 4, 2011

For the past decade, Canada's GHG emission targets were framed by the Kyoto Protocol, in which Canada committed to a six per cent 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 per cent 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 per cent higher; in 2007 (748 Mt), 27 per cent 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 U.S., to reduce GHG emissions to 17 per cent 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 per cent) 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 U.S. are several times larger, but those count in the U.S. 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.

This post first appeared in Behind The Numbers.



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