Canada 200M tonnes away from meeting international emissions promise

Emissions down, but climate goal far off

OTTAWA — Canada has just 13 years to cut almost 200 million tonnes of yearly carbon emissions if it hopes to meet its 2015 international climate treaty obligations.

Such a reduction would be the equivalent of taking 44 million cars off the road — twice the number of passenger vehicles that were registered in Canada two years ago.

The latest national emissions inventory report, published in April, shows Canada’s emissions at 722 million tonnes in 2015, down just 0.7 per cent from the previous year.

As part of the 2015 Paris Agreement, Canada agreed to a target of 523 million tonnes by 2030 — 30 per cent less than what the country generated in 2005.

The target becomes even more daunting if there is any growth in emissions from industries, such as expanded production in the oilsands or new manufacturing.

Indeed, the pipeline projects Canada has already approved in principle could add more than 40 million tonnes from additional oil extraction alone.

Nonetheless, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna is insisting the government’s climate change plan will allow Canada to meet its target.

“If you look at the plan it shows how we are going to get to the target,” McKenna said. “We’ve taken very serious measures.”

The Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change,, signed last fall by Ottawa and 11 of the 13 provinces and territories, aims to take 86 million tonnes of carbon emissions out annually by 2030.

That includes the impact of the carbon pricing regime to be phased in at increments of $10 per tonne starting next year, reaching $50 per tonne by 2022.

The government anticipates other measures committed to prior to the framework, such as Alberta’s phase-out of coal-powered electricity plants and Saskatchewan’s renewable energy target, will cut emissions by 89 megatonnes a year.

The rest of the road to 523 will come from investments in public transit and green infrastructure, clean technology and stored carbon in forests, wetlands and soils.

Michael Cleland, chair of the board at the Canadian Energy Research Institute, said he pegs the odds of those cuts materializing by 2030 at “zero.”

“I don’t see events or forces in the offing that are likely to change that in the next couple of years,” said Cleland.

He said the climate change framework will get Canada closer, but the trajectory of emissions just won’t change fast enough to cut emissions by more than 27 per cent in 13 years.

Cutting coal-fired electrical plants, something Ottawa wants done by 2030, will eliminate 61 million tonnes, but three of the four provinces that still generate electricity by burning coal haven’t committed to that yet.

Cleland said there will be incremental growth in electric vehicles and more efficient buildings, but both are only happening “bit by bit.”

“I don’t see evidence we’re going to see a massive shift in the next 10 years,” said Cleland.

He said the government deserves recognition for its carbon price plan and “there is no question in my mind it will have an impact on people’s decisions.”

But he said it’s hard to know whether that plan will actually play out given the differences among the provinces, and the current lack of buy-in from at least two: Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Dale Marshall, national program manager at Environmental Defence, is more optimistic.

Consumers are going to buy into electric vehicles far faster than either the government or the industry are expecting, said Marshall, who also expects demand for fossil fuels to drop and opposition to pipeline projects to grow.

“I think there is a reasonable chance we’re going to hit our 2030 target,” he said. “There is a gap right now, but I think technology will continue to evolve quite quickly.”

— Follow @mrabson on Twitter

By Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

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