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Canada Falls Short of Climate Target, Promises Greater Certainty for New Fossil Projects

Alfred Palmer/Wikimedia Commons

Canada is on track to fall well short of its 2030 greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction target under the Paris agreement, according to year-end federal data submitted to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Ottawa “expects total GHG emissions to fall to 583 megatonnes by 2030, a roughly one-third reduction compared to 2015 levels. That marks a sharp drop from estimates just one year ago, which put that figure closer to 700 megatonnes by 2030,” the Financial Times reports.

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“Even so, the forecast puts Canada out of reach of its stated target to reduce emissions to 517 megatonnes over the same period. It also adds weight to estimates by environmental groups, economists, and other analysts, who have long claimed that Canada is on track to miss its Paris targets.”

The more optimistic calculation is based on the government’s “with additional measures” scenario, which includes policies like the federal floor price on carbon that have been announced but not yet implemented.

Canada’s UNFCCC report contained no specifics on how the country will make up the 66-megatonne gap between its optimistic scenario and a Paris target repeatedly described as a floor, not a ceiling [2] by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Environment and Climate Minister Catherine McKenna.

But the day before it tabled the UNFCCC report, the government’s focus was on delivering greater stability and regulatory certainty for pipeline proponents, with Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr promising new regulations for major development projects shortly after Parliament reconvenes January 29, Bloomberg reports [3].

The new regulatory system will “move us into a better place of predictability, timelines, and certainty, increasing public confidence among Canadians in the regulatory framework,” Carr said. “It is a goal that the timelines be predictable and they be reasonable, and we understand these are very important for investors.”

That objective is based on the government’s stated belief that Canada can simultaneously expand its fossil production and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, a proposition that Patrick DeRochie, Climate and Energy Program Manager at Toronto-based Environmental Defence, wants to put to the test.

“Every single fossil fuel project approved makes it harder for Canada to meet its 2030 and 2050 goals,” DeRochie writes [4]. “This means additional emissions cuts at a similar scale would be needed in other sectors and provinces to meet Canada’s commitments.” But he describes regulatory reform—the same process Carr touted as a way to deliver greater certainty for the fossil industry—as an opportunity for Canada to “avoid this fossil-fired future and align its own climate commitments with industrial and energy projects.”

A key element of the government’s regulatory reform plan is a strategic assessment for climate change [5] that would use a climate test to determine the place of future projects in a carbon-constrained world. But to deliver on that promise, DeRochie says the test must include two “fundamental features”: assessments of the lifetime GHGs a project can emit “while staying within Canada’s climate targets of reducing GHG emissions 30% below 2005 levels by 2030, and 80% by 2050”, and of whether the project would be economically viable in a “climate-safe” world.

“The dirtiest, most expensive, most difficult fossil fuels to extract and transport—such as tar sands oil—will be the first to become uneconomical in a carbon-constrained future,” DeRochie writes. “The potential for a project to become a stranded asset in a 2.0°C world must be understood before project decisions are made, especially since many proposed projects have life expectancies decades beyond Canada’s mid-century deadline for decarbonization.”