Canada’s Climate Change Policies Keep Its Paris Commitments Out of Reach

With no rollback in Alberta tar sands production, Canada's emissions remain on an upward slope, a new report says.

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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with Donald Trump in March
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not discuss climate change in his meeting with President Trump earlier this month, but his country's climate policies show a lack of progress even without U.S. involvement. Credit: Getty Images

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Canada probably will fail to meet its international commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under even the best-case scenario, according to a new report by the Canadian government.

The country, which continues to expand oil and gas production in Alberta’s oil sands despite its stated ambitions to curtail emissions, will make little to no progress towards ambitious emissions reductions targets pledged in December 2015 under the Paris agreement. That’s the conclusion of a report published earlier this month by Environment and Climate Change, a federal agency tasked with reducing Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions.

“We still have a lot to do as a country,” said Erin Flanagan, federal policy program director at the Pembina Institute, a Canadian non-profit environmental policy research group. “Our emissions are not on track currently to achieve our targets.”

The report projects that Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions will most likely increase from approximately 730 megatonnes (Mt) of carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gasses in 2014 to 742 Mt CO2 equivalent in 2030. Under a best-case projection, the release of greenhouse gasses would decline slightly to 697 Mt. This “low emissions” scenario is significantly higher than the 523 Mt target Canada pledged in Paris.

Canada's emissions projections not close to Paris targets

The report only models policies in place up to last Nov. 1. Since then, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s administration has made a number of significant climate policy changes through the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, an agreement between federal, provincial, and territorial governments to reduce emissions published on December 9.

“I think there are a lot of reasons to believe we are actually better off than the report suggests,” Flanagan said.  

More will be need to be done, however, to meet their targets, said Jake Schmidt, international program director at Natural Resources Defense Council.

“The biggest source of emissions that the Canadians haven’t yet grappled with is their growing tar sands expansion,” Schmidt said.  “There is still a gap between their target and current policies.”

Under the global climate agreement, Canada vowed to cut its emissions 30 percent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. To reach its target, Canada would have to rein in emissions from oil and gas production, the country’s leading source of greenhouse gas emissions.

On Nov. 29 Trudeau approved two pipelines that would pump nearly 1 million barrels of additional tar sands crude oil per day from Alberta to global markets.

If Canada continues to come up short on its efforts to meet its own greenhouse gas reduction goals the country is less likely to put pressure on the Trump administration as it seeks to roll back U.S. climate change policies put in place by the Obama administration. On Tuesday, President Trump signed an executive order that aims to undo climate policies across federal agencies, including the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.

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