Canada and BC Greenhouse Gas Emissions – How are we doing anyway?

  • October 30, 2013

By Denise Dalmer

In the just published 5th assessment report of the International Panel on Climate Change, the authors tried to be less uncertain with their predictions about climate change than in the past. They concluded that “[w]arming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and oceans have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.” Canada is part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and in 2009we signed the Copenhagen Accord, which committed the country to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 17% below 2005levels (737 MT CO2e) by 2020 (~ 612 MT CO2e).

Given 2020 forecasts in the most recent Environment Canada report on emission trends(October 2013) amounting to 734 MT CO2e (excluding 28 MT CO2e of emissions uptake from Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry), Canada is on track to beat least 122 MT CO2e short of the target, or 150 MT CO2e,without considering emissions uptake from land use and forestry. Despite statements that there have been declines in emissions of 4.8% (0.8% per year) between 2005 and 2011 while the economy grew by 8.4% (1.4% per year), Canada is still some distance from its 2009 pledge; we have also made less progress than many other OECD countries. It is projected that by 2020, Canada will account for just 1.6% of global GHG emissions, down from 1.8% in 2010 and 2.1% in 2005, so the truth is that what happens here won’t matter much to the world-wide emissions picture. Still, Canada is and will remain under the spotlight among environmental groups and others concerned about climate change. Since 1992, Canada’s GHG emissions have climbed by about 17%, while total global emissions increased by almost 50% over the same period.

Not surprisingly, transportation and oil/gas each still represent about 25% of Canada’s total GHG emissions, followed by electricity generation and buildings at 13% each, agriculture and emissions from energy intensive trade exposed industries at roughly 9% each, and finally waste/other at 6%. The percentage distributions are expected to change slightly by 2020, with oil and gas accounting for a higher percentage than transportation and agriculture also growing modestly as a percentage of the total.

For the most part, we have failed to address the significant contributions of greenhouse gases from the transportation sector because it is a non-point source and involves complicated questions around urban design, community and transportation planning, and individual behaviour. Some of these topic areas require a high degree of cooperation and collaboration among all levels of government, while others need significant behavioural change at the consumer/household level – which is always a challenge given the fundamental role that energy and transportation play in our social and economic structures.

Turning to British Columbia, the Environment Canada report on Canadian GHG emission trends projects that by 2020 the province will be at basically the same emissions level as in 2005. This is not a surprising or unexpected conclusion in light of the province’s current focus on LNG development, continued population and economic growth, and the paucity of opportunities to lower BC’s emissions from the electricity sector. Recently, the provincial government suggested that BC’s greenhouse gas emissions actually fell by 17% from 2007 and 2013, and that this is mainly attributable to the carbon tax. Environment Canada’s numbers point to a less pronounced drop of emissions closer to 5% as of 2011, which casts doubt on the provincial government’s estimate for 2013. Suffice it to say that based on the information available today, neither Canada nor BC is likely to meet the greenhouse gas emission targets set by the respective governments.