Blog: Time for a real plan on emissions

The federal government’s climate target for 2030 is a reduction of 40-45% of emissions nationally, compared to 2005 levels. And Ottawa is “committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.”

Judging by the latest news, those targets are indeed merely hazy “targets.”

As Parliament’s independent Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development reports: “The federal government is not on track to meet the 2030 target (and) the measures most critical for reducing emissions had not been identified or prioritized.”

Canada’s Emissions Reduction Plan was released in 2022, but let’s note that Canada has been setting climate targets for more than 20 years — and hasn’t met one yet.

As the federal auditor general reported two years ago: “Despite commitments from government after government to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the past 3 decades, Canada has failed to translate these commitments into real reductions in net emissions. Instead, Canada’s emissions have continued to rise.”

Then we have the contentious federal-provincial carbon-pricing (a.k.a. carbon-tax) system. The federal price now is $65 per tonne of CO2-equivalent, increasing by $15 per tonne each year until it hits $170 in 2030.

Whether it works to reduce fossil-fuel use or not is another story, but Ottawa now has showed that its system can be changed or adjusted for purely political ends: In October, the feds lifted the tax for three years on home-heating oil. That was clearly aimed at Atlantic Canada in particular, where 30 per cent of homeowners still use oil to heat their homes. Guess from which region the federal Liberals were seeing sour polling news?

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe promptly said his province will stop collecting carbon tax on heating oil unless Ottawa extends the tax break to all forms of home heating nationally.

And Moe joined Ontario, Alberta, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in calling for a meeting with the prime minister on “carbon tax fairness for all Canadian families.” B.C. Premier David Eby joined the choir.

But Ottawa has yet more climate-related plans in the works, including “a framework” for an emissions cap on oil and gas production (first promised two years ago and supposedly to be announced shortly); regulations to get to net-zero emissions from the electricity grid by 2035; measures on zero-emissions vehicles, plus a 70% cut in methane output from the oil and gas sector by 2030.

It all goes back to Canada and 195 other countries signing in December 2015 the Paris Agreement, seeking to limit the global average temperature rise to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5°C.

In May this year, though, the World Meteorological Organization warned that the world would “breach the 1.5°C level on a temporary basis with increasing frequency.” And Earth had its warmest October on record.

A new estimate by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) sees global emissions dropping 2 percent by 2030. Good news — but nowhere close to the 43% reduction required to limit temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

So what Canada do about all this?

Not as much as many people think.

Let’s be realistic: Canada may be the No. 11 producer of emissions in the world — but produces only about 1.5% of the world’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

You could shut the entire country down —  no energy, no industry, no jobs, no transportation, no heat, no light — and that reduction of 1.5% of emissions could be wiped out by new energy development and new emissions in other countries in a matter of some months or perhaps a few years.

(Think India, Asia, and Africa, for starters. India, for one, plans to increase coal production from ~1 billion tonnes annually to ~1.4 billion tonnes by 2027, and with an eye on 1.577 billion tonnes by 2030.)

Check out some of the world’s 2022 GHG numbers, shown below from a fuller list by Vancouver-based Visual Capitalist:Graphic: world emissions sources

Emissions from Canada’s conventional oil and gas sector fell 24% in the last decade. As well, oilsands firms have reduced emissions per barrel, and are aiming for net-zero in 2050. We have made progress on the 1.5%.

But now we see several countries showing signs of unease about the impact of the Paris Agreement, as they face a growing political “greenlash” from their citizens.

U.K. prime minister Rishi Sunak, for one, announced in September what news media called “a major U-turn on the government’s climate commitments.”

But saying Canada can’t do as much as many people think is not saying we should do nothing.

For the record: There is no way we want Canada and the world to give up on reducing emissions. Indigenous Peoples have been stewards and guardians of the environment for scores of thousands of years. It’s in our DNA.

But let’s have no more political speeches and gaseous promises from Steven Guilbeault, federal minister of environment and climate change (who, you may recall, was one of two Greenpeace activists who scaled Toronto’s CN Tower in 2001 to draw attention to climate change).

It’s time for a new and achievable mandate letter for the environment minister.

And it’s time for, via Ottawa, a serious and independent accounting of (i) where we and the world really are on GHGs; (ii) what can be realistically done about our emissions; (iii) what Ottawa really will do about them; and (iv) what the costs and impacts will be on all of us, both of action and inaction.

World emissions graphic

(Second graphic from Visual Capitalist)

(Posted here 15 November 2023)

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