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A new review of Canada’s progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions has found that the country is getting closer to achieving its international climate commitments – although not quite as quickly as a recent self-assessment by Ottawa suggested.

The report, released Friday morning by the Canadian Climate Institute, found that existing federal and provincial policies, plus those in the works, should result in emissions falling between 34 and 36 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030. That would be within striking distance of the national target of 40 per cent.

It also found that the country is on track to reduce emissions 19 per cent below 2005 levels by 2026, just shy of the federal government’s interim target of a 20-per-cent cut by then.

By slight contrast, Ottawa stated last week, in the first progress report required by the 2021 Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act, that it is on pace to exceed the 2026 interim goal. It also made the 36-per-cent projection for 2030, absent the lower, 34-per-cent threshold.

In an interview, Anna Kanduth, who heads the Canadian Climate Institute’s emissions-tracking project, said two sectors in particular are seeing slow progress and stand in the way of hitting the targets: oil-and-gas production and buildings (mostly from space heating).

But she said the main takeaway from her organization’s independent assessment of the government’s update is that, with existing climate policies starting to have a positive impact, Ottawa needs to expedite its implementation of promised measures that are not yet in place.

The analysis in the report, which was done in partnership with the climate modelling firm Navius Research, underscores the imperative of making good on commitments in order to keep the 2030 target within reach.

It found that policies implemented to date have Canada on pace to see national emissions down 17 per cent from 2005 levels by 2026 and 25 per cent by 2030. Among those measures are carbon pricing, the Clean Fuel Regulations and the mandated phaseout of coal power. The report also counts a suite of proposed tax credits for clean technologies in this category, even though they have not yet been legislated into place, because key details have largely been laid out and they are to be retroactive.

When the modelling takes into account policies that are currently at a relatively advanced stage of development, it shows an emissions reduction of 31 per cent by 2030. Among the proposed policies in this category are Clean Electricity Regulations, to restrict the use of all fossil fuels in power generation, and a requirement that a growing share of all new passenger car and truck sales be electric vehicles.

Only when the modelling includes policy promises that have been made but not yet significantly developed does it show emissions cuts reaching the 34-to-36-per-cent range by 2030, depending on the stringency of those measures.

Measures cited by the institute that are still at that stage include a zero-emissions vehicle mandate for commercial trucks – which would be similar to the one for passenger vehicles, but more challenging to design – and a national green buildings strategy, which does not seem to have gotten past the consultation stage. (The report also counts Ottawa’s proposed emissions cap for the oil-and-gas sector in this category, for which a framework was just announced last week.)

The report suggests that the longer those policies take to implement, the greater the risk that they will fall short of the projected emissions cuts.

It also notes uncertainty about how the different measures the government is layering on will interact with each other. For instance, the oil-and-gas emissions cap’s overlap with the existing industrial carbon pricing system could lead to the latter having less effect than the modelling currently shows.

That’s in addition to the obvious possibility, which the review acknowledges, that some of the existing or planned policies will be scrapped if there is a change in government.

Nevertheless, the review mostly offers qualified optimism about national emissions – which as of 2022 had fallen only 6.3 per cent from 2005 levels – starting to drop more significantly as recently enacted and soon-to-be-implemented policies take hold.

Ms. Kanduth also credited Ottawa for meeting the terms of its climate accountability legislation, with last week’s federal progress report representing “a leap forward” in transparency, although she suggested future updates should include more details about some of the assumptions.

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