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Canada’s GHG emissions rose in 2013, leaving little room to meet 2020 target

Oil and gas production, such as the work done at this Suncor processing plant in For McMurray, Alta., was the country’s fastest-growing source of emissions between 2005 and 2013.

Todd Korol/Reuters

Canada's greenhouse-gas emissions rose in 2013, propelled by higher oil and gas production, Environment Canada said in a report to the United Nations that suggests the country has little hope of meeting its international commitments.

Ministers in the Conservative government have frequently touted the fact that the production of GHGs has declined since 2005, but that decrease reflects the steep losses during the 2008-09 recession.

The report released Monday shows that Canada's annual GHG emissions rose by 1.5 per cent in 2013, and were up 4 per cent between 2009 and 2013 to a level nearly 20 per cent above Ottawa's 2020 target. The country's production of greenhouse gases rose by 27 megatonnes between 2009 and 2013.

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The oil sands were the country's fastest-growing source of emissions between 2005 and 2013, though still far lower than transportation or the electricity sector. In that period, emissions from the oil sands have climbed by 30 megatonnes (MTs) to 62 MTs, while the electricity sector reduced its GHGs by 36 MT in that period to 85 MTs, mostly as a result of Ontario's decision to close coal-fired power plants.

With emissions rising rather than falling, critics say Canada is not on track to achieve the 2020 target of reducing GHGs by 17 per cent from 2005 levels, a goal set by Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the 2009 climate summit in Copenhagen.

The emission inventory report was submitted to the UN's climate secretariat in the lead-up to the annual summit in December in Paris, where world leaders are hoping to conclude a global climate agreement.

In the report, the federal government notes that emissions' growth has slowed since 2009, even as the economy rebounded from the recession.

"Over the long term, the link between growth in GDP and emissions has weakened, resulting in the decoupling of economic growth and emissions," the report said.

In its report to the UN, the United States said GHG emissions rose by 2.2 per cent in 2013, but were still 10 per cent below 2005 levels and slightly down from 2009.

Provincial premiers met last week in Quebec City to claim leadership on the climate issue, though only Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne committed to new action, with the province's plan to institute a cap on emissions and join Quebec and California in a carbon trading system. The details of that plan must be worked out over the next six months.

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All levels of governments – as well as individual Canadians – must make a priority of the reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions, said Louise Comeau, executive director of the Climate Action Network, Canada. But she added Ottawa is a particular laggard.

"The federal government's contribution is weak to begin with, and it's late," Ms. Comeau said Monday. The Harper government joined with the U.S. by imposing tougher fuel efficiency standards and has introduced regulations to phase out traditional coal-fired power plants. But those actions will have the greatest impact after 2020.

"It's impossible for the federal government to make any contribution if it keeps putting in place regulations that don't have any effect in advance of the target," she said.

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About the Author
Global Energy Reporter

Shawn McCarthy is an Ottawa-based, national business correspondent for The Globe and Mail, covering a global energy beat. He writes on various aspects of the international energy industry, from oil and gas production and refining, to the development of new technologies, to the business implications of climate-change regulations. More

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