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The assertion that Canada is "halfway" to meeting its international commitment to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions reductions is the Harper government's main talking point on climate change.
Environment Minister Peter Kent used those words earlier this month, as he has on many previous occasions, when he told the House of Commons: "I will say again that Canada is halfway to achieving our 2020 greenhouse gas reduction targets."
Because Canada's commitment is to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent over 2005 levels by 2020, and this is just 2013, one might think things are well in hand – that the country has seven more years to reach the commitments made by Prime Minister Stephen Harper when he attended a climate-change conference in Copenhagen in 2010.
But what Mr. Kent really means is that, if the government stays the course, Canada will only be halfway to meeting its target by the time 2020 rolls around. In other words, he is saying we are on track to being halfway short of our goal.
Which, one might argue, is little to boast about. But Elizabeth May, the Green Party Leader, says even that claim is not true.
Canada will not be 50 per cent of the way to meeting its Copenhagen targets in seven years' time, she says.
In fact, it won't even be 20 per cent of the way – something the government appears to admit in a document called the 2012 progress report of the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy which it tabled with little fanfare on a Friday afternoon in February.
"I struggle to find a word other than lie. I know someone isn't supposed to say someone is lying in our political life," Ms. May said. "But they are projecting that, by 2020, our emissions will have gone up from what they are now. And they are pretending that when they go up they will still be halfway to the target."
The government's rationale for saying it is "halfway" there is laid out in a chart on page 24 of the report. Canada was emitting 740 tonnes of of greenhouse gases in 2005, the base year, and the chart shows it will be emitting 720 tonnes of the gases by 2020. In other words, Canada's emissions are forecast to be cut by 20 megatonnes.
Ms. May points out that 17 per cent of 740 is 126. "Translating it into easy terms, we are supposed to have reduced 126 megatonnes by 2020" she said. And "20 is not half of 126."
So how can the government say we are "halfway" there?
"They are pulling a fast one through the red herring of drawing an imaginary line to 850 megatonnes and saying that's what would have happened if the government had done nothing," says Ms. May. It is a line, she says that is based on nothing – drawn without scientific reasoning and for which there is no documentation.
Mr. Kent's staff insists that the measures taken by the government are seeing results.
"Climate change is a global problem that requires a global solution. Ours is the first Canadian federal government to take action to reduce green house gas emissions. Our plan is working," said the minister's spokesman Rob Taylor. "The actions taken to date through our sector-by-sector regulatory approach will bring us halfway to achieving our Copenhagen Accord targets."
But Ms. May says there is no indication that the federal government's efforts to reduce greenhouse gasses – which have largely evolved around the introduction of sector-by-sector regulations for emissions control – have had any significant effect.
There was a large dip in emissions in 2008 and 2009 but that was due to the global recession, says Ms. May. So, unless Mr. Harper and his government want to take credit for the international downturn in the economy, they really can't take credit for reducing the output of greenhouse gas, she says.
The United States, which made the same 17 per cent reduction commitment as Canada did at Copenhagen is very close to meeting it. Far from being "halfway" there, the U.S. projects that it will have reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 16.3 per cent by 2020.
American politicians looking for reasons to turn down projects like the Keystone XL pipeline could point to Canada and say this country is not doing enough to get its environmental house in order.
And two senators – Barbara Boxer, a Democrat from California, and Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont – have introduced a bill that would, among other things, impose border tax adjustments on countries that have not taken adequate steps to reduce carbon emissions.
"What happens in the United States if they take note of Environment Canada's most recent updates is that the world will know, if they didn't already, that Canada will not meet its commitments, said Ms. May. "Anybody who cares to pay attention will ask 'does Canada have a domestic climate plan to reach Copenhagen targets?' And the answer is no."
Gloria Galloway is a parliamentary reporter in The Globe's Ottawa bureau.