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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sits beside U.S. President Joe Biden at COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland on Nov. 2.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Well, that’s it – the science is settled: You can’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions just by making pledges to do so at international climate change conferences.

This shocking discovery was revealed last week by Canada’s Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Jerry DeMarco, in a report that lambasted Ottawa for going from “failure to failure” on its emissions targets.

Canada’s emissions have risen 20 per cent over the three decades since the federal government first started making commitments at global forums to cut them, the report said.

Canada, in fact, has performed the worst of all the G7 countries on its emissions goals since 2015, the year the Liberals came to power and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau immediately jumped on a plane to attend the historic United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris.

Canada’s emissions rose 3.3 per cent from 2016 to 2019, compared with 0.6 per cent in the United States, and a drop of at least 4.4 per cent in every other member country.

The report also criticized the Trudeau government for sending mixed messages about its goals, such as pushing for emissions reductions while also investing billions in the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion in British Columbia, and spending millions more in support for the oil and gas industry during the COVID-19 pandemic that didn’t “ensure credible and sustainable reductions of greenhouse gas emissions in the sector.”

That has to sting a government for which fighting climate change is a central part of its brand, and whose prime minister fancies himself an activist on the issue. Mr. Trudeau has been a vocal participant at international climate change gatherings, including the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow this month.

The report pointed out that Canada increased its reduction targets ahead of Glasgow – from 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, to 40 to 45 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 – and bluntly questions whether the Trudeau government can meet its ambitions.

“Regardless of when Canada makes a new plan to match its new targets, the emphasis this time (unlike with its previous plans) should be on meeting the targets and not just making plans,” it said. Ouch.

The report, though, is not entirely bad news. And it might even be a little unfair.

It pointed out that, even though Ottawa has come nowhere near its stated goals, it has still accomplished something important: Canada’s population and economy have both been growing faster than total national emissions. That decoupling is an essential first step.

The report also catalogued a number of positive measures taken by Ottawa since 2015, after the Trudeau government replaced a Conservative regime that tilted into climate-change denialism.

The Liberals have brought in carbon pricing, enshrined in law Canada’s 2050 target of net-zero emissions and developed programs to help workers transition out of the coal sector. They are also planning an emissions cap on the oil and gas sector whose ceiling will be lowered over time.

And while the report slams the Trudeau government for fighting climate change while also buying a pipeline, that is a simplistic view. Where some see hypocrisy, this page sees an acknowledgment of the reality that it would be a poor decision to choke off the oil and gas sector, which accounts for about 5 per cent of national GDP, during the transition period leading to net-zero emissions.

The internal-combustion engine and the gas-heated home aren’t going away overnight. Better to set emissions caps on the oil and gas industry, and to bring in revenue-neutral carbon pricing – which is “widely recognized as one of the most efficient and effective tools for reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” as the report said.

The report was not wrong or unfair, though, when it said the time for talk is over. That is as plain as the catastrophic flooding in B.C. this month. Ottawa needs to translate its repeated commitments into measurable emissions reductions. And it has to pick up the pace on other issues, such as adapting infrastructure to the extreme weather of recent years, and making companies report on how their activities contribute to climate heating.

Making pledges at conferences no longer cuts it.

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