Canada is on track to substantially miss its 2030 targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, new government data show.
The numbers, released Friday, show how significant the work ahead is for Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked Mr. Wilkinson to find a way for Canada to “exceed” its 2030 emissions targets in his mandate letter. The latest numbers show most of the progress made in government policies over the past year was cancelled out by other factors that raised emissions projections.
The report, which will form part of Canada’s submission to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, shows the country needs to cut emissions by another 77 megatonnes over the next decade to meet its targets. That’s down slightly from last year, when government numbers showed a 79-megatonne gap.
Canada has pledged to reduce emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels. In real numbers, that means a reduction from 730 megatonnes in 2005 to 511 megatonnes in 2030.
Mr. Wilkinson said Friday the tracking also shows an “enormous” amount of progress since 2015.
“I remain very confident that we will meet and exceed the target," Mr. Wilkinson said when asked about the shortfall. He said the government will make up the gap by implementing policies promised in the election and identifying new ones.
The government’s latest numbers show that without the policies brought in by the Liberals since 2015, Canada would be on track to emit 815 megatonnes by 2030, instead it’s tracking to 588 megatonnes in 2030.
Still, Kathryn Harrison, a professor at the University of British Columbia who studies climate and energy policy, said there’s a disconnect between the government’s rhetoric on climate-change targets and the policies actually in place.
She said the biggest challenge facing Canada is that emissions from the oil sands are continuing to grow, meaning policies will need to both counter current levels as well as future emissions growth. For example, the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, from Alberta to B.C., is expected to increase emissions, Prof. Harrison said, as would the proposed Frontier oil-sands mine.
“How much are the other sectors and other provinces willing to do over and above in order to create room for growth in emissions from the oil industry?" Prof. Harrison asked.
Mr. Trudeau’s mandate letters to ministers outline the extra policies that the Liberals plan to roll out as they try to reach the target. They include a promise to plant two billion trees, protect a quarter of Canada’s land and water by 2025, introduce incentives for home and building retrofits, and expand incentives for purchasing zero-emissions vehicles.
The government has not released information about how much those policies will reduce emissions. However, a research note written by Dave Sawyer and Seton Stiebert for the Smart Prosperity Institute estimates that planting two billion trees would reduce emissions by another three megatonnes by 2030 rising to six megatonnes by 2050.
The emissions report highlights that “we’re talking about emissions reductions on a grand scale,” said Catherine Abreu, the executive director with Climate Action Network Canada. Because of that, she said, Canada “can’t keep avoiding the conversation about economic diversification toward a clean economy.”
She said a particular focus needs to be put on emissions from the oil and gas sector, freight transportation and industrial manufacturing, but ultimately the changes need to touch "every corner of the Canadian economy.”
“We’ll keep missing climate targets if we don’t have that conversation," Ms. Abreu said.