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World Large greenhouse gas-emitting countries, including Canada, not on track to achieve Paris targets: UN agency

Major carbon-emitting countries including Canada need to dramatically increase efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions which currently show no signs of peaking, the United Nations warned on Tuesday.

Emission-reduction targets made by governments under the 2015 Paris climate accord, if achieved, would still leave the world facing a grim future of rising seas, widespread species extinction and a host of threats to human health and livelihoods, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said in its annual “emissions gap” report.

However, most of the largest emitting countries – including Canada and the United States – are not on track to achieve their current emissions targets, let alone adopt tougher ones as proposed under the Paris accord, the report said. The UN agency urged governments to adopt a wide range of policies such as higher carbon taxes and reductions in fossil-fuel subsidies that include tax breaks for oil and gas production.

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“The science is clear; for all the ambitious climate action we’ve seen – governments need to move faster and with greater urgency,” UNEP deputy executive director Joyce Msuya said in a release. “We’re feeding this fire while the means to extinguish it are within reach.”

The UN agency published its emissions-gap report in advance of next month’s Conference of the Parties (COP) meeting where government ministers will gather to work on implementing the Paris climate accord. The 2015 treaty aims to limit the rise in temperatures to less than 2 C above pre-industrial levels to avoid the most punishing effects of climate change.

In Canada, the federal government is facing a backlash from Conservative Opposition MPs and several provincial premiers, including Ontario’s Doug Ford, over its climate-change strategy and its plan to impose a carbon tax on provinces that do not have their own broad-based levy. The Ford government – which killed its predecessor’s cap-and-trade carbon pricing plan – is to release its climate-change plan this week, and has signalled it will be less onerous, with less ambitious targets, than the previous provincial Liberal plan.

Ontario Environment Minister Rod Phillips has said his province’s new plan will address climate change and encourage technological innovation but will not rely on a carbon tax that hurts consumers and Ontario businesses.

Canada is aiming to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. The Paris accord calls for countries to increase their efforts to transition away from fossil fuels, while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is facing pressure to abandon his carbon-tax plan and to increase support for the Alberta-based oil and gas sector that is being hammered by depressed prices.

Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna insisted Canada is on track to hit its 2030 targets, adding some policies – such as investments in transit – are still being implemented and have not been fully accounted for.

“We have a plan to meet our Paris targets and we’re absolutely committed," she said on Tuesday. “We know our policies are on track to get us to our 2030 targets, but there are other measures we have taken that we still need to model the reductions in emissions.”

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She said it is “extremely important” that countries increase their ambition in the coming years but that the federal government remains focused on meeting its current target, as it battles with conservative opponents at the federal and provincial level. British Columbia announced on Tuesday it will intervene on the side of the federal government in its court battle with Saskatchewan and Ontario over whether Ottawa has the right to impose a carbon tax in their provinces.

In the gap report, UNEP suggests carbon pricing is a key tool for creating incentives for investment in low-carbon technologies while reducing GHG emissions from existing sources. If all countries phased out fossil-fuel subsidies, it would reduce global emissions by about 10 per cent by 2030, it said.

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