Canada off track for 2020 climate target

Today, Canada took part in the Multilateral Assessment, a review of the country's progress for meeting the climate commitment of a 17% reduction in emissions from 2005 levels by 2020. As my colleague Danielle Droitsch said a few days again, Canada needs much greater climate ambition, as it is not on track to meet the target for the year 2020. The formal review showed a need for greater clarity as a number of countries asked what additional steps Canada would take to close the gap and whether it would have federal regulations to address tar sands. Unfortunately Canada did not provide a lot of confidence that they are prepared to take the needed steps to actually meet their target.

In announcing policies intended to help Canada reach its 2020 emissions reduction target, the policies mentioned included those for short lived climate pollutants, participation in the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, regulations on the highly potent HFC gases found in some household appliances, and restrictions on heavy duty truck emissions from the year 2018 onward. Canada also announced its intent to develop new policies on methane emissions from oil and gas, emissions from natural gas power plants, and emissions from chemical and fertilizers. And yet, Canada did not discuss future federal regulations on tar sands at all among the list of additional steps they were planning to take- despite the fact this source of emissions is the barrier to Canada meeting its international obligations. The list of additional measures is very telling as it did not list tar sands anywhere.

This is worrying for several reasons:

- Missing the target: Representatives from Brazil and South Africa pointed out that the list of policies announced has not been properly assessed to determine how much they would actually contribute to emissions reductions by 2020. It seems highly unlikely this set of policies will be sufficient to propel Canada to its emissions reduction target as they aren't planning to address their largest source of growing emissions - tar sands. In a bit of irony, Canada presented a graph showing that it will significantly miss its target with a headline that said "making progress".

- Ignoring Renewables: Rather than focusing on renewable technologies, the Canadian government officials chose to emphasize carbon capture and storage projects that have not yet been built. This seems consistent with information from NRDC's backgrounder on Canada about clean energy support in Canada - that it has stagnated or been eliminated under the current federal government.

- Unclear emissions accounting: The indecision on Canada's part also extends to the type of emissions accounting the country is planning to follow. China raised a question about the rather erratic record of land use emissions, and Canada's response about using a net-net approach excluding natural disturbances still leaves many questions to be answered. And when the US raised a question about (1) whether the policies announced by Canada will get it on track for a 2020 target, and (2) if Canada would be able to report the estimated mitigation effect in their next biennial report, the (non)-answer was a halfhearted refrain about Canada making significant progress on previous efforts and new proposed legislation.

Ignoring Tar Sands

Tar sands emissions are expected to triple in 2020 from 2005 levels. Rather than addressing emission from this sector, it seems that the federal government is unwilling to take responsibility for the regulation of this sector. At the same time, the national position seems to be that Canada won't act without the U.S., and is more committed to funding more tar sands expansion rather than investments in clean energy. This is what Canada said in response to a written question about this issue as part of the Multilateral Assessment:

Given the integration of the Canadian and American energy sectors, regulatory action in this area would be aligned with recently proposed actions in the United States to ensure Canadian companies remain competitive within the North American marketplace. Canada will also focus climate-related investments in innovative technologies to drive further improvements in environmental performance in the oil sands and other growing sectors.

How will Canada meet its target?

During the presentation, Canada's team highlighted the role of provinces and territories. If this is truly the case, then the Federal government should take a supportive role that complements the ambitious climate targets of its own provinces - and develop a stronger emissions reductions target, in advance of the climate summit in Paris this December. If the federal government is waiting for the provinces to lead, then the surprise victory by the New Democratic Party over conservatives in Alberta may indicate that the federal government is already behind the times. The NDP's national agenda includes an ambitious emissions reduction target of 51% below 2005 levels by 2025 - and we're talking about a party that now leads a province responsible for most of Canada's tar sands production and over one-third of the country's emissions.


Unfortunately, Canada did not generate any confidence among observers about the country actually trying to meet the target. Of course, we knew this, given their official projections which show that they are only going to get about halfway to their target with their current measures. This confirmation that they don't plan to adopt national tar sands regulations is a clear sign of their planned future inaction.