Canada reduces its CO2 emissions by 2 million tonnes over 15 years

by Felix von Geyer

Last week’s Canadian National Inventory Report of greenhouse gas emissions released by Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government showed Canada had reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by two million tonnes to 729 Mts (million tonnes) for the year 2018 versus 731 Mts in 2005, representing a reduction of 0.274 per cent.

The previous Stephen Harper Conservative administration had pledged at the 2009 UNFCCC COP 15 in Copenhagen to reduce emissions 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 which would have left Canada’s emissions at 607 Mts, still above 1990 levels of 599 Mts that formed the baseline of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol agreement. Technically under the Copenhagen commitments, Canada should reduce its emissions 122 Mts this year. The economic lockdown resulting from the Coronavirus pandemic may yet help achieve some of this target where policies since 2009 have failed.

Canada’s moving emissions target was subsequently revised in the run up to the Paris Agreement when, in May 2015, Harper elected to reduce the country’s emissions 30% below 2005 levels but changed the target date to 2030. 

This target aims to reduce Canada’s emissions total to 507 Mts.  Canada’s Kyoto commitment was emissions reductions of 6% below 1990 levels by 2012 to around 558 Mts. Consequently, by 2030, Canada’s emissions should at last be below its 2012 Kyoto target for emissions reductions. Former Conservative Environment Minister, Peter Kent, famously withdrew Canada from the Kyoto Protocol in December 2011 on his return from UNFCCC COP17 in Durban. At the time, Trudeau, then a Member of Parliament, had to apologize to the House of Commons for calling Kent ‘a piece of shit’ in reaction to the announcement.

During the period 1997-2030, however, Canada would have emitted at least four billion tonnes of cumulative emissions in excess of any of its international agreements in this timeframe.

The 2015 Harper target was derived on the back of his Conservative government’s agreement with electricity producers to phase out coal-fired power production, typically at or near the end of the natural life cycle of the sector’s power plants.

The Trudeau government affirmed the Harper target as Canada’s Nationally Determined Commitment at the December 2015 Paris Agreement six weeks after he won a landslide majority against Harper in the October federal elections.

The latest National Inventory Report stressed the decoupling of Canada’s economic growth from its emissions profile. Indeed, Canada’s GDP in 2005 was C$1.654 trillion, rising to C$2.071 trillion by 2018. Therefore, carbon intensity reduced from 440,000 tonnes of COper $billion of GDP to 350,000 tonnes/$billion GDP, representing nearly 35% reduction in emissions intensity as portrayed in the Statistics Canada chart below. Figure ES–1 (See long description below)

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