Canada Emission Reduction Challenges

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Leading Emission Reduction Challenges: (a) Rising consumer and industrial demand for energy-intensive products and services; (b) Dependence on fossil fuels as energy sources, especially oil; (c) High energy use of government supported development policies and programs (Tar sands)

Current level of greenhouse gas emissions

As of 2014, Canada’s national inventory reported 732 megatonnes (Mt) of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions. This amount does not include Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) emissions of 72 Mt. Energy use is highest at 81% or 594 Mt, followed by agriculture (8%), industrial processes (7%), and waste (4%).  2014 emissions were 120 Mt (20%) higher than 1990’s 613 Mt.


Emission Reduction Challenges

A recent April 2016 report on emissions from Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Officer states leading barriers in reducing emissions as (1) our strong dependency on fossil fuels and (2) management of our forests. Our target of 30% (208 Mt) below 2005 levels by 2030 means removing more than the equivalent of all emissions from today’s cars and trucks (including off-road vehicles), and a price for abating CO2e of $100 per tonne. Policies have begun to reduce emissions from coal use, and from improved vehicle fuel efficiency. Studies are underway on the contribution of managed forests in removing atmospheric emissions.

Major increases since 2009 in CO2e emissions have primarily been from mining, and oil and gas production (23 Mt), manufacturing (9 Mt), diesel fuel use by off-road equipment (9 Mt), and fugitive oil/gas emissions (4 MT).

Emissions overall continue to increase. Trends include: a steady increase between1990-2000 followed by fluctuations from 2000-2008, a 2009 drop, and gradual increases thereafter. Between 2005 and 2009, emissions decreased by 51 Mt (6.8%), and from 2009 to 2014, increased by 36 Mt (5.2%). Emissions have increased more than 20% since 1990 but GDP increased by 75% as well. Long term trends of fuel switching, efficiencies, technologies, population, energy prices, and economic and policy structure changes have all influenced the increase in emissions.

Last year, Tim Gray, of Environmental Defence, was quoted in a Huffington Post article as saying tar sands production, the pipelines that carry that oil, and their sky-rocketing emissions are the number one barrier to Canada finally meeting its international obligations on climate change. This past April, a National Observer’s interview with John Stone, former climatologist with Environment Canada, and vice-chair of PICC’s Working Group II, quoted him saying, “building more pipelines is scientifically incompatible with meeting climate change commitments.”


Assessment of Barriers

The Budget Officer also stated there are significant risks in a large-scale move to lower emissions. A patchwork of abatement programs (i.e., carbon pricing) across different sectors and regions may lead to unnecessarily high costs. Measures that are not sufficiently coordinated and that have regional disparity in their impacts, may not be addressed, thereby undermining a consensus. For instance, a carbon tax on fuels when vehicles are already subject to an increasing fuel-efficiency standard imposes an elevated cost on the transport sector.

Standard abatement measures may also have uneven impacts geographically. One measure across all sectors though is carbon capture and storage. A Canadian Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project (DDPP) report released April 26, 2016 estimates the current gap to reaching Canada’s 2020 target as 76 Mt and its 2030 target as 91 Mt.



Our new government has reversed a number of unfriendly environmental decisions made over the last decade. A gradual phase out of fossil-fuel subsidies to end-users by 2030 is desired. Letting the provinces design their own policies to meet national emissions targets, to date, has not reached national unity as each province pursues its own agenda.

The Budget Officer sees that emissions reduction needs a complex variety of coordinated approaches given the highly diverse nature of emission sources—transportation, oil and gas production/ distribution, and electricity generation from coal. Regulation has begun. DDPP recommends aligning carbon policies for long-term, cost-effective decarbonization. They recently took stock of Canada’s aspirations vs emission trajectories as a result of COP21. DDPP recommends five steps—(1) all sectors should have emissions policies, (2) tightening vehicle and building energy and emissions intensity regulations, (3) economy-wide carbon pricing, (4) decarbonized electrification, and (5) support to drive down future costs of emission reductions.

Derek Coronado of Citizens’ Environmental Alliance favors political will as the solution given that existing and pending action from Canada’s provinces, territories, and the federal government are expected to fall short of Canada’s 2030 targets. Keith Stewart of Greenpeace Canada sees reducing the political power of the oil industry as key to progress on phasing out fossil fuels.

–Submitted by Climate Scorecard Country Manager Diane Szoller


Useful Resources

Environment Canada, 2014. Canada’s Emissions Trends, 2014.

Environment and Climate Change Canada, 2015. National Inventory Report 1990-2014: Greenhouse Gas Sources and Sinks in Canada – Executive Summary.

Environment and Climate Change Canada, 2016. Greenhouse Gas Emissions 2016.

Government of Canada, Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, April 21, 2016. Canada’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions:  Developments, Prospects and Reductions. Documents/Reports/2016/ClimateChange/PBO_Climate_Change_EN.pdf

Graveland, Bill, The Canadian Press, February 6, 2015.  2015/02/06/justin-trudeau-liberals-carbon-emissions_n_6632340.html


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