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BREAKING: Canada Falling Massively Short of 2030 Climate Target, New Analysis Shows

The gap between Canada’s climate action plan and its 2030 commitments under the Paris agreement is actually 161 megatonnes—nearly three times more than the 66 Mt the Trudeau government acknowledged in its latest report to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change—according to analysis released this week by the Pembina Institute and San Francisco-based Energy Innovation.

The revelation comes in the same week that auditors-general from Canada and nine provinces concluded that governments have no coherent plan to reduce emissions or adapt to the effects of climate change, and National Observer analyst Barry Saxifrage noted that a large chunk of Ottawa’s 2030 emission target is set to be met by buying carbon offsets in the United States, rather than enacting domestic emission reductions.

The Pembina-Energy Innovation report marked the release of an open-source Energy Policy Simulator that anyone can use to test the impact of different GHG reduction options for Canada. One reason for developing it: Canada has never released the modelling behind the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, so there’s no way to check the assumptions baked into the model.

In their own 16-page report based on the simulator, Pembina and Energy Innovation break out the emissions reduction potential of the different elements of the pan-Canadian plan and calculate their combined impact by 2030. “Stronger policy, or additional policies, will be necessary to achieve Canada’s commitments under the Paris Climate Accord,” the report states. It identifies carbon pricing and methane capture and destruction (where fossils have been pressuring Canada to slow the pace, with some success) as the two most effective policies in the mix, with energy-efficient building standards becoming more prominent by 2050 as a slow-moving building stock turns over.

Through 2030, “the most cost-effective emissions abatement policies are transportation demand management (policies to encourage walking, biking, public transit, etc.), energy-efficient building codes, an EV sales mandate, and early retirement of coal power plants,” the report adds. “Building codes, methane capture and destruction, and the carbon tax all provide a good blend of high pollution abatement and low or negative costs.” Carbon pricing shows a small net financial cost, far below industrial fuel switching, ending existing fossil fuel subsidies, and electrifying building components.

While the team of five authors from Pembina and Energy Innovation commends Canada for “creating an ambitious policy package” with the pan-Canadian plan, they stress that the country would need “an extension and strengthening of the PCF policies” to come close to hitting its 2030 Paris target—the same one Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna said she is determined to meet, in response to this week’s critique from the auditors-general [video].

In his National Observer analysis, Saxifrage is less complimentary, contending that the pan-Can plan “doesn’t even get halfway to its goal because of problems buying offsets from the U.S.” The offsets account for 59 megatonnes of emission reductions per year by 2030, he says, equivalent to all the carbon pollution from the four Atlantic provinces plus Manitoba, and not much less than the 80 megatonnes the country will save through other measures.

Saxifrage explains that the plan rests on four Canadian provinces’ membership in the Western Climate Initiative, a carbon cap-and-trade initiative led by California. The offsets would reflect the reality that carbon cuts are less expensive in California’s larger, wider economy than they are in Canada. “In theory, Ontario and Quebec benefit by paying less than cutting emissions at home,” he notes. “The down side is that they are sending money out their economies, and the provinces are making the low-carbon transition more slowly.”

The more immediate problem is that those deals may no longer be doable—at least as long as a former reality TV star occupies the White House.

“Canada obviously can’t assign our emissions to an unwilling nation,” he writes. “The Paris Accord is clear on this. Without this unapproved transfer of our emissions to the United States, Canada’s climate gap nearly doubles.” So if Trump follows through on his fulminations about pulling the U.S. out of Paris, “the offsets would clearly not be valid.”

To get at Canada’s mid-century decarbonization target, the Pembina-Energy Innovation report includes a “PCF-Extended” scenario that carries forward the dozen policy measures it assessed for 2030 and strengthens them through mid-century, or until they’ve achieved as much as they can. That includes a $10-per-year increase in the federal floor price on carbon, bringing it from $50 per tonne in 2022 to $330 per tonne in 2050. Carbon pricing does the lion’s share of the work in the extended scenario, and Canada falls short of its 2050 commitment by about 200 megatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year. The projection also assumes fewer cars on the road by 2050, with 60% of them electric, compared to 38% in a business as usual scenario.

Both the existing Pan-Canadian plan and the 2050 extension save money over time, “providing a clear illustration of the compatibility of climate change goals and economic development,” the report states. “Both packages exhibit the pattern of costs in early years (as the policies cause people and businesses to invest in new technologies, efficiency upgrades, and so forth) and savings in later years (once the cumulative fuel savings outweigh the costs of the capital upgrades).” Savings hit $45 billion and 2,700 lives per year if the PCF simply continues at its current intensity through mid-century, $150 billion and 4,600 lives per year with greater ambition.

The auditors-general, meanwhile, concluded in their first-ever joint climate assessment that as of 2015, the last year for which figures were available, Canada’s emission reduction goals were “a hodgepodge of different targets, with no consistency in how emissions are measured or whether cuts will target overall greenhouse gas outputs or just those from specific economic sectors,” The Canadian Press reports. “The auditors say that means there is no clarity on how Canada and the provinces and territories are going to measure, monitor, and report on their contributions to meeting Canada’s international commitment to cut emissions by at least 30% from 2005 levels by 2030.”

The audit also determined that Ottawa and the provinces have not “really assessed the risks a changing climate poses to the country and have no real idea of what might be needed to adapt to it,” CP notes. The assessments they’ve conducted to date “have been haphazard, inconsistent, and lacking in detail, with no timeline for action and no funding.”

McKenna acknowledged the importance of the joint assessment but said the report looks backward, without factoring in the impact of the pan-Canadian plan, since the plan was released after the scope of the audit had been set.

4 Comments (Open | Close)

4 Comments To "BREAKING: Canada Falling Massively Short of 2030 Climate Target, New Analysis Shows"

#1 Comment By Geoff Smith On March 29, 2018 @ 12:54 PM

This is so sad. My children and grandchildren will suffer at the hands of fossil shareholders. We are living in a society no different than that described by Charles Dickens. Notley is so messed up, she’s never going to be Premier again. But she’s pretending to justify her re-election by demeaning B.C. and its’ just policies. Goodbye Notley, the “elite” will elect that bastard Kenney. We shall all suffer extinction. There is no other Earth- like planet.

#2 Comment By Scott Aelxander On March 29, 2018 @ 1:11 PM

Yikes. We are going to miss our emissions targets. Who knew?
But no matter, it was only aspirational, right? And besides, Paris is so yesterday. We now know that even full compliance by every emitter in the world is insufficient to put the boots to climate change.
So let’s get serious.
First step, tell all those folks to stop wasting time pissing people off protesting pipelines in Canada. Instead, go shutdown a few car dealerships, then beef farms; then browbeat pregnant women to abort ASAP then, sterilize half the population (their half, not mine). Picket new coal burning facilities built all over the world by China in the years since the Paris Accord, and the new ones in Germany, and India. Then go support improvements in nuclear power safety, and construction of half a dozen new plants.
Or, go help the tens of thousands of people quietly working away on groundbreaking technical innovations and social engineering that may indeed actually save the planet.
You choose.
But please, please stop the sanctimony, name calling, moral judgments and the misplaced high self regard of 24/7 virtue signalling that creates a false link between protest (and the magical thinking that populates it), and meaningful action.
It generates only heat, something we are trying to make less of, right?

#3 Comment By Mitchell Beer On March 31, 2018 @ 6:00 PM

Scott, it was always well understood that the Paris target would be insufficient in itself to get us to 2.0°, much less 1.5. Figueres said as much in the run-up to the 2015 conference. It was still an extremely important momentum-builder, signalling industries and investors that the political will had shifted, decisively and permanently, in the direction of decarbonization. It also explains why you’ll see so much emphasis on toughening the targets (the COP-ese for it is “enhanced ambition”) leading up to this year’s UN conference in Poland.
The interesting good news is that some analysts are starting to set aside the IPCC’s most dire, 8.5°C warming scenario, arguing that on the balance of probabilities, we’ve turned the Titanic enough that it won’t happen. It still could — if we’re dumb and self-destructive enough as a species to ramp back up on fossil fuel production, after the hard work that’s been done to start ratcheting down projects and building incredibly cost-effective alternatives. But that’s no longer the momentum. Which is in itself a huge victory.
The other way of looking at the browbeating and social engineering you seem to want to imagine is to acknowledge that — tough as this transition will be — stopping one or many pipelines, phasing out coal, converting dealerships to carbon-free EVs, encouraging less meat-intensive diets that are healthier for all, and other measures along those lines are actually an easier path than the draconian steps that any of us can imagine if we *don’t* get the climate crisis under control. From people who are protesting in B.C., I’m not hearing sanctimony or name-calling (that seems to be coming from the likes of Jason Kenney and Derek Fildebrandt, wouldn’t you say?). The blockades are expressing a genuine concern about multiple crises, from climate to coastal waters to Indigenous rights to the future of the resident orca population to the legitimacy of municipal jurisdiction, all of which are harmed in one way or another by this pipeline.
So yes, as you say, let’s get serious. If your concern is for jobs, recognize that with the “de-manning” that companies like Cenovus and Suncor are actively pursuing, along with their counterparts in Texas, the tar sands/oil sands will never again be the job creator they once were. If you’re trying to protect fossil investments, honestly, take this as a bellwether and get out while you can. (I’m not an investment advisor — which is a very good thing for the investment advising industry — so that is purely an informal comment.)
And please, before you buy the line that there’s durable demand for the bitumen from an expanded Trans Mountain pipeline…or that Alberta prices have been locked in by limited pipeline capacity, rather than the fundamental poor quality of the product…or that the project would reduce Lower Mainland gas prices rather than raising them…or that renewables and energy storage are still decades away when they’re already cost-competitive, and getting better by the minute…please go to our archive and read! We are earnestly and honestly doing our best to sort through the spin on all sides and bring our readers a sense of what’s actually going on. And from that vantage point, no one who works on this publication sees a future in which there’s sustainable enough demand for new pipeline capacity to justify the investment.

#4 Comment By Denis On April 2, 2018 @ 9:59 PM

It has been said before: “different” government, same inaction. Just more long term promises that someone else’s will have to deal with (seriously “by 2050”).

Trudeau (and McKenna) were supposed to be different. What a sad joke.