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Wilkinson Touts ‘Really Good News’ as Canada Reports Higher CO2 Emissions for 2019

Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions rose fractionally in 2019, the first year the country’s national carbon pricing system took effect, but Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson says it’s “really good news” the numbers weren’t considerably worse.

Emissions rose fractionally from 728 to 730 million tonnes, and Canada’s latest National Inventory Report to the United Nations shows only a 1% reduction from 2005 levels, the Globe and Mail reports. Wilkinson’s pledge that 2019 was the last year in which the country’s emissions would increase “was met with incredulity from the opposition,” the paper adds.

“When it comes to actually reducing greenhouse gas emissions, we’re barely past the starting line,” the Toronto Star writes. “Canada has made almost no progress, even as the Liberal government in Ottawa prepares to declare a more ambitious target for 2030 in time for U.S. President Joe Biden’s climate summit on April 22.”

The Globe says Wilkinson set low expectations for new climate measures in next week’s federal budget, despite the $2-trillion jobs and infrastructure plan released by Biden just two weeks ago.

“The Americans in that respect, I think, are sort of moving to where we are already,” Wilkinson said, pointing to steps Canada has already taken to reduce electricity emissions and support zero-emission vehicles. He added that tougher methane emission regulations will “start to bite”, while the upcoming Clean Fuel Standard will have a “significant impact on emissions”.

Biden, by contrast, is under mounting pressure to commit to a 50% emissions reduction by 2030.

“I’m not here to celebrate a 1% decline in emissions,” said Climate Action Network-Canada Executive Director Catherine Abreu, a recently-appointed member of Ottawa’s Net-Zero Advisory Body. “It’s really a story about how little action has been taken in the last…couple of decades in Canada, how far behind we have gotten, and how much catching up we have to do.”

The inventory report says Canada’s emissions intensity—the carbon pollution it produces per unit of economic activity—continued to fall in 2019, CBC reports. “Greenhouse gas emissions as measured against the size of the economy have declined 37% since 1990 and 23% since 2005—which means economic growth is not translating into much higher emissions as energy efficiency improves,” the national broadcaster says. “The department also said emissions would have been considerably higher in 2019 had the government’s pan-Canadian framework on clean growth and climate change not been in place.”

“Before the pan-Canadian framework, absolute emissions in 2019 were forecast to be 764 Mt, which is 34 Mt higher than this year’s 2019 data,” the National Inventory Report states. “Once fully implemented, the strengthened climate plan is expected to reduce Canada’s emissions by at least an additional 85 million tonnes, enabling Canada to exceed its current 2030 target.”

Ottawa credits Ontario’s coal phaseout and reduced coal consumption in Alberta with driving some of the emission reductions. “But other factors—more oil and gas extraction, an increase in the number of light-duty gasoline trucks and heavy-duty diesel vehicles on the road, and a spike in nitrogen fertilizer use in the Prairie provinces—have offset some of those gains,” CBC says.

“The energy sector alone—including ‘stationary combustion’ at power plants, oil and gas extraction, refining, and transportation driven by fossil fuels—accounts for 81% of Canada’s total emissions. The transition to electric vehicles could cut road transportation-related emissions, which account for 153 of the 730 megatonnes generated in all of 2019.”

The report shows oil and gas sector emissions growing from 160 to 191 Mt from 2005 to 2019, and within that total, oil and gas extraction increasing 67%, from 63 to 105 Mt. The transport sector rose from 160 to 186 Mt, while electricity fell from 118 to 61 Mt.

Alberta’s emissions rose 17% between 2005 and 2019, Manitoba’s and Saskatchewan’s increased 10% each, Newfoundland and Labrador was up 5.4%, and British Columbia 4.3%. Emissions fell by 38% in New Brunswick, 30% in Nova Scotia, 21% in Ontario (where they essentially held steady between 2014 and 2019), 14% in Prince Edward Island, and 4.4% in Quebec.

In at least two media interviews, Wilkinson maintained the inventory report is a good news story.

“The first thing we had to do was bend the curve,” he told the Star, adding that the country was in for a steep emissions increase when the Trudeau government took office in 2015. “So the first thing that the (Liberal climate plan) has to do is stall that trajectory and turn it back,” and “that’s exactly what this is showing.”

“We will see year-on-year reductions—absolute reductions—starting in 2020, through to 2030,” he told the Globe. “We have high confidence that’s actually going to be the case.“

Wilkinson made the same case in a letter to Conservative leader Erin O’Toole, urging him to come up with his own emissions plan, CBC says. “The ship is turning, and it is the job of all parliamentarians to make sure Canada stays on course to meet and exceed the emissions targets agreed upon by successive governments,” the minister wrote.

But Environmental Defence national climate program manager Dale Marshall said Wilkinson is “grasping at straws” at a time when rising fossil and transport emissions are holding the country back. “We need to stop expanding the oil and gas industry, and we need to move very quickly towards zero-emissions vehicles,” he told the Star. “Canada needs to do so much more.”