The federal government is facing reactions ranging from disappointment to mockery after filing its updated carbon reduction target, or Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), with the United Nations climate secretariat this week.
The 42-page NDC [pdf] restates policies the government has already announced, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s promise earlier this year to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions 40 to 45% from 2005 levels by 2030.
“Nothing to see here, folks!” wrote Karri Munn-Venn, senior policy analyst at Citizens for Public Justice. “In a highly anticipated announcement about Canada’s new emissions reduction target, Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said, well, nothing.”
“The Canadian government has decided to not do its fair share of the action needed to avoid catastrophic climate change,” added Dale Marshall, national climate program manager at Environmental Defence Canada, in a release. “Instead, the government once again failed to rein in oil and gas emissions by continuing to ignore the most important measure: the phaseout of oil and gas production in Canada.”
In the NDC, Ottawa presents an inventory of the climate programming it has introduced to date, projecting greenhouse gas emissions between 406.5 and 443.4 million tonnes in 2030. Nearly half of the document summarizes efforts by provincial and territorial governments, First Nations, Inuit, and Métis.
But the 40 to 45% target was a deal-breaker for many Canadian campaign groups, including eight organizations that had signed on to a 60% target by 2030—albeit with a carbon price two to three times higher than the $170 per tonne the government has adopted.
“A more ambitious domestic target of 60% reductions by 2030 would have benefited most Canadians, by improving the health of our communities and lowering our energy costs,” Marshall said in the EDC release. “Recent catastrophic climate events, like heat waves and wildfires that have killed hundreds, show the suffering caused by inaction.”
But the government filed an NDC that recommits to subsidies for fossil fuels and environmentally destructive wood pellet plants, and falls far short of Canada’s fair share contribution to international climate finance, he said.
Climate Action Network-Canada called on Ottawa to “fill in the gaps, both in ambition and in concrete policy measures,” before countries gather in Glasgow for this year’s United Nations climate conference COP 26, in November.
“The NDC is meant to reflect Canada’s highest possible level of ambition,” said international climate diplomacy manager Eddy Pérez. “We see ambition every day in the efforts of youth activists, of Indigenous leaders, of workers and Canadians from every walk of life calling for action that matches the scale of the crisis. We’re not seeing it in this NDC.”
Vanessa Corkal, energy transitions policy advisor at the International Institute for Sustainable Development, welcomed the NDC’s references to gender equality, Indigenous rights, a just transition for fossil fuel workers and communities, and nature protection. But with the 40-45% target, “the scale of progress is not meeting the scale of the climate crisis,” she told The Energy Mix in an email. “Canada is making slow progress on phasing out support for fossil fuels and currently provides around $13 billion in public finance for fossil fuels each year,” an amount that “is not in line with climate targets, particularly as oil and gas emissions continue to grow.”
Others were more scathing.
Despite Ottawa ratcheting up its carbon reduction targets three times in the last year, “Canada’s climate plan will not deliver on its target for 2030—a 40 to 45% reduction below 2005 levels—and there is concern it will not be enough to put us on track to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050,” said Isabelle Turcotte, federal policy director for the Calgary-based Pembina Institute. Just as troubling, she said, was a companion document released alongside the NDC that narrows the scope of the Clean Fuel Regulations, which Turcotte described as a “key climate policy pillar” for the federal government.
“There is no ambition here,” Anthony Garoufalis-Auger of the Rapid Decarbonization Group told The Mix. “The emission targets the Liberals have put forward are so insignificant they are pretty much equivalent to doing nothing. What the science is saying is needed to have a fighting chance of respecting the temperature targets set in the Paris Agreement is drastic cuts in global emissions, upward of 10% per year, every year starting now till we reach zero. Delaying steep emission cuts will require even steeper and more difficult cuts in the future.”
“With the ink still wet on Canada’s new climate accountability legislation, and entire communities being destroyed by wildfires in British Columbia, it should have been reasonable to expect that this would be the moment that Canada would deliver a target aligned with climate science and a measure of international fairness,” Munn-Ven wrote. “Instead, today’s announcement was merely a repackaging of previous measures,” making it “a missed opportunity with serious implications for the livability of the planet.”
A spokesperson for Wilkinson said the NDC was consistent with the 2018 call by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for countries to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions 45% by the end of this decade.
“The acknowledgment that initial NDCs were incompatible with the temperature goals of the Paris Agreement has led to a global call for all countries to set and work towards more ambitious NDCs,” said press secretary Moira Kelly. “Canada’s ambitious new target is in line with this goal and keeps us on a credible path to net-zero by 2050.”