The federal government may only account for 0.3% of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, but it’s still failing to show climate leadership by allowing its own carbon pollution top increase, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) concludes in a new report.
“While total government emissions have declined since 2005, they have been on the rise since 2015,” the Ottawa-based organization states in a 19-page report. And while “achieving net-zero operational emissions is important in its own right,” the federal government’s “greatest impact is in demonstrating to other levels of government and the private sector how deep emissions reductions can be achieved. If the federal government can’t do it while pursuing an economy-wide climate strategy, no other sector will.”
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CCPA’s analysis shows federal emissions declining 28% between 2005 and 2015, then increasing 11% between 2015 and 2019—the first four years after the Trudeau government took office and the Paris climate agreement was signed.
The 19-page report points to “three outstanding obstacles” in the federal Greening Government Strategy: loopholes for the government’s biggest emitters, like the Department of National Defence (DND); a focus on “low-hanging fruit” rather than structural changes that would deliver sustained emission reductions over the longer term; and inadequate support from the public servants who are “ultimately responsible for implementing emission reduction programs”.
Even with those loopholes, DND accounts for more than half of the government’s reported emissions.
The report flags serious data gaps for key emission categories, including mobility, “Scope 3” emissions from contractors outside government, and vehicle emissions associated with national security. Of the 2.1 million tonnes of emissions the government tracks, half come from buildings and facilities, 45% from security operations, and 6% from fleets and travel, CCPA says, citing data from the federal Centre for Greening Government.
“Notably, Crown corporations are not counted in federal emissions inventories and are not covered by greening government policies,” the report states. “So there may be other federal government bodies that are significant emitters, such as the Trans Mountain Corporation, which is responsible for the construction and operation of certain oil pipelines.”
CCPA pinpoints the “outsized contribution of national security operations to federal government emissions” as the “most obvious and serious challenge” to any effort to green government operations. DND, the RCMP, and the Canadian Coast Guard are all facing a 2023 deadline to develop decarbonization plans. “However, there is a real risk that in the absence of interim targets, national security emissions, which have grown to 45% of the federal total, will continue to rise for the foreseeable future.”
The report cites policies in Germany, and possibly the United States, that do a better job of making carbon reductions an operational priority for public servants.