Several climate change experts said Friday they see reason for hope in Canada’s efforts to slow global warming even though the country’s greenhouse gas emissions rose slightly in 2021.
The annual inventory of Canada’s emissions for 2021, published Friday, showed emissions from all sources that year added up to 670 million tonnes, The Canadian Press reports. That’s up from 659 million tonnes in 2020.
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Typically any increase in emissions would leave environment activists deflated. This time it didn’t.
“Canada’s latest emissions reporting contains a rare kernel of good news,” said Rachel Doran, director of policy and strategy at Clean Energy Canada.
Although emissions edged higher, they remained below both the pre-pandemic level in 2019 and the 2005 level, which is the comparison target for Canada’s 2030 emissions goal.
Emissions in 2020 plunged to their lowest levels in more than two decades, as COVID-19 kept cars off the road, planes on the ground, and big industrial companies forced to slow operations or stop them entirely for weeks at a time.
While those activities were not back to normal levels in 2021, there were fewer lockdowns, so emissions were expected to be higher. But Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said they didn’t rebound as much as expected.
“The smaller than expected increase in emissions shows that Canada’s economic growth continues to be cleaner and less polluting than before,” he said.
In the past, emissions have grown in parallel to the economy. But in 2021, the economy grew 4.6% while emissions edged up 1.7%.
The national inventory report suggests more fuel-efficient cars and a growing number of electric vehicles are starting to have an impact on emissions from road transportation, that Canada’s effort to wean itself off coal as a source of electricity has had a significant impact on emissions from power plants, and that national regulations requiring oil and gas companies to stop methane from leaking out of oil and gas wells are succeeding.
Caroline Brouillette, interim executive director at Climate Action Network-Canada, told CP the 2021 numbers prove Canada’s emissions curve is starting to bend.
“The big takeaway from this year’s National Inventory Report is that climate policy is working—and that we need more of it,” said Brouillette.
Greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide and methane are produced from activities we rely on, including driving cars, making steel and aluminum, mining metals, heating homes and buildings, and producing the fossil fuels to do all of those things.
After being emitted, the greenhouse gases can stay in the atmosphere for centuries, trapping heat and warming the earth. That in turn leads to extreme weather such as droughts and intense storms.
The oil and gas sector produces 28% of Canada’s total emissions, while all transportation—road, rail, plane, and boat—contributes 22%. Another 13% comes from operating buildings, including heating and cooling devices like furnaces, air conditioners, and water heaters.
Heavy industry contributes 11% of the total, agriculture accounts for 10%, electricity generation for 8%, and waste for 7%.
Keith Brooks, program director at Environmental Defence Canada, said oil and gas is still the sector with the fastest-growing emissions. And because most of that oil is exported, the inventory leaves out the roughly 80% of the carbon pollution in a barrel of oil that enters the atmosphere after it reaches its destination and is used as directed.
He added in a release that the inventory might be baking in incomplete information when it shows methane emissions falling since 2005. “The government continues to rely on industry self-reporting, despite independent study after study demonstrating that under-reporting is rampant,” he said. “We need credible data.”
Canada’s new 2030 target is meant to push emissions from all sources down so they are 40 to 45% lower than they were in 2005, CP writes. In 2021, they were 8.5% lower.
So to meet its 2030 target, Canada has to eliminate four times as many emissions by 2030 as it did between 2005 and 2021.
Canadian Climate Institute principal economist Dave Sawyer said that means Ottawa must implement the policies it has promised to cap oil and gas emissions and mandate the sale of more electric vehicles.
Guilbeault published draft regulations in December that would require 20% of new passenger vehicles sold in Canada to be powered by electricity by 2026, growing to 60% by 2030 and 100% by 2035. Those regulations still need to be finalized.
In 2021, 5% of all new vehicles registered were fully electric or plug-in hybrids.
Guilbeault will also outline the specifics for the oil and gas emissions cap later this year. It’s a policy that is already, predictably, being met with stiff opposition from both the Alberta government and the fossil industry. The province and its industry benefactors do not agree with Ottawa on what is a realistic goal for the sector’s emissions by 2030.
Mark Cameron, vice-president of external relations at the Pathways Alliance, said in a statement last Friday the rise in emissions from the oil sands was expected because production increased.
He said the alliance, whose six members account for 95% of oil sands production, has already cut emissions per barrel of oil produced by 22% since 2011. But the industry’s reliance on that measurement method means that as long as production grows faster than emissions intensity declines, the actual carbon pollution entering the atmosphere continues to rise.
Cameron said Pathways members are investing to install carbon capture and storage systems that could cut oil sands emissions 12 to 14% by 2030. But companies have refused to commit to those investments without lavish, new taxpayer subsidies that were not included in last month’s federal budget, and they’re on record saying they won’t be able to meet the 2030 reduction targets expected in the forthcoming emissions cap until 2035 at the earliest.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 14, 2023.
So, Canada’s emissions from 2021 are published in April, 2023. This is kind of like driving while steering based on what you see in the rear view mirror. What needs to be done so that the emissions inventories are published sooner.
Yep, as you know, this complaint has been around forever! That’s why it was a bit exciting when the Canadian Climate Institute’s 440 Megatonnes project announced it would begin releasing preliminary data each fall, eight months ahead of ECCC’s annual report. https://www.theenergymix.com/2023/02/23/canadas-emissions-up-2-8-in-2021-with-fossil-fuels-leading-the-increase/