Carbon pollution from Canada’s fossil industry and some questionable assumptions about carbon credits are driving projected greenhouse gas emissions more than 100 million tonnes beyond the country’s 2030 target under the Paris Agreement, according to an analysis of the federal government’s latest emission calculations.
The assessment by climate reporter Barry Saxifrage points to oil and gas emissions as the primary “elephant in the room” keeping the Paris target out of reach.
In a post for National Observer, Saxifrage notes that the gap between Canada’s target and its projected emissions has been growing every year—from 44 megatonnes in its 2016 projection, to 66 Mt in 2017, to 78 Mt today. And that’s including two categories of emission credits that are based on some questionable assumptions, and account for another 37 million tonnes of greenhouse gases.
The target the Stephen Harper government introduced and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau adopted calls for the country to cut its emissions 30% from 2005 levels, or 220 megatonnes, by 2030. But if the emissions credits fail, the shortfall comes in at 115 Mt, putting the country less than half-way to a Paris target that Trudeau once called a floor, not a ceiling on Canada’s climate ambition.
Using a series of charts, Saxifrage shows that the electricity sector accounts for almost all the GHG cuts Ottawa attributes to current policies, with an 80-megatonne reduction thanks to Ontario’s successful coal phaseout and the federal plan to eliminate all remaining coal-fired generation across the country. Countering that, the projection shows a 53-megatonne increase in emissions from oil and gas extraction. “That erases most of the progress made by the electricity sector and pushes Canada’s climate progress back almost to the starting line,” Saxifrage writes. “The primary driver is the ever-rising amounts of bitumen being extracted from the Alberta oilsands.”
Federal and provincial governments have proposed new policies that would deliver an additional 48 Mt of GHG reductions, while shrinking emissions from oil and gas, agriculture, and heavy industry by another 24 Mt. Those plans would cut the increase in oil and gas emissions to 37 Mt, leaving an overall emissions gap of 115 megatonnes. “For scale,” Saxifrage reports, “that’s more than the projected emissions from Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, PEI, and Newfoundland and Labrador, combined.”
All of which points to oil and gas as the “overwhelming driver of climate failure so far,” he notes.
“If the oil and gas sector reduced emissions in line with the national goal—a 30% reduction from 2005 levels—then this sector’s emissions would fall by 47 MtCO2 by 2030,” and “Canada as a whole would be on track to meet its 2030 Paris climate target.” The fossil sector’s emissions increase through 2030, plus the emission reductions it foregoes by missing the 30% reduction target, add up to 84 megatonnes—more than the country’s emissions gap, if its proposed carbon credits work out as planned.
“If the government continues on the current path of allowing the oil and gas sector to emit 84 MtCO2 more than its share of the nation’s target, then they will need to choose other parts of the economy to make large additional cuts to make up for it,” Saxifrage warns. “That’s the elephant in the room when it comes to Canada’s climate goals. How large will governments allow the oil and gas emissions burden to grow? And the follow-up question is: who will government pick to shoulder that burden?”
The two categories of emissions credits in the federal report are a whole other story: Saxifrage notes that Canada hopes to claim 13 megatonnes of credits that Quebec plans to buy from California under the Western Climate Initiative, and another 24 Mt for forestry and land use. But that plan is fraught with problems: the California credits aren’t yet valid under the Paris Agreement, the U.S. has shown no inclination to claim responsibility for another 13 Mt of emissions if Canada buys the credits, and the forestry credits rely on an as-yet unrecognized computer model and a bunch of untested assumptions.
“For example, government is assuming that logging levels will be significantly lower in 2030 than in the past,” Saxifrage writes. “They are assuming that wood products will be used in ways that release CO2 more slowly in the future. They are assuming wildfires won’t increase. And so on.”