Canada asks others to do its dirty work Opinion Articles

May 18, 2015 - 11:04am

This article was first published i n Climate Spectator on 18 May 2015. 

Erwin Jackson    
Deputy CEO, The Climate Institute

The Canadian Government has submitted its post-2020 emissions reductions target to the UN. The draft target is 30 per cent reduction below 2005 levels by 2030. Its current 2020 target is 17 per cent reduction below 2005.

This target leaves Canada lagging other nations, and implies other countries need reduce emission faster if the world is to avoid a 2-degree increase in global temperature. Canada is leaving the heavy lifting to other countries.

Historically, Canada has been a leader in global efforts to address international challenges like ozone depletion and climate change. For example, one of the world’s most celebrated environmental treaties – the Montreal Protocol on ozone depleting substances – was agreed in Canada in 1987. Over the last two decades, however, Canada has built and expanded a very emission-intensive industry around the extraction of oil from tar sands. As a result the country's emissions have ballooned out of control, and subsequently Canada withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol in 2011. Canada withdrew from the Protocol as it was the only country which would miss its 2008-2012 Kyoto emissions target and it wanted to avoid the compliance consequences of not meeting its international obligations.

Overall, The Climate Institute’s initial analysis suggests that Canada’s draft post-2020 target:

  • Is not an adequate contribution to avoiding 2 degrees of global warming: If Canada sticks to this emissions target it would use up its share of a global carbon budget consistent with avoiding 2-degrees before 2030 (see Figure 1). Therefore to meet the 2-degree goal, other countries would need to pick up the slack and Canada is therefore effectively asking other nations to subsidise its lack of action.

Figure 1: Canada’s targets compared to emissions pathways consistent with a likely chance of avoiding 2 degrees. (These emissions pathways are based on a 2013-2050 total allowable carbon budget for Canada of around 9-10 billion tonnes. Canada’s carbon budget is based on the same approach used by the Climate Change Authority to calculate Australia’s carbon budget.)

  • The target is also inadequate when compared with the targets of its international peers. For example, by 2025 Canada would have cut its emissions by less than the the average of other advanced economies, regardless of the base year used (Table 1).

Table 1: Change in 2025 emissions on different base years for announced draft targets (all have been converted to 2025 targets for better comparability).

  • The target is a not progression of effort: The new 2025 target would be a reduction in the rate of of emissions reduction effort after 2020. This is inconsistent with nearly all other advanced economies who are accelerating their rate of emissions reductions after 2020. (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Annual rate of emissions reductions of targets announced so far.

  • Domestic policy is changing to meet post-2020 targets: Canada was one of the first countries to ban new traditional coal-fired power stations, and regulate to close existing coal plants after a certain age unless they capture and store their pollution. The government has announced it will expand its existing regulatory approach to other sectors like the use of the super-greenhouse gases HFCs. In its issue paper on post-2020 targets, the Australian government has signalled a similar approach. Also, like the Australian Government, Canada has traditionally resisted using international emissions credits to meet its targets. Canada has now changed this position and will use credible international units to meet post-2020 targets.

Erwin Jackson

Erwin is Deputy CEO of The Climate Institute. With nearly 20 years practical experience in climate change policy and research, Erwin has developed and led many national and international programs aimed at reducing greenhouse pollution. This work has been undertaken in Australia, Europe, North and South America, the Pacific and Antarctica. He has represented non-governmental groups and advised government and business in national, regional and international fora, including being a non-governmental expert reviewer of the reports of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Erwin has written, researched and produced many publications on climate change and energy policy including a number of review papers in scientific journals such as the Medical Journal of Australia.
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