Canada Needs To Do More On Climate Change

Children and carbon footprint

On Sunday, the IPCC released its third of three reports on climate change (press release). More stats, more studies, more Science reveals that much work needs to be done to mitigate the impacts of global warming. And fast.

So how's Canada doing? The Canadian Government’s Submission to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which covers the period 1990 to 2012, reveals that our Green House Gas emissions (GHGs) as a country are not coming down fast enough to even hit the Copenhagen targets. This is the voluntary target Canada's Conservative Party set itself after pulling out of the Kyoto Accord.

No surprise there.

It's worth noting that there has been very little per capita change in emissions in Canada in the more than two decades covered by the report. In its Summary for Policy Makers, Environment Canada notes:

In 1990, Canadians released 21.3 tonnes (t) of GHGs per capita. In 2005 this had risen to 22.8 t; however, by 2012, it had dropped to an historic low of 20.1 t of GHGs per capita

A "historic low" sounds encouraging, but it is only a reduction of around 1.2 t per capita in more than two decades. That 1.2 t saving is still bigger than the total annual GHG emissions per capita of the poorest nations, and our carbon footprint is well above the average global GHG emissions per capita.

The Summary also notes Canada's total emissions in mega tonnes (Mt) were:

  • 2012: 699 Mt
  • 2011: 701 Mt
  • 2005: 736 Mt
  • 1990: 591 Mt

The country's emissions are flatlining in recent years in spite of emissions reductions accruing through moves like Ontario's closure of its coal-fired power stations. One of the main reasons Canada's emissions remain stubbornly high, as Environment Canada points out, is the growing carbon footprint of the Alberta tarsands.

In 2012, emissions from the Mining & Oil and Gas Extraction category were about five times their 1990 values. Related to this has been a 72% increase in total production of crude oil and natural gas over the period. In addition, per-barrel GHG emissions from oil and gas production have been rising, due to an increase in the complexity of techniques used to produce conventional oil and to ongoing growth of oil production from the oil sands.

In the full report, posted to the web site for United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change you can also find the provincial stats (the provincial tables are in the third PDF).

While British Columbia remains a carbon corridor for the export of fossil fuels, its domestic emissions as a whole remain unchanged from the previous year:

  • 2012: 60.1 Mt
  • 2011: 60.1 Mt
  • 2005: 62.3 Mt
  • 1990: 49.4 Mt

Add it all up and it's clear that Canada as a whole needs to be doing much, much more to prepare for a carbon neutral future. We could be so much more effective in the way we use energy through conservation and by investing in a low carbon economy. For example, we should be building electrified railways and safer cities for cyclists and pedestrians. We also clearly need to scale back our fossil fuel industries and invest much more in renewable energy, probably using market-based tools like British Columbia's carbon tax to incentivise change.

The IPCC says the world needs to reduce GHGs by 40% to 70% below 2010 levels in the next 35 years. There's no time to wait.