Canada’s GHG reduction targets fall short

September 20, 2016

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Top Asks for Climate Action: Ramping up Low Carbon Communities was released in June. The report recommended the federal government put a national price on carbon.  A national price would serve as a baseline for all provinces and territories. This action would establish a level playing field across the country while respecting regional differences in the chosen approach to carbon pricing.

In that light, Minister McKenna’s recent announcement is good news. The federal government will establish a national price on carbon. It will also impose it on provinces that fail to adopt their own pricing system for reducing GHG pollution.

However, the rest of the announcement is not so good. The federal government is committing Canada to remain at the bottom of the pack on climate protection performance. In 2015, we were ahead of only Kazakhstan, Australia and Saudi Arabia which is a sad place to be as one of the top 10 emitters in the world.

It is important to know that the international community talks about reducing GHG pollution based on 1990 levels. Why? Because Canada doesn’t.

When I was doing best practice research for Top Asks, it was challenging to compare Canandian commitments to reduce GHG pollution. To start, federal, provincial, territorial and local governments have set a variety of reduction goals ranging anywhere from 6 to 80 percent.  They have also set different timelines to achieve these goals.

However, the most egregious practice is using a different baseline than the international standard. This has the affect of making a poor target sound better.

Case in point, the former Conservative government’s emissions target is based on a 2005 baseline – specifically to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.  Why is this important?  If you really want to understand how far off Canada’s commitment is from the science you need to know how it compares to the international baseline of 1990. The simple answer? Not well.  Halve Canada’s current goal if you want a better understanding of how we compare.

That is why Minister McKenna’s news – that they are sticking to the former government’s target – is so disappointing to anyone who understands the commitment our country made in Paris. Top Asks also recommended the federal government set science-based targets. This is the only way to head the worst of climate change.

Ontario uses 1990 as their baseline. Good for them. Canada should too. Canadians would then more easily understand how dismal and embarrassing our current target is.