KAIROS monitors disappointing Canadian GHG emissions reporting

KAIROS continues to monitor Canada’s annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reporting required under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).  Environment Canada has just released the National Inventory Report 1990-2010: Greenhouse Gas Sources and Sinks in Canada, which shows an overall 0.25% growth in emissions during the 2009-2010 period.

National Inventory ReportWhile there was a 43% decline in coal-related emissions between 2005 and 2010, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers reports that there was a 14% growth in emissions from the tar sands sector between 2009 and 2010, with a 2% increase in the per barrel intensity of emissions.  Efforts by provinces to reduce emissions from coal  are far outweighed by the failure to regulate GHGs from the oil and gas sector, especially in the growing  in situ method of extraction of bitumen from the tar sands.  Moreover, the failure of Environment Canada to break out data on tar sands emissions within its GHG reporting since 2009 obscures the real culprit in emission increases.

Canadian civil society organizations have taken note of the rise in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to 692 megatonnes in 2010.  The original Canadian target under the Kyoto Protocol was 556 megatonnes of GHGs by 2012, a reduction of six percent from 1990 levels. The current, less ambitious target is a 17 percent reduction from 2005 levels by 2020 – in other words, 607 megatonnes. Increasing emissions from in situ tar sands extraction, which requires enormous amounts of energy and water, will make it extremely difficult to meet even that target since Canadian emissions are currently only 6.5 percent below their 2005 level.

Recent cuts to renewable energy and energy efficiency programs as well as lack of plans to limit tar sands emissions do not bode well for substantial emissions cuts. In fact, GHG emissions are expected to rise by 13 to 15 percent with the “no limits to tar sands production” approach.   Tar sands extraction and upgrading emits some 60 percent more GHGs per barrel than conventional production.

This latest reporting comes at a time when the government has also announced that the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy, which had been holding the federal government accountable for GHG emissions, will be eliminated.

It is not immediately clear that GHG emissions can be delinked from economic growth, as some claim, while oil production from the tar sands has increased by 48 percent between 2005 and 2012 and the federal government has failed to put a cap on industrial emissions. There seems to be a lack of urgency and regulatory rigor in this regard, especially in light of an October 2011 review by the Office of the Auditor General of Canada, in which the Environment Commissioner reported that the federal government’s policies are now projected to be 90 percent weaker than they were in 2007.

Finally, the “National Inventory Report 1990-2010: Greenhouse Gas Sources and Sinks in Canada” does acknowledge that  continued strong leadership from provinces such as Quebec, Ontario and British Colombia is required to offset GHG emissions increases elsewhere in Canada.