Pembina Institute

Why Canada is still at the back of the pack on climate

Canada has again finished near the bottom of the Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI), an annual evaluation of how the world's most polluting countries are doing on climate change. The CCPI 2011, released today, places Canada fourth-last out of the world's 57 top greenhouse gas emitters. The top three spots are left empty — to symbolize the fact that no country is doing enough — so Canada ranks 57th out of 60.

Each country's CCPI score is a composite of emissions trend over time (50%), current emissions level (30%), and national government policies (20%):

  • The emissions trend component measures progress in reducing per capita emissions since 1990 (15%), as well as the amount by which emissions have changed in key sectors like electricity and transportation, including a special element measuring progress on renewable energy (35%).
  • The current emissions level component includes three elements that measure current emissions in relation to the economy and population: emissions per unit of energy (15%), energy use per unit of GDP (7.5%) and energy use per capita (7.5%).
  • The government policies component is based on an expert evaluation of domestic national climate policies sector by sector (10%) and a country's stance on climate change internationally (10%).

For details of how these elements add up for Canada, see this summary.

The Pembina Institute again contributed this year to the evaluation of federal government policy that makes up 20 per cent of Canada's CCPI score. We released our evaluation today at the same time as the international CCPI report.

In line with the CCPI template, our evaluation rated policies on a scale of one (very good) to five (very poor). We awarded a rating of "very poor" in cases where a key policy has not yet been implemented at all; "poor" for policies that are poorly conceived and/or expected to produce only very limited emission reductions; "neutral" for policies that are appropriate but require scaling up or accelerating; and "good" for policies that appear to make a reasonable contribution to significant national emission reductions. To rate a policy "very good," it would have to be consistent with putting Canada promptly on a path to deep emission cuts (no policies received this rating).

Why does Canada continue to fare so poorly in the CCPI? On the emissions trend and emissions level components, putting it simply, Canada has very high emissions in relation to the size of its population and economy. To seriously tackle climate change, Canada would need to initiate a transformation of the way it produces and uses energy, but it has not yet done so.

On the national climate policies component, Canada scores poorly because, firstly, many current federal domestic policies are likely to be ineffective. And in some key areas, they are completely absent. For example, the federal government recently finalized its first greenhouse gas emission regulations, which apply to cars and light trucks. But it's not clear that the regulations are stringent enough to make a difference relative to what would have happened without them. Another critical example is Canada's continued lack of an emissions tax or cap-and-trade system that would put a price on emissions broadly in the economy.

Our evaluation rates Canada poorly on its international climate change stance because of the federal government's disappointing track record of actions and statements that undermine the level of ambition of international climate negotiations. For example, Prime Minister Stephen Harper opposed making climate change a priority issue for this year's G8 and G20 summits hosted by Canada. An assessment of international climate financing is a new addition to this year's CCPI evaluation, and there Canada's performance has also been disappointing: the government made a pledge of $400 million in June, which could have represented Canada's fair share for 2010. Unfortunately, Canada's commitment turned out to be mostly in the form of loans, includes little support for adaptation to climate impacts, and appears to have diverted money that would otherwise have been used to combat poverty.

Canada ranks slightly better on this year's CCPI (57th) than it did last year (59th). Unfortunately, this has little significance: last year Canada was slightly ahead of Australia and Kazakhstan, while this year those countries have slipped slightly behind Canada. The differences are small, and Canada is still last among the world's top ten greenhouse gas emitters:

 Rank 2011


 Score 2011

 Score 2010

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 Saudi Arabia




In contrast, it's interesting to note that another cold country with large oil and gas exports — Norway — came sixth in this year's CCPI (or third considering that the top three spots are empty). It's a stark reminder of how far Canada has to go.

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Roger Gagne — Dec 08, 2010 - 11:36 AM MT

Hi Derek,

You're right, that our oil customers burn a lot of fuel.

But we're all in this together. The question is not "Should North America import oil from the Middle East, or drill deep in the Gulf, or mine it in the tarsands?"

but rather, "How can we get off oil as quickly as possible?"

Amory Lovins, in a TED Talk titled "Winning the Oil Endgame" tosses out some ideas of how we can dramatically improve fuel efficiency in cars, large trucks, and airplanes, and some companies are doing it.

And his organization, the Rocky Mountain Institute, calculated that if the U.S. overall used electricity as efficiently as their top 10 States are already doing, they could cut coal use by 5/8.

Roger Gagne — Dec 08, 2010 - 11:28 AM MT

What's with slamming the gas plants? I think they're extremely useful as a transition to get us off of fossil fuels.

1) Less polluting than coal, less expensive and risky than nuclear.
2) Much more efficient than coal, which loses 2/3 of heat produced to the smokestack.
3) Plants can be located close to urban areas or other large loads, reducing transmission line losses.

The other sweet option with natural gas, of course, is cogeneration, which I would like to see on a far wider scale.

All this being said, I think we need to get a much better handle on shale gas and coal bed methane, which have become increasingly common means of producing natural gas. I think their impact on groundwater alone is probably enormous.

Cheryl Murray — Dec 09, 2010 - 08:59 AM MT

You say "I think they're extremely useful as a transition to get us off of fossil fuels."

Gas is a fossil fuel.

Cogens can't be used to pair with wind, so they'd be on top of the requirement for additional peaker plants. Nothing sweet about that.

Are we being serious about climate change or are we just promoting one fossil fuel over another? If all the subsidies going to all forms of energy production were instead going to conservation, we would only need a fraction of the production capacity we now have and reduce fossil consumption in real terms.

All fossil fuels need to stay right where they are: buried deep underground and at the bottom of the oceans.

Roger Gagne — Dec 09, 2010 - 05:43 PM MT

Hi Cheryl,

Don't tell me you prefer the coal.

If you genuinely want us to get off of coal, how are we to do that?

How are we to do it in Alberta, where not only are we giving $2 billion to CCS (in addition to another $1 billion or so from the feds), but we are also plowing ahead with a "massive overbuild" in transmission lines which are not intended to keep the lights on in Southern Alberta but, rather, lend themselves very well to export of electricity from large central generators, whether coal or nuclear-fired.

Generation at or close to the point of consumption reduce load on the grid. Cogeneration and, to a lesser extent, Enmax's gas-fired plants, succeed in this.

As a starting point, I really like Pembina's Greening the Grid report. Personally, I think we could do better in conservation and efficiency. Co-author Tim Weis admits that they sold solar short when they tried in late 2008 to write up a conservative, bulletproof scenario for weaning Alberta off of coal in 20 years. And I'm wary of massive expansion of cogen in the tarsands operations. But overall, I find it a hopeful and realistic document.

Cheryl Murray — Dec 10, 2010 - 05:41 AM MT

Prefer coal? Absolutely not. ALL fossil fuels should stay exactly where they are. Conservation is the answer. If all the subsidies went to conservation instead of production we could reduce carbon emmissions in real terms. How about some education too? Fossils should be treated like tobacco.

Roger Gagne — Dec 10, 2010 - 01:11 PM MT

Hi Cheryl,

Rest assured that conservation is my first priority, and a key reason why my average electricity bill is about $25 per month, and has been for many years.

It is not, however, a priority for my neighbors, or the Sheldon Chumir Urgent Care Centre downtown, or Moxie's Restaurants in Calgary, or two pubs up the hill from my place, all of which leave their lights lit up all day long under broad daylight.

But conservation and efficiency can only get us partway there. Renewables are my next favorite option, followed by cogen, and finally by combined cycle gas turbines.

Nuclear and coal, we can't get away from quickly enough for me.

Keith — Dec 11, 2010 - 03:51 AM MT

As previously noted, wind turbines (renewable) require highly inefficient fossil-fired peaker plants. So your support for cogens and combined cycle gas turbines would be on top of this requirement.

No wonder Canada is still at the back of the pack on climate change.

Fossils are an addiction. Try to get over it.

Many of my neighbours don't use electricty or fossil fuels. We can learn a few things from them without having to go to that extreme. In the meantime, wind turbines are threatening to drive them from thier land.

Roger Gagne — Dec 11, 2010 - 02:27 PM MT

Hi Keith,

How much luck have you had in Alberta selling your approach of zero tolerance for fossil fuels?

I think we can be push for pretty aggressive goals and still be realistic.

Cheryl — Dec 07, 2010 - 09:52 AM MT

Wind Plants are Gas Plants

Stop pairing wind with fossil fuels!

Derek — Dec 07, 2010 - 05:57 AM MT

Hmmmm Canada and Saudi Arabia worst for climate change. Jeeee maybe it could be because we're supplying most of the energy to the countries that CONSUME all the energy? I think Canada should be environmentally conscious. Lets raise the price of oil to $200 to other countries so that we can implement more clean practices! yeah thats it!

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