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

Blog - Dec. 6, 2010 - By Matthew Bramley

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

 Rank 2010

















 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.

Matthew Bramley
Matthew Bramley

Matthew Bramley was with the Pembina Institute from 2000 to 2011, serving as director of the climate change program and director of research.


Our perspectives to your inbox.

The Pembina Institute endeavors to maintain your privacy and protect the confidentiality of any personal information that you may give us. We do not sell, share, rent or otherwise disseminate personal information. Read our full privacy policy.