More trouble with 2030

Blog - Jan. 15, 2014 - By P.J. Partington

Last week I wrote about a new report the federal government released quietly over the holidays.

It projects a significant and sustained rise in Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions unless we dramatically improve our climate policies. In this post, I’ll explore some of the other significant stories found in that report.

Provincial trends

My previous blog described the national picture, but trends in greenhouse gas emissions at the provincial level are also important. Climate policy is a shared responsibility between provincial and federal governments, and each province has its own climate change plans and targets as well.

Alberta was already Canada’s largest emitter in 2005. As you can see in the graph below, its emissions are projected to increase by nearly 40 per cent from 2005 to 2030.

The only other province with a notable increase in emissions is British Columbia. Unconventional gas production is the likely culprit here, along with the related development of a liquefied natural gas (LNG) sector in the province (although the assumptions around the scale of LNG development in this federal report appear to be very conservative compared to the B.C. government’s aspirations).

On the other hand, emissions are expected to fall between 2005 and 2030 in Ontario, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Quebec.

Graph of emissions trends by province

Projected GHG emissions by province. Includes all current provincial and federal policies. Data source: Government of Canada, Sixth National Report on Climate Change.

It comes as no surprise that Alberta’s booming emissions are being driven by rapid expansion in the oilsands. But it may surprise you that the rest of Alberta’s emissions — that is, everything except the oilsands — are actually projected to shrink slightly, even as the province’s population grows. Here’s how that same graph looks with oilsands separated out of Alberta’s total:

Graph of emissions trends by province with oilsands

Projected GHG emissions by province, oilsands excluded from Alberta total. Includes all current provincial and federal policies. Data source: Government of Canada, Sixth National Report on Climate Change.

In other words, all of Alberta’s projected growth in emissions between now and 2030 is coming from rapid expansion of the oilsands. Well before 2020, the oilsands sector alone is projected to emit more than any province other than Alberta or Ontario.

As other provinces rein in their emissions, surging emissions in Alberta and B.C. could create regional tensions, further complicating inter-provincial relationships. Ontario’s Mowat Centre has already warned about this with regards to west-east energy infrastructure such as TransCanada’s proposed Energy East pipeline.

Ranking Canada’s climate policies

There’s something else tucked away in this new report: the federal government has compiled estimates of the effectiveness of specific federal and provincial climate policies.

Because these estimates are drawn from different sources and some policies overlap with one another, their total impact can’t be added up precisely. Nonetheless, they illustrate the relative contribution of Canada’s major climate policies to meeting our 2020 emissions commitment.

The impacts of the top 10 policies are displayed in the table below:

Chart of policy effectiveness

Projected GHG reductions in 2020 from the 10 most significant climate policies. Blue bars denote provincial policies and red denotes federal. Asterisk denotes a tie. Data source: Government of Canada, Sixth National Report on Climate Change.

One bar obviously stands out: Ontario’s phase-out of coal power is by far the country’s most effective climate policy, as it’s projected to reduce carbon pollution by 31.6 megatonnes in 2020. That’s nearly as much impact as the rest of the top five put together. It’s also 10 times the impact that federal coal regulations are projected to achieve in 2020.

Other provincial policies are also having an impact. Alberta’s industrial regulations, Ontario’s Big Move regional transportation plan and B.C.’s carbon tax round out the provincial contributions to the top ten.

The most effective federal policy in 2020 is projected to be the tailpipe emissions standards for passenger (or “light-duty”) vehicles. Energy efficiency and renewable power programs, further vehicle standards and regulations for coal-fired power also land in the top 10.

Overall, the report lists 22 policies and measures that are estimated to reduce emissions by one megatonne or more in 2020. Of these, provincial measures account for 62 per cent of the total reductions.

Going the distance

It’s good to acknowledge the progress that is being made in Canada. Estimates like these help us evaluate different policies and point to areas where action can be scaled up. And “most importantly,” in Ottawa’s words, “they encourage further action by demonstrating that government policies are having a quantifiable impact on GHG emissions.”

Based on the projections in this report, we know there’s an awful lot of “further action” needed. Every province and every sector could be going much further — to say nothing of the report’s author, the federal government.

P.J. Partington
P.J. Partington

P.J. Partington was a senior analyst with the Pembina Institute's federal policy group until 2015.


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.