Canada’s late biennial climate change accountability report came out this morning, projecting increases in greenhouse gas emissions.

Canada’s Second Biennial Report on Climate Change projects greenhouse gas emissions reaching 768 megatonnes in 2020 and 815 megatonnes in 2030. These estimates mean Canada would fail to meet previous goals set by the Harper government in Copenhagen in 2009 — 622 megatonnes by and 524 megatonnes for 2030.

"The scope of the challenge is large. It keeps me up at night," Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna said on Wednesday at a sustainable communities conference hosted in Ottawa by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

Although McKenna stunned the world at the Paris climate talks in December, pushing for countries to restrict global warming to 1.5 degrees, the report suggests Canada will have to make significant efforts to meet its own targets.

“Without additional measures, continued strong emissions growth” in the oil and gas sector will push the emissions to the above limits, the report stated.

Within the fossil fuel sector, the oil sands are seen as the leading cause of the increase in emissions.

Graph from the Second Biennial Report on Climate Change. Graph courtesy of Environment Canada

In its discussion of oil price assumptions, the report notes the decline in oil prices recently, but adds significant uncertainly exists around how those changes will impact longer-term oil production.

The report incorporates the National Energy Board's integrated forecasts of oil and other energy prices and production the recent report, Canada’s Energy Future 2016 - Energy Supply and Demand Projections to 2040.

The National Energy Board’s expectation of medium-term recovery of oil prices is consistent with other major price forecasts, the climate change report states, noting that greenhouse gas emissions are driven by oil production rather than price.

"While an expectation of lower oil prices for the foreseeable future does have the effect of reducing oil production forecasts, increases in the productivity of oil producers have reduced this impact in the National Energy Board’s projections. Furthermore, existing oil sands production will likely continue due to substantial existing investments and the long time horizon of projects. "

Upstream oil and natural gas emissions. Graph courtesy of Environment Canada

Beyond its current emissions estimates, the report take into account emissions from the forestry sector, which will only raise the emissions projections. A footnote explains that work is underway to account for the so-called Land Use, Land-use Change and Forestry contribution.

For many environmentalists the report will validate the rallying cry around “keeping oil in the ground.”

“I think it’s something we’ve known already, but hasn’t been accurately put in the numbers until now, that the continued growth of the oil and gas sector is really making it much more difficult for us to hit targets,” said Adam Scott, climate and energy program manager for Environmental Defence.

“We need to be asking questions at the federal level as to how growth of the fossil fuel industry fits within the policies that are coming down,” Scott said.

Alberta leads the country in projected greenhouse gas emissions

In the report, carbon dioxide represents the lion’s share of emissions at nearly 80 per cent. The government attributes the carbon dioxide emissions largely to fossil fuel use.

The second highest source of emissions is methane, accounting for 15 per cent of Canada’s total emissions in 2013. The report cites the methane sources as fugitive emissions from oil and natural gas systems, as well as domestic livestock, and landfills from the agriculture and waste sectors.

Provincially, Alberta leads the country in projected greenhouse gas emissions even as it shows significant reductions in its emissions profile leading up to 2020 and 2030.

In place of a single, unified program nation-wide, the provinces have introduced their own measures. The result is a hodge-podge of programs ranging from carbon offsets in Alberta to the construction of the Muskrat Falls hydro project in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Pan-Canadian framework on climate change

The federal government has pledged to work with the provinces and territories to establish a pan-Canadian framework for addressing climate change. That strategy is supposed to include carbon pricing, investments in clean energy technology and a Low Carbon Economy Trust Fund to help the regions achieve their emissions reductions.

McKenna, who on Wednesday also announced $31.5 million in new grants to sustainable projects in 20 communities as a part of the federal government's Green Municipal Fund, said it was important for all governments, corporations and civil society to work together to tackle Canada's rising emissions.

Speaking to reporters after addressing the sustainable communities conference, she said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would also work with Canada's first ministers at an upcoming meeting in March to work on addressing climate change. But she said the country wouldn't be able to complete its plan immediately.

"A pan-Canadian plan takes time," McKenna said. "As I've always said, we're not just going to throw a target up, without a plan to meet it. So the plan to meet it is going to start at the first ministers, meeting, where we're going to look at where can we reduce emissions, where are the different areas, how do we actually work together. That will take a bit of time, but we certainly are committed to looking at our target."

Scott said dealing with climate change is ultimately a federal responsibility, not a provincial one. “The pan-Canadian framework must do more than just add up piece-meal provincial layers of action.

“Provincial moves on climate change have been very welcome and are important; ultimately the Canadian government is going to have to do more than just add up those plans — and that’s something we’re going to have to see when they come up with their framework in early March.”

The biennial report was due out Jan. 1, 2016, but the Liberal government missed the deadline, explaining that it needed more time to integrate recent Canadian announcements of actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The government also cancelled an emissions trends report that was expected to be released in 2015, explaining that it decided to merge those projections into the biennial report.

Canada and 43 other developed countries were all required to submit the biennial report by Jan 1, 2016, providing the international community with an overview of their existing actions to fight climate change, along with emissions projections for 2020 and 2030.

with files from Mike De Souza

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