Time's running out!
There’s some very good news about Canada’s progress in meeting its climate targets.
A decade ago, Canada pledged a climate target for 2020 as part of the global Copenhagen Accord. That's coming due next year.
So how are we doing?
To illustrate, I've dug into Canada's latest emissions inventory and created a series of charts below.
My first chart shows how close most of Canada has come to our target.
See the star highlighted in yellow? That's Canada's Copenhagen Accord target, set by the Harper government. It calls for a 17 per cent cut in climate pollution below 2005 levels.
The blue line shows that the combined emissions from all but two provinces are on pace to match the target. The provinces and territories in this blue line group are home to 85 per cent of Canadians.
The solid blue line marks the historical emissions reported so far. The dotted blue line shows government projections for 2020, based on current and proposed policies.
This on-target group includes Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Northwest Territories, Yukon and Nunavut.
Unfortunately, the good news story turns sour when we include the two remaining provinces — Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Those provinces increased their pollution by 17 per cent.
As the next chart shows, this has erased nearly all the climate progress made by the rest of Canada.
The dashed black line shows Canada's overall result -- just a two per cent reduction. At the rate we are going we will arrive at our Copenhagen Accord target a century too late.
Sadly, as a country overall, we aren't anywhere close to doing what needs to be done.
My next chart let's you see what happened at the provincial level.
Each province has its own bar showing how many megatonnes of emissions (MtCO2) they've added or cut.
Two things jump out.
First, Ontario has led the way by cutting 45 MtCO2. Two-thirds came from eliminating coal burning from electricity generation.
The second big story is Alberta increasing pollution by 42 MtCO2. Alberta effectively erased the climate progress made by Ontario. And the towering black bar reveals the culprit — surging pollution from the oilsands industry.
The Canadian shuffle of "one step forward, one step back" was also repeated on a smaller scale. Saskatchewan increased its pollution by 10 MtCO2, erasing the climate progress made by Quebec and B.C..
One step forward, one step back. That’s why we’re not reducing climate pollution as a country.
The two halves
As a result of these opposing trends, Alberta and Saskatchewan now emit half the country’s climate pollution.
My third chart tells the tale.
Back in 2005, these two provinces emitted much less than the rest of Canada — 132 million tonnes less to be exact.
However, over the last twelve years Alberta and Saskatchewan increased their climate pollution by 52 million tonnes, while the rest of Canada cut back by slightly more.
Canada now finds itself fighting for a safe climate while the source of half of its emissions refuses to make any meaningful cuts in climate pollution.
Canada's impossible climate math
Alberta and Saskatchewan's ever-rising share of Canada's climate pollution is a long-term trend that is making it increasingly impossible for Canada to meet its climate obligations.
My final chart shows this clearly.
The three bars on the left show Alberta and Saskatchewan's share of Canada's recent emissions. Back in 1990, those two provinces emitted a little over a third of the country’s climate pollution. By 2005, their pollution rose to 42 per cent. And now it’s half of Canada's total.
Pollution from these two provinces has been allowed to grow so large that it now overwhelms Canada's future climate targets.
The two faded bars on the right show how much of Canada's future targets would be required just for Alberta and Saskatchewan's current emissions.
As you can see, their current emissions require 58 per cent of next year's Copenhagen Accord target. We've seen above how this has driven national climate failure in meeting Canada's target.
The next bar shows that their current pollution requires nearly 70 per cent of Canada's Paris Agreement target in 2030. But their governments aren't planning to stay at current levels — under current policies their emissions are projected to keep rising. So, Alberta and Saskatchewan will require even more of the national pie.
You don't need to be a math whiz to figure out that when 15 per cent of your population demands 70 per cent of your carbon budget, it is game over for reaching targets.
A growing climate emergency and deeper cuts
Unfortunately for Canadians, the climate crisis not a game. And because we've been dragging our feet for decades, the hard work to prevent the worst impacts from unfolding is only just beginning.
Climate damages are now starting to pile up. The world's safe carbon budget is nearly spent. And the younger generations are looking aghast at the damaged world the older generations are cooking up for them — and have started fighting in earnest to save themselves.
Driving all of this is the increasingly clear science that much deeper climate pollution cuts are needed by 2030 to prevent a full-blown climate crisis. According to the most recent report from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world now needs to cut emissions an average of 45 per cent by 2030.
In response, a rapidly growing list of major cities and nations are declaring "climate emergencies" and increasing their ambition to match the science.
If you are wondering what it would it look like for Canada match the average cuts needed for a safe-and-sane climate, take a look at the last bar I've added to the chart.
It shows a scenario in which Canada adopts the IPCC global target for 2030 of 45 per cent below our 2010 levels.
As you can see, just at current pollution levels, Alberta and Saskatchewan already require 92 per cent of that 2030 target.
Clearly, the huge amount of climate pollution coming out of Alberta and Saskatchewan must start falling significantly if Canada ever wants to do its part in the climate fight.
'We are begging you to take immediate action'
Unfortunately, the latest projections — which include all current and proposed climate policies in Canada — show Alberta and Saskatchewan still polluting far above their 2005 levels in 2030. Worse, both provinces are now in court fighting to exempt themselves from even these undersized pollution-reduction policies.
Meanwhile, the urgency to act continues to build. This month a group of student climate strikers from Canada and the other G7 nations published a letter:
"We, the climate generation, demand the G7 set an example… There is no time left for endless discussions anymore. The clock is ticking, the water is rising, and the people are dying … You must have bolder emission reduction targets than the IPCC global average: 45% by 2030, net zero by 2050 … We are begging you to take immediate action, so that children everywhere in the world can have a future."
What's your answer, Alberta and Saskatchewan?
Editor's Note: This is the third article in Barry Saxifrage's ongoing series exploring Canada's latest emissions report. The first article looked at Canada's one-year jump in emissions and the path to our 2030 Paris target. The second article compared Canada to the U.K. for some eye-opening lessons in the climate fight. The next article will dig into the one clear climate success across Canada — cleaning up our electricity. Stay tuned.