Some advice I received 40 years ago, when I graduated and started my first full-time job, seems to have been fully embraced by our prime minister on climate change targets. I was told by a guy, training me to take over responsibility for an area, that if I was going to blow my travel budget I might as well go over big, because once you cross that budget line it doesn’t matter how much you cross it by. In fact, missing it by a lot means the target was unrealistic, and the miss is forgiven more easily.

The PM is missing his climate targets by so much it seems he feels he might as well make the target bigger and miss by more. A big miss or a bigger miss is neither here nor there in Ottawa and among large corporations. But in the real world, a big miss on climate targets matters.

Our prime minister promised a new climate action order back in 2015 when he was elected to govern this country. The change in emissions since then, according to the latest data (2019) submitted to the UN this month, has actually been a one per cent increase. In its UN report, the Trudeau government calls that a “continuous improvement” approach to climate change action. Most of us would call that standing still.

It’s pretty well standing still, as well, when you look at the long-term results versus the 2005 benchmark year. In 14 years, we show a reduction of 1.2 per cent, or 0.1 per cent per year. The Canadian government resorts to the usual line: “imagine how bad it would be if we weren’t doing so much.” Those who care would rather imagine how good it could be if they actually were doing what they said they were going to in terms of hitting a target.

One last piece of context. The Kyoto benchmark year was 1990. Today, we stand 21 per cent above that year. In Jeffrey Simpson’s 2007 book Hot Air, he describes how Jean Chrétien himself bumped up our 1997 Kyoto commitment target to a completely unrealistic six per cent reduction by 2012, without any plan in place to meet it. Unfortunately, our current prime minister is playing the same game, and is now doubling down on an even bigger unreachable target.

And here’s why: his new buddy, U.S. President Joe Biden, just described Trudeau on the COVID file as "a fella who is working really hard to take care of his country.” Biden is making a big splash on climate change and appears to be taking serious action. Trudeau wants Uncle Joe to think of him as that “hard-working fella” on climate change, too.

We have a totally different context than the U.S., not the least of which is that they have already achieved a 13 per cent reduction since 2005, while we’ve only managed to eke out 1.2 per cent. And that different context is why they can actually meet a 50 per cent reduction and we’ll be lucky to make 15 per cent, never mind 30 per cent or the bigger targets Trudeau is now talking about.

Our consumption of energy is very different than the U.S., and our ability to reduce without huge changes in our economy is more difficult. In Canada, 82 per cent of electricity comes from non-emitting sources (hydro, nuclear, renewables), and in the U.S., non-emitting electricity stands at 40 per cent. While it is great to have so much green electricity, it doesn’t provide much of a lever for us for further reductions. Biden, on the other hand, can focus on shifting electricity generation from burning huge amounts of coal and natural gas to electricity generation from renewables.

Another big difference between us is the emissions from passenger cars. In the U.S., those vehicle emissions comprise 12 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, whereas in Canada, the number is only five per cent. That’s right, if every car in Canada was converted to electric, we would only see a total reduction of five per cent. The combination of passenger cars, SUVs, minivans and light pickups make up 12 per cent of our emissions in Canada and 16 per cent in the U.S. The list goes on. We aren’t the U.S., and implementing their solutions doesn’t get us as far. Even big steps like requiring every passenger car in Canada to be an electric vehicle.

If we converted every gasoline-powered car and light truck, made the rest of our electricity non-emitting (which means no natural gas, either), made every commercial and residential building in Canada non-emitting (again, no natural gas) and managed to not grow any other emissions as the economy and population grew, we would see a total reduction of just over 30 per cent. Those are huge changes, and while some of that is going to happen, it won’t be 100 per cent done in the next nine years in Canada. No way. Even with those massive changes, we would just meet our Paris COP21 commitment, never mind Trudeau’s wannabe “fella who is working really hard” target.

So what do we do? To start with, we need a clear vision of what we look like at the end point in 2030 and the precise steps to make that happen. We need our government to detail the end state for all sectors of the economy, from how many EVs there will be by 2030, along with the infrastructure to support them, to how we get off the remaining fossil fuels we are burning to generate electricity. We also need to be honest about what that means for our oil and gas industry, an industry that represents more than 25 per cent of our emissions. That last point is, of course, the problem for Trudeau: we are still pretending as the U.S. decarbonizes and we do, too, that there will be no impact on the oil and gas industry in Canada.

A big miss or a bigger miss is neither here nor there in Ottawa and among large corporations, writes Ross Belot. But in the real world, a big miss on climate targets matters. #LeadersClimateSummit #cdnpoli

We just saw the pretending in the recent federal budget when they dragged out the dead horse of carbon capture and storage as a saviour of the industry. Spending hundreds of millions or billions to maintain an industry that must be wound down if the world is to survive is not a good use of our money. Mr. Prime Minister, we need a plan with an end state clearly articulated in detail and steps to get there. That determines what our emissions will most likely be, not a number thrown out with no basis. Let’s stop playing games — this is serious.

Ross Belot is a retired senior manager with one of Canada’s largest energy companies. He is now an environmental poet.

Updates and corrections

| Corrections policy
April 27, 2021, 03:00 pm

This article has been updated with additional information on the percentage of emissions produced by passenger cars as well as SUVs, minivans and light pickups in Canada and the U.S.

Keep reading

Belot: "Spending hundreds of millions or billions to maintain an industry that must be wound down if the world is to survive is not a good use of our money."

PM Trudeau & Co, provincial Premiers, the oil industry, corporate Canada, and the Big Banks are all betting on failure. Against survival.
As Observer columnist Barry Saxifrage notes today, "What is radical is Canada's continuing refusal to cut our sky-high climate polluting even as accelerating CO2 levels push us ever faster into a chaotic and dangerous future."
Too many corporate environmentalists and complacent, starry-eyed progressives believe the likes of Trudeau, Notley, & Horgan will lead us to the Promised Land.
The reckless fossil-fuel expansion agenda set by our "climate leaders" takes us over the cliff.
"The New Climate Denialism: Time for an Intervention" (The Narwhal, Sep 26, 2016)
https://thenarwhal.ca/new-climate-denialism-time-intervention

Belot: "While it is great to have so much green electricity, it doesn’t provide much of a lever for us for further reductions."
No such thing as green energy. All energy systems have impacts. Environmentally, major hydro projects are catastrophic.
If the goal is net-zero by 2050, effectively that means we have less than thirty years to wind down ALL emissions to zero.*
In fact, Canadians have countless opportunities to reduce discretionary energy use and waste.
Many Canadians drive everywhere they go in single-passenger vehicles in sprawled cities. Idle at drive-thrus. Live far from work and school. Long commutes in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Lights and computers are left on in office towers and homes. Living in big houses stuffed with things they don't need. Shop till they drop. Single-use disposables. Fly around the world for vacations. Holiday in huge RVs. Eat a heavy meat diet. Throw out 40% of their food.
Canada has the worst vehicle fuel economy in the world. Canada's vehicles have the highest average fuel consumption and CO2 emissions per km driven (IEA). Canada's vehicles are also the largest and the second heaviest in the world.
Canada produce more garbage per capita than 16 other OECD nations.
Also one of the biggest food wasters on the planet.
*
Canada's ecological footprint is over 5 Earths. The average Canadian lives far beyond the planet's carrying capacity. We are energy hogs and huge resource wasters, with extravagant consumption habits.
Canadians contribute disproportionately to a collective problem; we need to contribute to the collective solution.

*Save any negative emissions, i.e., carbon offsets, carbon removal from the atmosphere ("negative" emissions). Since our forests are net carbon sources, not sinks, planting trees won't help much.

Belot: "Even big steps like requiring every passenger car in Canada to be an electric vehicle."
Or better yet, public transit, cycling, pedestrian infrastructure, and smart urban design — redesigning our cities for people, not cars. These options are missing in most analyses.
Cars drive sprawl and sprawl drives cars. Sprawl devours green space and makes efficient public transit and bicycle commuting impossible. Given EVs' huge footprint, millions of personal two-tonne automobiles carting around millions of 60 kg human beings will never be efficient. EVs will never be sustainable, even if they ran on fairy dust.

Canada has a lot of heavy industry , and the NO actually needs somebody from the consumption side, not the energy industry, to speak to how we'll decarbonize steel and cement production, fertilizer manufacture, and so forth.

A lot of the carbon emissions - most of Alberta's - are from the energy extraction itself, and will go away when the customers for it dry up because alternatives are developed.