Canada’s new greenhouse gas reduction target under the Paris Agreement is now “40 to 45 per cent” below 2005 levels by 2030, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on April 22 at the Leaders Summit on Climate.
This target falls short of U.S. President Joe Biden’s commitment to a 50 to 52 per cent reduction by 2030.
“We see this as a global announcement on the part of the government of Canada that Canada is not seeking at this time to be a leader in the fight against the climate crisis,” said the leader of Canada’s federal Green Party, Annamie Paul.
“Even with the full weight of pressure from the Biden administration to do the right thing, the best we could get was 40 to 45 per cent?” said Green MP Elizabeth May. “That is pathetic. It's a disgrace.
“The new target does not align with what Biden's climate summit was all about,” said May. “It does not align with holding to no more than 1.5 degrees (C warming).”
Pulling its weight
The Green Party and several climate think tanks have been pushing for a target that reflects Canada’s fair share in tackling the climate emergency, which would mean a 60 per cent reduction below 2005 levels by 2030.
Canada won't meet its new #emissions targets if the government continues to prop up the #FossilFuel industry, @CanadianGreens and climate experts say.
To date, Canada hasn’t met a single climate target, and climate experts are doubtful this one will be any different.
“It's not possible for Canada to meet even the modest, unambitious targets that we set last week if we continue to do some of the things that the government of Canada is committed to continuing to do,” said Paul.
As it stands, Canada is both a top 10 emitter of greenhouse gases and emits more than double the global average per person, according to the World Resources Institute. Environment Canada reports one quarter of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions are from the oil and gas sector.
With this new commitment, the government is passing up on the chance to do our fair share to leave the planet habitable, said May. “We're also putting Canada in a very uncompetitive position to take advantage of the economy of the future.”
Investing in a green recovery is not only essential to our survival, but a massive economic opportunity, said Paul, calling it the greatest economic opportunity since the Industrial Revolution.
But Canadians who want to transition to a green economy will have to look elsewhere, she said.
Despite setting more ambitious climate goals, the federal government continues to prop up the fossil fuel industry. The Canadian Energy Regulator (CER) predicts oil production will peak in 2045, “driven by higher crude oil price assumptions and a lack of future domestic and global climate policy action.”
“The federal government is projecting an enormous expansion of tar sands production over the next 10 years, which is inconsistent with Canada's climate goals,” said Anthony Swift, director of Canada Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“A climate-safe future is not one where either country has an expanding oil industry,” he said.
Government committed to fossil fuels
May and Paul agree Trudeau’s desire to protect the oilsands and be a climate leader are incompatible positions.
Paul said Canada won’t be able to meet the unambitious targets set on April 22 if the government continues to subsidize the fossil fuel industry, build pipelines, and approve oil exploration projects — like it did in January when approval was granted to three oil projects off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador.
“There’s no credible, realistic strategy for reducing our greenhouse gas emissions that doesn't involve significant changes and reductions in our oil and gas sector in the time that we have,” said Paul.
The government’s commitment to fossil fuels doesn’t surprise Bronwen Tucker, an analyst at Oil Change International, which advocates for energy transition.
“This is super common, and it’s a pattern we’ve seen for years already, where the Trudeau government loves to have rhetoric of climate leadership but has ignored the fastest-growing source of emissions and is continuing to do that,” said Tucker. “Until we are addressing that and also ensuring a transition for the workers and communities who are relying on that sector, it is really just a smoke and mirrors situation.”
Some groups are more optimistic about the new targets.
Michael Bernstein, executive director of Clean Prosperity, a Canadian climate policy organization, said the targets are a really positive step and balance the need to keep up with Canada’s international peers while acknowledging it will be harder to make emissions reductions quickly because of the country’s prominent oil and gas sector.
Bernstein stresses the need for a carbon budget, as well as reduction targets. A carbon budget refers to the total future emissions that can be emitted in a given region while still limiting global warming to a target, such as 1.5 C.
He also notes that decarbonizing the oil and gas industry will require large investments and time.
But May says the time to act is now.
“I'm afraid that when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change tells you that there is no way to hold on to 1.5 (C) without essentially slashing emissions in half between now and 2030, don't fool around with pretending we've got more time than we have,” said May. “We don't have any time at all.”
The Conservative Party of Canada did not return the National Observer’s phone calls and emails requesting an interview or statement on Canada’s new climate commitments.