Canada’s environment commissioner said it is not clear how the oil and gas sector will achieve the greenhouse gas emission reductions prescribed under the federal government’s climate plan, and called for more transparency around the modelling.
Jerry DeMarco and representatives from Natural Resources Canada and Environment Canada appeared before the Standing Committee on Environment and Climate Change on Nov. 9 to answer questions about the five reports DeMarco tabled on Tuesday. One of the key findings was that Canada is not on track to meet its goal to reduce emissions by 40 per cent, relative to 2005 levels, by 2030.
“This is not my first time sounding the alarm and I will continue to do so until Canada turns the tide,” DeMarco said in his opening statement to the committee.
Measures such as carbon pricing and forthcoming regulations have the potential to greatly reduce emissions if they are stringent enough and applied widely but delays are getting in the way, said DeMarco. An overall lack of transparency of the federal government’s modelling has led to “overly optimistic assumptions” about emission reductions, he explained.
The federal climate plan projects the oil and gas sector will reduce its emissions 31 per cent relative to 2005 levels by 2030.
While some industries are heading in the right direction, others, like oil and gas, have made negative progress on reducing planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions, said DeMarco.
Oil and gas sector emissions increased 88 per cent from 1990 to 2021. And because it is such a large sector, those increases drown out progress in other sectors, like electricity, which saw a 45 per cent reduction over the same period, said DeMarco.
The federal government first promised to cap emissions from oil and gas production in 2021 and said details about the form and timeline of the regulations would be communicated in early 2023. In July, Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault extended the timeline, with draft regulations expected before the end of the year. This is one of several delayed measures that DeMarco said is impeding Canada’s ability to meet its emission reduction targets, which assumed certain regulations would be in place on time.
The oil and gas sector’s 31 per cent share of emission reductions is “a critical piece of information in the plan” and requires the sector’s emissions to reverse course, said DeMarco. “We would like to know exactly how they got there. I'm sure members of the committee would like to know how they got to that 31 per cent.”
Canada won't meet its climate targets at this rate, but forthcoming regulations have the potential to greatly reduce emissions if they are stringent enough, Canada's enviro commissioner found. The oil and gas emissions cap is currently delayed.
If the federal government can’t show its homework, Canadians won’t have confidence in their plan, he added.
“We could not determine where that number came from,” said Kimberley Leach, an audit principal at the Office of the Auditor General.
NDP MP Taylor Bachrach asked representatives from Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) to provide information on how the oil and gas sector’s share of emission reductions was determined.
“A lot of the information actually pertains to cabinet deliberation,” said Vincent Ngan, assistant deputy minister of the climate change branch. Ngan’s comment refers to the fact that matters discussed by ministers in cabinet are confidential.
Bachrach said they will press the government for “that secret information so we can better understand how they came up with these aspirational numbers that have nothing behind them.”
Bloc Québécois MP Monique Pauzé also called the federal government’s projected oil and gas sector reductions into question.
One of the report’s examples of the department’s “overly optimistic assumptions” include the projection that carbon capture and storage facilities would be built and eliminate 27 megatons of CO2 eq emissions annually by 2030.
“How could the government account for this in its [2030 emission reduction plan] despite all of the warnings that scientists and researchers have told them?” Pauzé asked in French. She reiterated arguments made by scientists and academics that carbon capture technology is expensive and inefficient, adding “even if they existed, the facilities would never be able to cope with the projections for 2030.”
Her Bloc Québécois colleague, MP Jean-Denis Garon, also questioned the federal climate plans' reliance on carbon capture technology.
“Who's telling the truth? Actors who appeared before the committee, or this science that's been done behind the closed doors of your department?” asked Garon.
Ngan responded that the climate plan includes a mix of policy instruments and noted “investment in one technology does not represent the whole of the climate plan.”
“We don't agree that the projections are overly optimistic,” said Derek Hermanutz, director general of the economic analysis directorate at ECCC. “We followed several processes to ensure that they were realistic” including preparing projections according to guidelines established by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said Hermantuz.
The department also submits biannual reports to the UNFCCC which can be reviewed by experts, he added. Hermanutz said the department also relies heavily on third-party information from sources like the National Inventory Report, data from Statistics Canada and the Canada Energy Regulator.
ECCC agreed or partially agreed to all nine recommendations outlined in the environment commissioner’s report.
Throughout the meeting, MPs also delved into the two reports on electric vehicles, which found Natural Resources Canada is exceeding its 2026 goal of installing 33,500 charging ports — as of July 2023, 33,887 charging ports were either completed or under development.
The audit found the funding program did not prioritize underserved areas, including rural, remote and Indigenous communities and lower-income areas; 87 per cent of the charging stations were installed in three provinces, British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec. Natural Resources Canada agreed to all five recommendations laid out in the report, for example, creating a strategy to ensure underserved areas get chargers.
A separate audit found progress on converting federal fleets to zero-emission vehicles leaves much to be desired. It assessed the progress made by National Defence, Parks Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency on the target of converting 80 per cent of the federal fleet to zero-emission vehicles by 2030. The percentage of zero-emission vehicles ranged from between one and three per cent across the four organizations, indicating it is unlikely Canada will achieve its 2030 target, the audit found
Conservative MPs pressed the witnesses for evidence on how carbon pricing contributes to reducing emissions.
DeMarco said putting a price on carbon is a sound approach that delivers key emissions reductions. ECCC representatives said carbon pricing will account for up to a third of Canada's emissions reductions by 2030.
“The good news is that as the commissioner says in his report today, solutions exist,” said Green MP Mike Morrice at a press conference on Nov. 8. “The problem is that available solutions are being implemented much too slowly,” he added, blaming political will.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision to implement a three-year exemption on the carbon price applied to home heating oil breathed new life into Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre’s long-standing “Axe the Tax” campaign and attracted the ire of premiers across the country, Morrice said.
“We've got to be honest with Canadians that carbon pricing is the most economically efficient way to tackle the climate crisis and needs complementary measures as opposed to eroding what we know works,” Morrice told reporters on Parliament Hill. “Unfortunately, it's being used as a scapegoat by some politicians who aren't willing to talk about the subsidies, the over $20 billion going to the oil and gas industry.”
Morrice called on the federal government to heed the U.N. secretary general’s warnings and stop expanding fossil fuel infrastructure, as well as end subsidies to the oil and gas sector.
Natasha Bulowski / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer