It has been in the public domain for almost a month but Canada’s latest report card on climate has largely avoided the spotlight. Canada enjoyed a modest decrease in greenhouse gas emissions over the last two years, according to the latest inventory report submitted to the United Nations. However, this good news is outweighed by an overall trend of rising emissions since the sharp drop experienced during the 2008 economic crisis.
Every year, countries are required to submit comprehensive inventories of their emissions to the UN, and Ottawa filed the report on the nation’s emissions up to 2015 without fanfare.
According to the submission, 81 percent of emissions come from the combustion of fossil fuels or releases of methane (known as ‘fugitive emissions’) from oil and gas operations, while the rest comes from agriculture (8%), industrial chemical processes that do not involve fossil fuel combustion (7%), and waste (3%).
The economic sector with the greatest emissions was the oil and gas industry (26% of total emissions), followed by transport (24%).
In 2015, Canada emitted 722 megatonnes of GHGs, down one percent since the last submission, and down 2.2 percent over the 2005-2015 decade.
What is called ‘stationary combustion’ by the UN (all burning of fossil fuels other than by vehicles), waste, and industrial chemical processes all saw reductions in emissions over the 2005-2015 period, the latter source decreasing largely due to technological improvements. The chemical industry itself has also enjoyed a drop over the decade, mainly a result of the closure of a single factory in Ontario producing adipic acid, which is used to make nylon.
There has been a 31 percent decrease in emissions in the electricity sector since 2005, primarily due to Ontario’s closure of its coal-fired power plants.
However, all these reductions were partially offset by a four percent increase in emissions in the transport sector, mainly from trucking.
There has also been a 116 percent increase in the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a powerful greenhouse gas, since 2005, due to their use as a replacement for ozone-layer depleting CFCs, which have been prohibited under the Montreal Protocol since 1992.
In addition, while emissions declined over the 2005-2015 decade, they have been on a steady upswing of five percent since the sharp drop in emissions during the Great Recession. The drop had been largely due to reduced industrial production.
This increase since the recession has come mainly from greater energy consumption and fugitive emissions as the economy recovered.
Interestingly, UN accounting rules do not permit inclusion of some emissions assessments in the forestry sector, notably the sequestration of carbon in long-lived wood products. This is a key point of contention within climate diplomacy circles, and the federal government is keen to change these rules. If allowed, Canada’s emissions profile would be substantially different, decreasing the total GHG emissions of the country by 4.7 percent.
Other good news includes the cheering fact that Canada’s economy has grown faster than GHG emissions over the last few decades, with a reduction of 16.4 percent since 2005 in GHG per unit of GDP.
All together, the country’s emissions represent approximately 1.6 percent of global emissions.
Energy economist Mark Jaccard helped design BC’s carbon tax, and he still supports it. But he questions just how politically viable a stringent tax—at the level needed to meet climate targets—can really be. So he also continues to explore how other policies that the public find more acceptable could work.