More than 20 nations have seen economic growth for a decade, while reducing emissions, new research shows. But why is Canada not on this list?
The findings were contained in a trio of papers from the Global Carbon Project released earlier this week that said global carbon dioxide emissions in 2017 are ticking up after a three-year hiatus. From 2014-16, CO2 emissions from fossil-fuel use and industry had been flat, even as global GDP rose. But this year, emissions are forecast to climb by 2.0 percent primarily due to an uptick in the use of coal in China. It remains to be seen whether 2017 is a blip, or a return to normal.
There are bright spots. US and EU emissions are down, though not as much as expected. Emissions are also declining in Mexico and other parts of Latin America. In India, emissions are projected to increase by two percent, but this is down markedly on the six percent annual average over the last ten years. And 22 developed countries over the past decade saw GDP growth, while CO2 emissions have dropped significantly, mostly in Europe, but also the US.
Canada is noticeably not on this list. Canada is on track by 2030 to see its GHG emissions (not just CO2 emissions) increase 14 per cent to 29 per cent above 1990 levels, the baseline year used by the European Union, which is set to meet its pledge of a 40-per-cent cut. Yet Canada has the fourth cleanest electricity in the world (with 80% of electric coming from clean sources, primarily hydro and nuclear) after Norway, Sweden and France (where some mix of hydro and nuclear also dominate).
So what’s going on?
According to Environment and Climate Change Canada, part of the problem is that Canada has a wildly variable climate, with huge heating demands in the winter and, in populous central Canada, huge cooling demands in the summer, compared to other industrialized nations. Canada is vast and sparsely populated, leading to greater demand for transportation than more densely populated countries. As both heating and transport in much of Canada is largely fossil-fuel powered, we get hit more here as well.
Meanwhile, with most of our electricity already clean, a lot of the low-hanging fruit has already been picked. The US is able to report large CO2 declines due primarily to its widespread shift from coal to natural gas-powered electricity.
This means that for Canada to be able to notch up similar sort of emissions reductions to other developed countries, we will have to up our ambition in heating and transport, together with the additional clean electricity needed to power these areas.
The challenge here is that policies needed to drive all this may be much more politically knotty than electricity generation fuel-switching.
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.