Despite ongoing resistance, Canada has been pulled into the orbit of decarbonization and has made some startling announcements. This move is an about face for a country that appeared to be firmly ensconced in its role as a climate Luddite. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Stephen Harper Canada has been one of the biggest obstacles to global climate action. The country has thwarting progress at successive international climate summits while steadily increasing their greenhouse gas emissions. In a stunning turn of events Harper, one of the most oil obsessed leaders in the world, has agreed to eradicate fossil fuels and substantially cut emissions.
This announcement is a function of an agreement reached at a recent meeting of the G7 in Germany. In addition to the phasing out of fossil fuels by 2100 Harper, along with the other leaders of the G7 agreed to deep cuts in carbon emissions by 2050. Canada blocked German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s efforts to get the G7 to endorse a zero carbon emissions pledge.
On Friday May 15th the Canadian government announced that it was setting a greenhouse gas emissions target that is 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Canada’s ruling Conservatives have already admitted that they cannot meet the much less ambitious target of 17 percent reductions which they set back in 2009. Rather than cutting carbon emissions Canada’s greenhouse gas pollution increased by 1.5 percent in 2014, the fourth year in a row that Canada’s emissions have gone up.
There are some serious doubts about the sincerity of Harper’s newest pledge. As expressed by Germany’s ambassador to Canada, Werner Wnendt, if Canada is to seriously decrease emissions the country will have to reevaluate its support for the tarsands. Right now the Canada has no plans to limit emissions from the country’s oil and gas sector.
According to the government’s own reports, Canada’s emissions from the tarsands are on track to rise faster than the country’s ability to curb them. As the fossil fuel hub of Canada, Alberta is responsible for over 80 percent of the most recent annual increase in greenhouse gas pollution.
Canada efforts to cut emissions from industry and natural-gas fired electricity are insufficient. Likewise the government’s initiative to reduce methane leaks from industrial processes and pipelines will not enable to country to meet its pledges. Nor will phasing out coal fired power plants and stricter vehicular controls.
A cabinet memorandum marked “secret” was obtained by CBC News and it gives some insight into how Harper’s Conservatives hope to realize their emissions pledges.
“Increasing production is expected to outpace improvements in emissions intensity and most technologies with the potential to reduce emissions have not been commercialized or technically proven…Emissions from oilsands are projected to increase by 102 MT [million tonnes] from 2005 to 2030.”
The document suggests that one of the ways Canada can keep exploiting the tarsands is through the purchase of international emissions credits that could “counterbalance increasing emissions from the oilsands…Credits would be scalable and could be considered to offset the expected growth in oilsands emissions from 2020 to 2030.” These emissions credits could include investments in green projects in developing countries.
Another suggestion in the document is to follow Alberta’s practice of setting industry intensity targets of 12 percent a year. Companies that fail to meet the target are forced to pay penalties amounting to $15 a tonne. However, Alberta’s rules have been criticized as being incapable of achieving the required level of emissions cuts.
Even the governments own memorandum seems to be concerned amount the nation’s ability to achieve the level of emissions reductions required. It reads, Canada’s carbon emissions reduction targets,
“will be subject to scrutiny of stakeholders, the media and other countries, focusing on the target’s level of ambition and on its credibility.”
The document warns that Canada’s international image and its trade could suffer if it fails to meet its targets.
Another approach to emissions reduction in Canada involves putting a price on carbon, something the Harper government has strenuously resisted. According to an Angus Reid poll Canadians support the ideal of carbon pricing.