Emissions outlook improves but Canada still on pace to miss 2030 target

Updated emissions projections from the federal government show an improvement over last year’s updates, but Canada is still set to miss its 2030 target by more than 100 million tonnes.

The federal government released its latest emissions projections on December 20. While they show emissions of 673 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2030, an improvement of 28 million tonnes from 2018’s projections, that number is still 162 million tonnes higher than the 2030 target of 511 million tonnes.

Even under the federal government’s most optimistic estimate, accounting for additional measures announced but not yet implemented and considering forestry and land-use activities that could reduce carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, Canada is still set to miss its target by 77 million tonnes.

Measures taken by the federal government do, however, show a marked improvement over the projected emissions from 2015. Then, Canada’s emissions in 2030 were estimated to grow to 815 million tonnes.

This year’s report projects an “overall decline” in greenhouse gas emissions over the next 11 years. The report says that a “wide range of policies programs and investments” implemented since 2016 have led to “the biggest improvement to the country’s emissions outlook since reporting began” in 2011.

The number touted by the government, the estimated 673 million tonnes of emissions in 2030, is based on federal, provincial and territorial policies and measures in place as of September 2019.

The rosier, 603-million tonne estimate is based on programs announced but not yet fully implemented, including the clean fuel standard.

The report says that those forestry and land-use activities include sustainable forest management and the conservation of natural areas. Those contributions are projected to reduce Canada’s emissions by a further 15 tonnes in 2030.

The federal government recently promised it would conserve 25 per cent of Canada’s land and oceans by 2025 and plant 2 billion trees by 2030.

The projection including additional measures, sustainable forests and conservation and future technology adoption is 4 million tonnes below last year’s most optimistic forecast.

“This progress is primarily driven by measures implemented in 2018, like pricing carbon pollution, the Energy Innovation Program, the CleanBC plan and projects developed with provinces and territories”

 Those reductions were offset by a lower contribution from Canada’s forests and conserved lands. The projection last year estimated that those natural spaces would contribute to a reduction in emissions by 24 million tonnes. The revised estimate is 15 million tonnes. The reduction is mostly due to the effects of the Mountain Pine Beetle outbreak in BC and due to new agricultural census data.

Despite the gap between current projections and the 2030 goal, the federal government remains optimistic.

“Environment and Climate Change Canada expects that GHG projections will continue to decline towards the 2030 target. Current estimates do not yet fully account for future reductions from green infrastructure, clean technology and innovation,” the report says.

“In addition, new commitments, as indicated in the December 2019 Minister’s mandate letters, are not yet included in the 2019 projections.”

The report cites efforts to increase clean electricity, greener buildings and communities, electrify transportation and use more nature-based solutions as ways the projection could improve in the future.

“As policies to meet these commitments are elaborated and these initiatives are implemented, they will be included in Canada’s annual emissions modelling reporting,” the federal government wrote.

“Actual emission reductions from these commitments will depend on the details of how the future policies and measures are designed, including how they will interact with each other and with other existing measures. However, we do know they can deliver important greenhouse gas reductions.”

The report estimates that energy-saving retrofits in just two per cent more residential buildings each year could reduce emissions by about 1.2 million tonnes.

They also cite findings from the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) that nature-based solutions can reduce emissions by about 20 million tonnes in 2030.

“The development of the Pan-Canadian Framework was just the beginning,” the federal government wrote.

“Science indicates that more action is needed. As such, the Government of Canada recently announced its intent to exceed Canada’s 2030 Paris Agreement target and begin work so that Canada can achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.