Provinces on pace to miss climate targets: auditors

More than 20 people marched from John M. Cuelenaere Library to City Hall in support of local action against climate change during Earth Day in Prince Albert. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

The majority of the nation’s provinces and territories don’t have climate change plans or targets, and the ones that do aren’t likely to hit them in time for the 2020 Copenhagen goals.

Auditors general from nine of ten Canadian provinces, as well as the national auditor general who oversees the federal government and the three territories, released a joint report Tuesday looking into actions taken to reduce emissions and build resiliency in the face of human-caused climate change.

The work went on over the past 18 months to provide an overall independent assessment of the state of climate change action in Canada.

“The findings from the federal, provincial and territorial climate change audits confirm that Canada’s governments are working on climate change, but that work is far from being done,” a press release sent with the report said.

More than half the provinces don’t have specific emissions targets. Of those that do, only Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are on pace to meet their emission reduction goals.

Other provinces without provincial reduction targets have industry-specific caps. Saskatchewan hasn’t set any hard targets, though the province is developing those targets, as laid out in the climate change plan announced in December. The Saskatchewan Auditor General’s climate change report was penned in January 2017, months before the plan was unveiled.

That plan was decried by critics as having no specific targets, plans or policies. Specifics are expected to be developed through consultations on the climate plan.

While the plan wasn’t written yet, the audit draws heavily on Saskatchewan’s climate change white paper written in 2016. December’s climate change plan also draws from that document.

“Without plans, policies and targets, Saskatchewan may not be able to fulfil its commitment to Canada to contribute to the reduction of GHG emissions,” auditor general Judy Ferguson said.

The provincial government has indicated it is focusing on building resiliency to climate change and reducing emissions through adopting more renewable sources of energy and embracing carbon capture. The province has also announced plans to cap high-emitting producers and fine them if they exceed yet-to-be-determined emissions limits.

The province, though, has emphasized that in order to really tackle climate change, more has to be done in the developing world where coal-fired power is common. The provincial government encourages looking to Saskatchewan as an example of how carbon capture can work. It often cites the fact that only two per cent of the world’s carbon pollution comes from Canada, and of that, 10 per cent comes from Saskatchewan.

But as Saskatchewan tries to deflect blame away to other parts of the world, Environment Canada numbers show that several provinces are taking action while Saskatchewan falls behind.

According to the auditor general’s report, Saskatchewan had the highest green house gas emissions per capita in the country in 2014, at 67.3 tonnes.

The biggest emitters in the province are the gas and oil sector, the agriculture sector and electricity generation.

Further, projections show Alberta and Saskatchewan emitting as much as 70 per cent more greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 as the two provinces did in 1990. B.C. and Manitoba are expected to emit at levels ten per cent higher than their 1990 emissions, while the rest of the provinces should be at or below that level.

Meanwhile, Canada has missed its 1992 Rio and 2005 Kyoto reduction targets, and is on pace to miss its 2020 and 2030 commitments as well.

One of the issues, the auditors found, is the lack of clear targets and accountability.

“Plans mostly consisted of high level goals, with little guidance on how to implement actions,” they wrote.

While the Saskatchewan government’s climate change plan contains no specific goals, it does deal with actions designed to be resilient and minimize the potential impacts of climate change.

The province has determined global warming could result in increased flooding, forest fires and more extreme weather. It has identified risks to mining, forestry and agricultural sectors due to a warmer climate.

According to Environment Canada models, the average temperature of Saskatchewan could be three degrees warmer by 2100.