Canada plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions by up to 45 per cent by 2030 – The Globe and Mail

World leaders appear on screen during a virtual Climate Summit, seen from the East Room at the White House, April 22, 2021.

TOM BRENNER/Reuters

Canada plans to slash its greenhouse gas emissions faster than first promised as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the country will cut its emissions by 40 to 45 per cent below 2005 levels within the decade.

Mr. Trudeau announced the new goal at a virtual summit with world leaders, hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden. The target is up to a third higher than the 30-per-cent reduction that Canada first signed on to under the Paris Agreement.

“We must take action now because there’s no vaccine against a polluted planet,” Mr. Trudeau told the gathering of 40 world leaders.

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The federal government has not yet revealed the policies that will ensure Canada reaches that target but Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said the policies his government has introduced to date already ensure Canada cuts its emissions by 36 per cent.

The U.S. President, Mr. Trudeau, and other world leaders warned of the approaching catastrophe of climate change and described the urgent need to act immediately to limit the planet’s warming. But Canada set a new target that the NDP and Green Party dismissed as not strong enough and that falls short of what international allies are planning.

“This will be the ‘make or break’ decade for our climate,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said as she highlighted her bloc’s pledge to cut emissions by 55 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030. “Science tells us it is not too late yet, but we must hurry up,” she added.

Models show the world is on track to blow past the commitment set out in the Paris Agreement to limit warming to as close to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels as possible, with a ceiling of 2 degrees of warming.

The world is “racing toward the threshold of catastrophe” United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said, as he noted that global temperatures have already risen 1.2 degrees.

“We see ever rising sea-levels, scorching temperatures, devastating tropical cyclones and epic wildfires,” he said.

On Thursday, the U.S. committed to cutting its emissions in half from 2005 levels within the decade. Despite Canada’s lower bar, John Kerry, the president’s special envoy on climate congratulated Canada on “a bold step that puts them on track to net zero.” The trajectory of Canada’s emissions and the rapid expansion of Canada’s oil and gas sector since 2005 means that Canada will need to implement tougher policies to meet its targets than what will be required in the U.S. to meet its higher target.

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Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole rejected the new targets and said his party will only commit to those previously agreed to in 2015. “It’s the 30 per cent target,” he said after first dodging multiple questions on the issue.

Green Party Leader Annamie Paul said Canada should set a target to cut emissions by 60 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Canada’s target should be a 50-per-cent cut.

Historically, Canada’s problem hasn’t been setting ambitious targets to slow climate change but rather following through on them. For the first time ever last year, the federal government released a climate-change plan that had strong enough policies to meet its previous goal of cutting emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels. The budget released this week announced policies that the government said will make enough of an impact on emissions to set Canada’s new floor of emissions cuts at 36 per cent by 2030, below 2005 levels.

Mr. Trudeau’s government must now lay out the policies that close the new gap created with the target to cut emissions by up to 45 per cent.

The federal government has already said that it will increase the carbon tax to $170 per tonne by 2030, Mr. Wilkinson said Thursday the government will not raise that price further before 2030. The government plans to make the deeper cuts in emissions in part by strengthening fuel economy regulations for vehicles and putting more limits on methane emissions.

Mr. Wilkinson said the climate policies and programs already in place in Canada – including the price on carbon, methane reduction measures and clean fuel standards emissions – get the country “the bulk of the way to our target.”

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“If you go out and you look at climate plans around the world, that is more than virtually everybody else has done in terms of the details of a plan,” he told media Thursday.

Canada is also in conversations with the Biden Administration about aligning policies on vehicle efficiency standards and methane reduction measures, he said.

And while Canada’s goal doesn’t reach the United States plan to slash its emissions in half by 2030, Mr. Wilkinson insisted the 40-to-45-per-cent reduction cited by Mr. Trudeau is, “based on the structure of the economy, more ambitious than what the Americans are talking about.”

Asked why his government doesn’t aim higher and meet the bold numbers being proposed by other countries, Mr. Wilkinson said he’s “not interested in putting targets out there that we don’t think we can meet.”

“I think that does a disservice to Canadians, I think it does a disservice to politics,” he said.

But when it comes to oil, which is primarily used as a transportation fuel, the future is less clear.

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Mr. Wilkinson said the first part of the equation there is reducing emissions in the oil sands, but the second goal is to accelerate the deployment of zero-emission vehicles, “which will have an impact on demand for oil.”

“We just need to work through this. It’s going to be a transition. Everybody recognizes that, and we need to get to the point where we’re not combusting carbon. That’s what net-zero means,” he said.

Unlike the United States, Canada has already significantly decarbonized its electricity sector; that’s one of the reasons why reaching its emissions targets will require tougher policies than those south of the border, said Andrew Leach an associate professor at the University of Alberta. The expansion of the emissions-intensive oil and gas sector since 2005 makes Canada’s path to reaching its targets even more difficult, he said.

“If you pick any target, we’re going to need substantially more stringent policies than the U.S. to meet that target,” he said.

For example, he said the White House would come close to reaching a 30-per-cent drop in emissions below 2005 levels by 2030 with a $50-per-tonne carbon price, while Canada needs a $170-per-tonne carbon price to do the same.

Kathryn Harrison, a professor of political science at the University of British Columbia, said there are “limits to how much sympathy we can expect from other countries” for that.

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“One of the reasons it’s more costly is that we allowed emissions to increase, virtually unchecked, from the oil and gas industry and profited accordingly,” she said.

The Prime Minister told the summit that his government “will make it law to respect our new 2030 target, and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.” But that proposed legislation has not yet moved to second reading vote in the House of Commons, despite being introduced in November. Last week, the Conservatives reversed course on the bill and tried to kill it in protest of the makeup of a new panel that will advise the government on reaching net-zero emissions.

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