Canada’s Paris Agreement target looks unattainable

A new report from Canada’s Auditors General on the country’s actions on climate change is sharply critical of the country’s provincial governments.

The report finds that:

  • More than half the provincial governments did not have overall targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and those that did, only two were on track to meet their targets;
  • Most provincial governments have not fully addressed climate change risks and had not developed detailed adaptation plans;
  • There is limited coordination of climate change action within most governments.

The report details how Canada is falling way behind in terms of both reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to the emergent threats of the changing climate.  You can read the report here.

What is shocking is Canada’s apparent nonchalance in meeting the targets it has committed to.  The report notes that Canada has committed to four separate targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The country failed to reach the first two targets: the 2000 Rio target  and the 2008-2012 Kyoto target.  Moreover, according to the report, Environment and Climate Change Canada has admitted that current provincial and federal policies and regulations mean that Canada will also fail to meet its 2020 target set at Copenhagen in 2009. This target was to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 17% below 2005 levels.

The figure below shows just how far away Canada is from achieving its targets [2].

The Copenhagen target is clearly a lost cause.


So Ottawa’s attention has apparently shifted to Canada’s commitment under the Paris Agreement. This target has Canada reducing its GHG emissions by 30% compared to 2005 levels—which means a reduction down to 523 million tonnes in 2030.





This is a big ask.

Almost 40 percent of Canada’s GHG emissions are generated by a single province: Alberta.

But according to the Auditors General report, Alberta:

  • Does not have an overall target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2020
  • Has a mitigation plan—but it does not include timelines, implementation plans and cost estimates
  • Has evaluated and summarized climate change risks—but this has not been translated into a climate change adaptation strategy

So essentially Alberta has no GHG reduction target, no effective mitigation plan, and no adaptation action plan.

But Alberta is not the only laggard: The report notes that none of the other industrial provinces: British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Ontario are making enough progress towards the Paris Agreement targets. Quebec’s progress is not included in the report.

Transportation and the fossil fuel sectors are the two largest sources of greenhouse gases in Canada–together they account for fully one half of the country’s emissions. Electricity generation, heavy industry, and buildings together account for another third.

Compared to 2005 Canada’s emissions have fallen–but this is not the case since 2010. Between 2010 and 2015 emissions actually rose by 3.0 percent [3].

This upward trend is almost entirely due to the oil and gas sector. Emissions from this sector rose a huge 18.1 % from 2010 to 2015. The other sectors were essential flat or rose only slightly.  Emissions from the transportation sector, the other big one, rose only 1.1 %.

Oil and gas production and processing are concentrated in the province of Alberta—where not surprisingly, emissions of greenhouse gases are much higher than the other provinces—60% higher than Ontario, and more than twice as much as Quebec, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia. The top five Canadian provinces in terms of emissions in 2015 are shown in the graph below.

Since 2010, Alberta’s emissions have being going up—not down.  Emissions rose from 241 MtC02e in 2010 to 274 MtCO2e in 2105—an increase of almost 14 percent.  This increase is almost entirely due to the oil and gas sector.

What is clear from this reading is that Canada cannot achieve its 2030 target of 528 MtCO2e without substantial reductions in GHG emissions from the oil and gas sector in Alberta.  Reductions in Ontario, Quebec and Saskatchewan will all make a useful contribution, but without a dramatic reduction in the emissions from the oil and gas sector in Alberta, there is no way the 2030 target under the Paris Agreement is going to be achieved.

Alberta has had a carbon tax in place since 2007 when the province became the first jurisdiction in North America to have mandatory GHG emission reduction targets for large emitters across all sectors.  In June 2015 the reduction targets were strengthened so that facilities that emit more than 100,000 tonnes of GHG emissions per year had to reduce their emissions by 20% per barrel by 2017.

Then in November of the same year, the Government of Alberta released an ambitious climate change policy that “moves towards phasing out coal-generated electricity”, proposed a new carbon price on GHG pollution, and placing a hard-cap on oil sands emissions and reducing methane gas emissions from oil and gas operations by 45 percent [4].

Sounds grand.

But it is clear from the above numbers that these pronouncements have had little or no impact on emissions from the oil and gas sector in Alberta.

Alberta’s emission reduction policy looks seriously flawed—and by extension the Federal Government’s policy looks equally flawed and the 2030 target unattainable.

For one thing, “moving towards” phasing out coal is not good enough. Coal is a global health hazard. That means Canada should commit to no coal-fired electricity generation and no coal exports.

And why is it just facilities that emit more than 100,000 tons of greenhouse gases that are required to reduce their emissions?  All oil and gas production, processing, and distribution facilities should be required to reduce their emissions.

This is a bullet that Canada’s Federal Government is going to have to bite.

Otherwise that will make four.

Four international emission reduction commitments that Canada has failed to reach.


For more on the numbers:

[1] The Auditors General report is available at :

[2] The graphs are taken from the Auditors General report cited above

[3] The data on GHG emissions are from : Greenhouse gas sources and sinks: executive summary.  Accessed at:

[4] The information on Alberta’s GHG emissions policy is from : Oil sands: A strategic resource for Canada, North America and the global market. GHG Emissions. Accessed at :


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