On April 14th, we got some accounting on climate change. Aaron Wherry reports:
The annual account of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions was released on April 14, just as most of Ottawa was fixated on the uneventful testimony Justin Trudeau's chief of staff was giving to a parliamentary hearing on foreign interference.
Six days later, with even less fanfare, Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault announced that the government would be updating its estimate of the "social cost of carbon," an internal calculation used for performing cost-benefit analyses of federal regulations.
Put together, the national inventory report and the social cost of carbon lay out the inescapable math of climate change. And they fill in some of the facts that have been missing from the latest skirmish in the interminable fight over carbon pricing in Canada.
There is some good news:
The latest tally of emissions includes some encouraging news, at least. In 2021 (emissions data always takes a little over a year to process), Canada's GHG emissions totalled 670 megatonnes. That's the second-lowest annual total since 1996.
The total for 2021 does represent an increase of 12 Mt over 2020. But because 2020 was such an unusual year — for most of the year, the activity of individuals and businesses was severely curtailed by pandemic health restrictions — it defies comparison.
A better point of reference might be 2019. In that pre-pandemic year, Canada's emissions were 724 Mt.
But we still have a long way to go. And we don't have a political consensus on how to get there:
There are steps the Trudeau government can take to reassure businesses and investors that current climate policy will remain in place, such as "contracts for difference." But ultimately it depends on political consensus and that doesn't exist — Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre is committed to repealing both the federal price on carbon and the clean fuel standard.
But if the path to Canada's 2030 target (a cut of at least 40 per cent to Canada's emissions below 2005 levels) and the mid-century goal of net-zero is by no means assured, it's at least possible to see a way there.
According to analysis published by the Climate Institute last year, existing policies will reduce Canada's emissions to 589 Mt by 2030, 149 Mt above the national target. When policies under development are factored in, the gap becomes 93 Mt. When policies that have been promised are included, the gap shrinks to just 24 Mt.
In other words, with quick and effective action, Canada's goals will become increasingly plausible.
So the goal is possible. Whether or not it's achievable is an open question.
Image: Eastern Research Group