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While Harper dithers, provincial CO2 imbalance problem burns

When it comes to doing something about the climate crisis, Canada has developed an unstable split personality.

One group of Canadians is cutting emissions. Another group is piling them on. The Harper Government can't seem to decide what to do. They promise to lead Canada to lower emissions. They also push for the rapid expansion of the dirtiest industries which are driving up Canada's emissions. While Harper's government dithers, Canada's carbon divide is growing into a chasm. This growing divide is already causing conflict in everything from our national policies to our international reputation. Far worse it threatens our economically stability as the climate continues to grow more extreme. Something is going to break.

My top chart shows Canada's current CO2 emissions compared to 1990. It clearly illustrates one aspect of our nation's carbon divide. On one side stand the provinces of Saskatchewan (SK) and Alberta (AB). Already the dirtiest provincial economies in 1990, they are now also the cause of nearly all of Canada's increase in climate pollution since then. On the other side of the divide stand the other 86 percent of Canadians from all other provinces and territories. The combined emissions of this vast majority of Canadians are nearly back to 1990 levels.

Our national government, led for the last six years by Stephen Harper, seems paralysed. You can see this clearly by comparing their two official -- yet wildly different -- carbon commitments for 2020. I've added them to the chart below.


On one side of the divide are the Harper government's current policies. They are represented, way up high on the chart, as a black dot. This is where the Harper government says its own climate policies are leading us. Under Harper's leadership Canada is set to double our current CO2 increase. This 2020 target already includes CO2 saving from their announced regulations on vehicle efficiency and coal burning power. Stephen Harper is in the driver's seat and this is where his government says his policies are taking us.

But wait a minute. Down toward the bottom is a green dot. This is where Prime Minister Stephen Harper had promised the world he would lead Canada.

Years ago in Copenhagen, Prime Minister Stephen Harper pledged that Canada would cut climate damaging pollution by 2020. The specific cut he personally chose was 17 percent below our 2005 levels. Since then, the Harper Government has repeatedly said they are committed to leading Canada to this target.

The Harper government has been in power for all six years covered by our Prime Minister's own pledge. They have full authority to restrict CO2 emissions. Apparently Prime Minister Harper wants us to fulfill his promise of cutting CO2 pollution, but doesn't want to use his authority to make it happen.

If Stephen Harper isn't going to have the federal government make it happen, then he must be counting on the provinces to do it for him. Let's take a look at how well each province is meeting our Prime Minister's promise to cut CO2 since 2005:


As the chart clearly shows, every single province and territory has cut CO2 emissions since 2005 -- except for SK and AB. Once again these two provinces find themselves heading in the opposite direction from the rest of Canada when it comes to carbon pollution and the unfolding climate crisis.

Pollution per person  

Canada's growing carbon divide goes literally "off the charts" when it comes to the carbon footprint per person. To picture just how extreme this imbalance has become I created the chart below. It shows the CO2 footprint for people in SK+AB vs the rest of Canada. It also shows all the world's top CO2 polluting nations for comparison.

What leaps out immediately is the carbon footprint of people in SK+AB: 50 tonnes of CO2 (tCO2) each. Fifty tonnes. There is no nation even close. The rest of Canadians emit five times less.


Even more striking to me is the fact that the SK+AB carbon footprint has actually gotten much larger since 1990 -- by five tonnes per person. No developed nation has done anything like this. Even coal crazy Australians, now the dirtiest nation of all, added far less.

Heck, the burn-everything-as-fast-as-we-can-buy-it Chinese didn't manage to increase their climate pollution as much per person as SK+AB folks did. It is even more impressive considering that SK+AB Canadians added their 5 tonnes on top of their existing 45 tonne footprint.    

On the other side of Canada's carbon divide is once again the other 86 percent of Canadians from all other provinces and territories. The average carbon footprint of this vast majority of Canadians is:

  • Down 16 percent since 1990
  • Now at 10 tonnes each
  • Similar to Germans and Dutch
  • Far below the Americans

This slice of Canadians is moving in a safe direction and getting down towards CO2 levels of most other G8 nations.

But when you mix the two sides of the carbon divide together -- the 50 tonne SK+AB folks with the 10 tonne rest of Canadians -- we end up as a nation at 16 tonnes each. That puts Canadians into the "Dirtiest Four Club": the only four top pollution nations that emit more than 15 tonnes of CO2 each per year.

Dollars per tonne

The reason SK+AB emit so much more CO2 pollution is because...

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