Government data shows Canada's greenhouse targets long way off

We may be as little as a tenth of the way to our goal, and there's no one easy way to pick up the pace, experts say.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

It's going to be dramatically difficult for Canada to hit its greenhouse gas reduction goals, experts have now agreed.

In fact, provincial and federal governments may be as little as one-tenth of the way there, according to some estimates.

The Canadian Press has the story:

OTTAWA -- A government report suggests that Canada will have to dramatically up its game to achieve its greenhouse gas reduction goals.

Environment Canada's own assessment of the country's efforts to reduce emissions behind climate change says current measures go only one-quarter of the way to the Harper government's announced target.

Another analysis by the environmental think-tank Pembina Institute says provincial and federal governments are only one-tenth of the way there.

It's a big gap either way and Ottawa shows little sign of increasing its efforts to close it, said Andrew Leach, a professor of energy economics at the University of Alberta.

"The government's been very clear: we have a long way to go,'' said Leach. "It's going to be really hard.''

Earlier this month, Environment Canada released its projection of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada based on current federal and provincial policies. The department concluded that emissions will be reduced to about 785 megatonnes of carbon dioxide a year by 2020. That's 65 megatonnes less than would be emitted if no action were taken.

But Prime Minister Stephen Harper has committed Canada to total emissions of 607 megatonnes. That would require reductions of 243 megatonnes annually -- nearly four times the amount the country is currently on track for.

Matthew Bramley of The Pembina Institute says the gap is more like 10 times.

He points out that federal policies have only reduced emissions so far by nine megatonnes -- a 1.2 per cent cut from what would have been emitted with no action taken. Harper's goal requires nearly 13 per cent in cuts.

Environment Canada declined to comment.

Both analyses suggest national targets won't be met unless there is much greater effort -- something the government shows no signs of making, said Bramley.

"Just about any observer of this file would certainly not be of the expectation that there's about to be a big ramp-up of federal efforts.''

Leach said the Environment Canada data shows just how difficult the cuts are likely to be.

"You can't just look at big industrial sources,'' he said. "You have to look across the country.''

Too many Canadians still believe the country's greenhouse gas goals can be met by greater controls on a single sector such as the oilsands, he suggested.

"The perception among the Canadian people is still that this is an oilsands problem, that the reason we're not meeting our emissions goals is because of growth in the oilsands,'' Leach said.

"It's crucially important that people understand the oilsands is not the only thing that's standing in the way of us meeting our emissions target.''

Even shutting down the oilsands wouldn't reduce emissions enough to meet the country's goals, he said.

The United States can meet its targets almost entirely through more fuel-efficient vehicles and by converting coal-fired power generation to natural gas.

Canada relies less on coal, but has matched its reduction goals to those of the U.S., so it'll be more difficult to meet targets on this side of the border, Leach predicted.

"There's no question it'll be harder for us.''

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