Canada posts pledge for 2015 UN climate change deal

Harper government says plan is “fair and ambitious”, but critics point to reliance on carbon credits and inaction on tar sands

Canada's prime minister Stephen Harper (Flickr / creative commons)

Canada’s prime minister Stephen Harper (Flickr / creative commons)

By Alex Pashley

Canada has committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions 30% below 2005 levels by 2030, its environment minister said today.

Leona Agglukaq told reporters the target was “fair and ambitious” and “in line with other major industrialised countries” in a conference in Winnipeg.

It makes it the 38th country to deliver its so-called intended nationally determined contribution (INDC) as part of a UN climate pact, following pledges ranging from the US, EU and Gabon.

Though Canada, which makes up for 1.6% of global emissions, may have work to do to make good on its pledge.

The country is off course to meeting its existing pollution reduction targets to cut heat-trapping gases by 17% below 2005 levels by 2020. Emissions fell just 3.1% between 2005-2013.

“This target is fair and ambitious, an ambitious commitment based on our national circumstances, which includes a growing population, a diversified growing economy and Canada’s position as a world leader in clean-electricity generation,” Aglukkaq said.

Carbon-cutting policies include:

  • Curbs on methane emissions from industrial leaks and gas flares in the oil and gas sector, in line with recent US measures
  • Regulations for natural-gas fired electricity “to strengthen Canada’s position as a clean energy leader”
  • Regulations on production of chemicals and nitrogen fertilizers, to reduce the growth of GHGs from two of the largest sources of emissions in Canada’s manufacturing sector

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Critics said the target was off track with Canada’s commitment to cut emissions 80% by 2050 and failed to tackle tar sands emissions.

And CBC News reported sources saying the country may rely on buying carbon credits to make the commitment.

David Waskow of the World Resources Institute called the submission “weak” and said it didn’t “demonstrate nearly as serious a level of ambition as the US”.

The US would almost reach its neighbour’s target five earlier in its stated pledge for 2025, said the international climate initiative director at the Washington DC institute.

“It’s fair to say it doesn’t compare favourably with other developed countries.”

Canada said it accounted for 1.6% of global emissions and had one of the cleanest electricity systems, with over 80% of electricity supply responsible for zero emissions.

Report: Sweden takes Canada to task over tar sands

NGO 350.org said Canada would be delivering on its pledges while the government continued to extract oil from the tar sands.

“These targets are a nice gesture, but for now that’s all they are, because the numbers here simply don’t add up,” said spokesman Cameron Fenton.

“Scientists have told us over and over that averting climate disaster means leaving virtually all tar sands in the ground; and until our government starts taking real steps to achieve that, these announcements are little more than pie-in-the-sky.”

Canada’s provinces have not been waiting for the federal government and are making their own climate policies.

Last week the leftwing NDP victory in oil-rich Alberta signalled a shake up to the state’s tar sand-dominated energy sector.

Ontario is shortly to join Quebec’s emissions trading scheme. British Columbia has a CA$30 a tonne carbon tax, which New Brunswick and Nova Scotia are planning to emulate.

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