Canadian provinces can help nation meet its climate pledges

Ilario D'Amato
Reading time: 6 minutes
12 December 2014

Canada can almost meet its international climate commitments if it copies the policies of its forward-thinking sub-national governments, a new report states.

To keep its pledges, Canada’s central government should follow the existing policies set by its provinces of OntarioQuebec and Manitoba - all valuable members of The Climate Group States & Regions program.

Following the Copenhagen accord in 2009, Canada committed to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 17% from 2005 levels by 2020. However, the report Canada’s Emissions Trends 2014, just published by the federal environment ministry, clearly states that with current policies, emissions will reach 727 Megatons (Mt) by 2020 - 116 Mt less than the pledged target of 611 Mt.

On the other hand, the ministry highlights that without any extra measures the emissions would be 130 Mt higher, and that government has set “stringent regulations for the transportation and electricity sectors”.

From 2025, passenger vehicles and light trucks will emit about half the amount of GHGs compared to 2008, and emissions from heavy-duty vehicles will be cut by up to 23% by 2018. Canada also pioneered a ban on the construction of traditional coal-fired electricity generation units.

Nonetheless, all these measures are still not enough. The projected emission levels for 2020 are just 1.2% below the 2005 ones, well below the 17% reductions pledged.

Blame lies partly with the government’s failing to regulate the oil and gas sector, which is now the major GHG emitter. According to the ministry’s report, the sector will emit 204 Mt by 2020, equal to 28% of the total emissions amount - rising 45 Mt above 2005 levels.

The good news is that Canada already has in-house policies that can help the nation reduce this gap. A separate report, Building on the best: Keeping Canada's climate promise, by the David Suzuki Foundation, indicates that implementing already existing policies from Canada’s best provinces can reduce GHG emissions, create economic opportunities and protect the health of its citizens.

"We have made-in-Canada solutions that are proven to work," said Ian Bruce, Science and policy manager, David Suzuki Foundation. "By advancing the strongest policies that now exist at provincial and municipal levels, Canada can be a global leader while realizing the benefits of cleaner air, less traffic congestion, greater innovation and a diversified economy.”

In fact, the report states that if Canada would have adopted best policies already set in some provinces in 2008, the nation would have saved 77 Mt of emissions by 2020 - a figure just 5.6% higher than the pledged target.

Leading provinces

Ontario is one of the leading sub-national governments analyzed in the study. The province has become the first industrial region in North America to eliminate coal-fired power, while heavily investing in clean technologies.

Another study by the Canadian Medical Association found air pollution costs US$4 billion per year to the province, and is “responsible for lost worker productivity, increased health-care costs, reduced quality of life and loss of life”. Thanks to its climate commitments, Ontario’s GHG emissions are 6% below 1990 levels today.

A key policy for Ontario is its Green Energy and Economy Act, which will enable the province to generate a quarter of its electricity from solar and wind power and has already created more than 20,000 jobs, with 30,000 more expected in the near future.

Québec is another Canadian province set as an example in the study. The province has committed to reduce its GHG emissions a fifth below 1990 levels by 2020, but most importantly is praised for the efficiency of its ‘cap-and-trade’ system for GHG emission allowances. From 2014 it linked to a similar system in California, another valuable member of The Climate Group States & Regions program.

Also leading the way is the province of Manitoba, which has achieved a reduction of 10% in its GHG emissions and has focused its policies particularly on energy efficiency. With its abundance of natural resources, the province is now exploiting low carbon and renewable power sources like high-efficiency hydroelectric plants and geothermal installations.

British Columbia too, is quoted as a leading province in fighting climate change by the ministry’s report. One of the first sub-national governments to adopt a broad-based revenue-neutral carbon tax in North America, the province has already met its target of reducing GHG emissions 6% below 2007 levels by 2012, and reducing its fuel use by 16%.

States & Regions Compact

British Columbia, Ontario and Québec have also recently signed the Compact of States and Regions, a commitment facilitated by The Climate Group and other international organizations to provide a clear and fixed picture of governments’ reduction of GHG emissions.

“The leadership shown by these provinces is testament to the crucial role played by states and regions in driving impactful climate action,” said Libby FergusonThe Climate Group States & Regions Director. “They are setting ambitious targets and implementing innovative strategies to combat climate change. Sub-national governments have huge potential to effect change at both the local and global level.”

As the report concludes, there is still space for improvement in reducing GHG emissions. For example, while Ontario has already reduced its emissions 23% and has room for an additional 4% reductions, the Canadian province of Saskatchewan could follow suit and phase-out coal-fired electricity. So far, the province has achieved 4% GHG emissions but it has the potential for 18% more, as well as Alberta, with 9% potential reductions, and the Atlantic provinces with 8%.

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by Ilario D'Amato

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