Backgrounder: Canada & Climate Change

Canada is required under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to maintain an inventory of overall greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and to submit an annual report.

All of the GHG emission reduction targets that Canada has set for itself refer to reductions in overall emissions. This includes the Kyoto target set in 1997 (and ratified in 2002), the “Made in Canada” target set in 2007, and the Copenhagen target set in 2009.

Canada’s Targets

Target Target Dates All GHGs

(Mtonnes CO2eq)

Year Target Set
Kyoto 6% below 1990 2008-2012 558 1997
“Made in Canada” 20% below 2006 2020 574 2006
Copenhagen 17% below 2005 2020 607 2009
Science-based 25% below 1990 2020 442 2007

Canada’s (Bad) Example

When Canada reset its baseline year and then weakened its targets, it allowed other countries to start softening their positions. Canada argues that other countries need to adopt targets. We didn’t meet our own targets, refuse to take on future targets and then wonder why the other countries are not taking responsibility?

Kyoto was only meant to be the first step. The ultimate goal is to shift to a sustainable energy economy. Sooner or later we will need to take this first step. Our Copenhagen target is weaker than Kyoto… a decade later.

Weakening of Ambition

The 2006 target hailed by Prime Minister Harper as the “Made in Canada” target hides a tremendous weakening of ambition behind a change in base years from 1990 to 2006 (when emissions were much higher).  The “Made in Canada” target was actually only about 2% below 1990 levels – failing to reach Kyoto targets about a decade too late.

Canada has done very little to achieve any of its targets under any government.  There is broad agreement from groups like the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE) that we will fail to achieve even the weakened Copenhagen target. In the 2012 omnibus budget, the federal government closed the NRTEE.

During international negotiations in Copenhagen in 2009, Canada announced that the “Made in Canada” target would be abandoned and instead Canada’s targets would match those of the United States.  However, while the new US target represented a tougher target for that country, Canada’s new target represented a further weakening because the new base year (2005) had higher emissions than the previous base year (2006). Canada’s Copenhagen target (2% above 1990 levels) would actually have us still going in the wrong direction from what we promised under Kyoto a decade too late.

Canada did not adopt the Science-based target, which is the minimum emission reduction recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to ensure that we remain below dangerous +2°C of warming. However, Canada has agreed in theory to ensure we remain below global +2°C of warming.

Misleading Canadians

It is misleading for the Minister of Environment or government officials to refer to emissions reductions in Canada by focusing on per capita emissions. The target is overall emissions.

Per capita emissions are used to compare one country to another. Countries with highest per capita emissions, like Canada, have more responsibility to address climate change.

  • Canada’s per person emissions are three times higher than French emissions, more than twice China’s emissions and almost twenty times higher than those of Sub-Saharan Africa. It is encouraging that our per capita emissions have been dropping, however per person emissions are falling much more quickly in Europe and the US.

In summary, Canada’s targets have been softening and we are not yet on track to meet the weakest of targets. This leaves us exposed to and significantly contributing to dangerous climate warming.