Countries Like Canada Planning Dangerously Weak Commitments for Paris Climate Summit: New Analysis

Promises made by governments across the globe to limit their national greenhouse gas emissions in advance of December’s UN Climate Summit in Paris, where a binding post-2020 international climate treaty is to be struck, are insufficient to limit warming to the 2˚C threshold.

That’s the conclusion of a new analysis released last week during the final round of pre-Paris negotiations in Bonn, Germany, by a consortium of climate research organizations called Climate Action Tracker. The consortium includes Ecofys, Climate Analytics, NewClimate Institute and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

In the lead-up to the summit, 29 governments have released their “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” (INDCs), the vast majority of which are too weak to limit global warming to scientifically advisable levels.

According to Climate Action Tracker, the current plans address about 65 per cent of global emissions.

The group analyzed 15 of the 29 contribution promises and rated seven as “inadequate” (Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and Russia) and six “medium” (China, the EU, Mexico, Norway, Switzerland and the U.S.).

Only two of the plans — from Ethiopia and Morocco — were considered “sufficient.”

On Track to Surpass 2˚C

According to Bill Hare of Climate Analytics the commitments “need to be considerably strengthened for the period 2020-2025.” 

“It is clear that if the Paris meeting locks in present climate commitments for 2030, holding warming below 2˚C could essentially become infeasible, and 1.5˚C beyond reach,” he said.

Scientists and policymakers around the world have agreed we must limit warming to within 2˚C of pre-industrial temperatures if we want to avoid catastrophic climate change (although some climate scientists, like Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre, worry even a 1˚C change could bring us into dangerous climate territory).

Hare added that, “given the present level of pledged climate action, commitments should only be made until 2025.”

Canada’s Weak Climate Record

Complicating the process are countries like Canada that have submitted plans that conflict with the country’s own internal emissions projections.

To understand how a country like Canada has been handling its various climate pledges, it’s important to delve into the numbers. Canada has shifted its baseline numbers a number of times, which makes it difficult to understand how previous pledges stack up against new ones. 

In 2005 Canada signed onto the Kyoto Protocol, pledging to reduce emissions 6 per cent below 1990 levels by 2012. Canada withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol in 2011 and in 2012 reported an emission increase of 18 per cent above 1990 levels.

Canada subsequently signed onto the Copenhagen Accord, promising to reduce emissions 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020. That’s the equivalent of an increase of 7 per cent above 1990 levels.

The Copenhagen commitment should have resulted in reducing overall emissions to 611 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2020, but according a the most recent emissions trend report released by Environment Canada, Canada’s emissions are expected to grow to 727 megatonnes in 2020 because of a dismal lack of climate policy.

In May, Canada released its late INDC, promising to reduce emissions by 30 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030. But as the Carbon Action Tracker points out, under current policies Canada’s emissions are expected to continue increasing to one per cent above 2005 levels in 2020 and eight per cent by 2050.

Based on the 1990 baseline, emissions are expected to increase 26 per cent by 2020 and 35 per cent by 2050.

No matter how you slice it, emissions are going up and Canada, as the ninth largest emitter in the world, is not doing its fair share to reduce its portion of the global warming pie.

As the World Resources Institute points out, Canada’s pre-Paris commitment works out to a mere 1.7 per cent emission reduction each year.

In comparison, other industrial nations like the EU and the United States have committed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 2.8 per cent each year.

Höhne said Canada isn’t doing enough for a nation of its capacity.

“In rating Canada ‘inadequate,’ our lowest rating, we note that other governments will have to take a lot more action to make up for the hole left by Canada’s lack of ambition — if warming is to be held to 2˚C,” he said. 

The Climate Action Tracker also noted Canada plans on purchasing carbon market credits that will take the place of true emissions reductions from major emitters like the oil and gas sector.

Emissions from Canada’s oilsands, the country’s fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions, have increased 79 per cent since 2005. Currently nine per cent of Canada’s total emissions come from the oilsands, but that portion is expected to jump to 14 per cent by 2020.

Canada’s commitments do not address growing oilsands emissions and the current federal government has refused to regulate emissions from the oil and gas sector, despite promising rules for a decade.

Last week the New Democratic Party, the official opposition, promised to strengthen Canada’s INDC pledge and indicated the new target would be in line with the party’s pledge to reduce emissions 34 per cent below 1990 levels by 2025, and 80 per cent by 2050. (For comparison, the current federal government’s pledge is equivalent to reductions of 51 to 63 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050, but as Climate Action Tracker points out, this aspirational target has never been legislated for).

During a campaign stop Friday Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he did not see climate policy as an election issue.

Stronger Policy Needed to Meet Targets

“One would have expected all the new government climate targets combined to put the world on a lower emissions pathway, but they haven’t,” Louise Jeffery from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research said. 

“One contributing factor is the fact that Russia, Canada, and New Zealand’s INDCs are inconsistent with their stated long term (2050) goals.”

Climate Action Tracker found many countries, Canada included, don’t have the policies in place to actually implement the emissions reductions necessary to meeting their own INDCs.

China and the EU are the exception in this case with only minimal policy adjustments needed to meet their contribution targets.

“With current policies being insufficient to limit emissions even to the INDC levels by 2025, it is clear that ramping up greater policy action needs to be encouraged as part of the Paris Agreement,” professor Kornelis Blok with Ecofys said.

“Most governments that have already submitted an INDC need to review their targets in light of the global goal and, in most cases, will need to strengthen them,” Niklas Höhne of NewClimate Institute said.

"Those still working on their targets need to ensure they aim as high as possible.”

Image: Prime Minister Stephen Harper photo gallery

Carol Linnitt is a journalist, editor, illustrator and co-founder of The Narwhal. Carol has been reporting on energy and environmental…

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