The federal government is expected to announce the details of Canada’s national climate plan Friday, Dec. 9 at a high-profile gathering of First Ministers in Ottawa.
The details of the climate plan, which amount to a balance sheet of the nation’s carbon emissions, are critical to evaluating the federal government’s recent decisions to approve major fossil fuel projects in light of Canada’s international climate commitments under the Paris Agreement.
“To have confidence in this plan’s ability we need to see credible accounting,” Catherine Abreu, executive direction of Climate Action Network Canada, said.
Trudeau has garnered significant criticism for his recent approvals of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and Enbridge Line 3 replacement, both of which invite increased production in the Alberta oilsands, Canada’s fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions.
In September the federal government approved the Pacific Northwest LNG terminal on the B.C. coast, a project that is expect to be the single largest point source of emissions in the country.
These approvals — and the increase in emissions they entail — have raised questions about the government’s ability to meet its climate targets.
Under the Paris Agreement Canada pledged to reduce emissions 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.
“We know the 2030 target is the one that is top of mind for ministers,” Erin Flanagan, director of federal policy for the Pembina Institute, said. “It’s the one that [Environment and Climate Change] Minister McKenna is referring to when she says we’ll meet or exceed our climate commitments.”
Canada, unfortunately, has a long history of signing up for targets and an equally long history of not meeting them, Flanagan said.
“In fact, Canada’s best reporting through its biennial report indicates we’re a long way off from achieving those goals,” she said. “The report is quite bullish on fossil fuel development.”
By its own accounting the federal government anticipates Canada will emit 814 megatonnes (Mt) of carbon dioxide equivalent per year by 2030. To meet its commitments under the Paris Agreement, Canada must limit that number to 524 Mt.
Flanagan said the federal government has yet to release an updated plan that incorporates recent climate efforts, like the introduction of a national carbon tax, the phaseout of coal power plants and provincial climate plans, into the overall emissions accounting.
A recent analysis done by EnviroEconomics finds that climate progress made under Trudeau’s leadership will help close but not eliminate that emissions gap. The report estimates that by 2030 Canada will overshoot its 2030 target by 152 Mt (or slightly less if international carbon offset credits are used).
But those calculations are based on what can be gleaned from provincial and federal plans announced so far and not necessarily what the federal government has in store.
On Friday Trudeau will meet with ministers and provincial and territorial premiers to discuss the details of what Trudeau has called an “ambitious and achievable plan” to meet 2030 targets.
The specifics have up to this point remained elusive.
Steven Guilbeault, senior director of Équiterre, said the government must show its work.
“Without a balance sheet there is no way to know if this plan is delivering on what it says it does,” he said.
“What is enabling Canada’s emissions to go down? Why are they going up? To be able to adjust that plan over time and to have a genuine understanding and reassurance that we do have a plan that will put us on a path towards emissions reduction is needed for credibility,” Guilbeault said.
“Without the plusses and minuses it’s impossible for us to say whether premiers and the Prime Minister have delivered on that plan.”
This week the Canadian Press reported internal sources said the federal government will not, as expected, release detailed information regarding the country’s greenhouse gas inventory.
Minister McKenna responded to the reports, telling the CBC that Canada will indeed release an in-depth plan.
"We will show how we're going to meet our 2030 targets — what measures we've taken, what additional measures we will be taking to meet the target," McKenna said.
"You will see a specific plan. You will see, in each sector, what we're doing to reduce emissions. You'll see what investments we're making. You'll see how we're working with Indigenous communities, in particular in the north, where they have specific concerns about diesel but also about adaptation."
“We know Friday is not the end of the story,” Dr. Louise Comeau, director of climate change and energy solutions with the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, said.
Wrinkles in the climate framework as they relate to financial arrangements for green infrastructure, low carbon economy funding and equivalency agreements, which aim to standardize accounting of efforts made from province to province, will need to be ironed out moving forward, Comeau said.
Dale Marshall, climate campaigner with Environmental Defence, said he’s confident the ministers’ meeting will end with a climate agreement.
“I think there is high likelihood we’ll get an agreement,” he said.
“The federal government has spent since the last First Ministers’ Meeting in March, coordinating with the provinces, meeting with working groups and signed a number of agreements that had the signon of the country, like the carbon price, within the pan-Canadian framework.”
“Most people are feeling positive that we’re going to have a pan-Canadian framework agreed to by most if not all of the provinces and territories.”
Catheine Abreu said it’s important to ensure what is decided now, will remain relevant to 2030 and beyond.
“What we want to see on Friday is a commitment that the federal government and provinces commit to collaborate on moving forward.”
Abreu added more in-depth discussion is needed on crafting a workable accountability mechanism to ensure governments at all levels are keeping to their targets.
In addition the commitment made under the Paris Agreement isn’t just to limit emissions to 2030 but to strengthen targets every few years moving forward, Abreu said.
Canada committed to complete decarbonization by the end of the century and to work to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.
Abreu said Canada needs top-notch measuring, reporting and verification systems to not only establish emission reduction policies and regulations, but to gradually improve them over time.
Image: Justin Trudeau and First Ministers at a March meeting in Vancouver. Photo: Prime Minister's Photo Gallery