Canada's Greenhouse Gas Emissions Prove Tough to Control

OTTAWA, Ontario, Canada, September 6, 2000 (ENS) - Greenhouse gas emissions from Canada's electricity and transportation sectors have soared in the last decade, placing the country's Kyoto Protocol targets in doubt.

According to Canada's Greenhouse Gas Inventory for 1990 to 1998, emissions in the electricity sector were 28 percent above 1990 levels. Emissions in the transportation sector were 20 percent above 1990 levels.

power station

Nanticoke Thermal Power Station in Ontario is one of the world's largest coal fueled plants and among the contributors to Canada's rise in greenhouse gas emissions. (Photo courtesy Bentley Nevada Canada)
Across all sectors, the country's greenhouse gas emissions in 1998 were 13 percent above 1990 levels, according to figures released by Environment Canada today.

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol is a legally binding agreement to collectively reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of 39 industrialized nations to an average of 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by the period 2008-2012. The agreement is part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Canada's target is to reduce emissions to six percent below 1990 levels by the period 2008-2012.

The agreement will not take effect until it is ratified by 55 percent of the nations emitting at least 55 percent of the six greenhouse gases blamed for global warming. A November meeting in the Netherlands is seen by some as the last chance for ratification.

In defence of Canada's performance, Environment Minister David Anderson pointed out that the figures showed emissions are slowing down. From 1997 to 1998 total greenhouse gas emissions grew by only one percent.


Environment Minister David Anderson. (Photo courtesy Environment Canada)
But compared to other nations attempting to meeting similar Kyoto targets, Canada is doing poorly.

Germany and the United Kingdom have reduced emissions 15.5 percent and 12.5 percent, respectively, from 1990 levels. France, Sweden and Denmark have curbed their emission growth and are now reducing emissions.

The Netherlands and the United States have increased emissions eight percent and 11.5 percent, respectively. Emissions in Australia are increasing at a greater rate than Canada's - 16.9 percent since 1990.

In its Economic Survey of Canada, 2000 report released Tuesday, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said, "it will be very difficult for Canada to meet the Kyoto Protocol targets."

The OECD groups 29 member countries responsible for two thirds of the world's goods and services. Part of its mandate is to collect data, monitor trends, analyze and forecast economic developments, while researching social changes or evolving patterns in trade and environment.

"Even if Canada is able to buy greenhouse gas emission quotas on an international market, it will probably have to take steps to accelerate the reduction in domestic fossil fuel consumption," the OECD said in yesterday's report.

The report called for "much more concrete action" on climate change, and added that increased taxes on fuel might help reduce transport-related emissions.


Toronto's famous landmark, the CN Tower, is barely visible during heavy smog. (Photo courtesy Environment Canada)
It criticized Canada's reliance on voluntary agreements, which it said had "not been sufficient to achieve environmental objectives - for instance in the case of the management of toxic substances."

"No cost opportunities for curbing pollution are rare and a strategy based on voluntary agreements alone cannot be expected to correct completely for the external costs of pollution," said the report. "There is a need to increase the use of economic instruments to reinforce the polluter pays principle."

Responding to the report, Environment Minister Anderson accepted the OECD's overall theme, which was that Canada could and should do more to address climate change through lowering emissions of greenhouse gases, principally carbon dioxide (CO2).

"Canada has started to slow the growth in its greenhouse gas emissions," said Anderson. "In the mid-1990s our emissions were increasing at a rate of approximately three percent per year. In 1998, the last year for which complete data is available, the increase has slowed to one percent per year."

On criticism regarding the use of voluntary agreements, Anderson pointed to the new Canadian Environmental Protection Act, which has been used to propose new deadlines for action on toxic substances.

But he defended some voluntary agreements, particularly the proposed Species at Risk Act, which emphasizes partnerships and voluntary incentives, saying the "command and control" approach is not always appropriate.

power station

Fossil fuel burning power stations like the Lambton Generating Station produce much of the region's air pollution. (Photo courtesy Ontario Power Generation)
Anderson cited the following conferences to be hosted by Canada as evidence that the government takes climate change seriously.

After two years of work involving more than 450 experts from all levels of government, industry, academia and interest groups, federal, provincial and territorial energy and environment ministers will meeting in Quebec City on October 16-17 to consider Canada's first national business plan on climate change.

At their meeting in March, ministers agreed that this business plan must contain concrete actions to start reducing Canada's greenhouse gas emissions.

Canada is also hosting two international events in October under the theme "Engaging the World: Advancing Pollution Prevention and Cleaner Production."

The United Nations Environment Programme's Sixth International High-Level Seminar on Cleaner Productions in Montreal, October 16-20, is expected to develop an International Declaration on Cleaner Production. Canada will host an International Pollution Prevention Summit, October 18-20, in Montreal.

In December, Vancouver will host a joint Canadian-OECD conference on the Expanded Use of Economic Instruments for Environmental Objectives. The conference is described as an international forum for sharing experience, practices and lessons learned on the use of economic incentives in environmental conservation and protection.