Conservative Party plan for Greenhouse Gases in Canada

This is a guest post by chrisale.

A major policy speech introducing the new plan by the Conservative Party of Canada to reduce Canadian GHG emissions has been leaked to the Opposition Liberals... and in an attempt to avoid influencing the markets before they open today (Wednesday), the crux of the plan has been released.

The CBC reports:

The speech says that by 2020, the government hopes it will have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 150 million tonnes.

It also says the government will explore emission credit trading with the U.S. and Mexico, something they have been reluctant to embrace in the past.

"The Tory government intends to stop the rise of greenhouse gases in three to five years".

So... this begs numbers.

Here's the Quick Facts thanks to Environment Canada's Greenhouse Gas Inventory and some quick math:

The Kyoto Target: ie. 1990 CO2 levels for Canada: 599 Megatonnes (MT)

2004 CO2 emissions: 754MT

Estimated 2007 emissions given 2% growth rate: 790MTB

Estimated 2012 emission given 1% average growth (the slowdown period): 820MT

Emissions with Conservatives reduction plan by 2020: 670MT (equal to 1998 levels)

See the bottom for the explanation of the numbers.

So, eight years after other countries have met their Kyoto commitment, Canada would be bringing up the rear - still 12% off. I'm inclined to be very unimpressed by this goal. Especially since if it's so 'tough' to even do this, we have to start soon, and yet, we still haven't heard how the Conservatives propose to do it. Given what is happening in the Oil Sands, it is going to be very difficult to cool off the incredible growth in that region. So if we can get down to 670 MT by 2020, I'd say that's alright. Nothing to be proud of, but alright.

The GHG Inventory above gives a great pie chart of CO2 emissions by industry.

Oil & Gas, Transportation, and Electricity Generation (Coal/Gas) are the major emitters at about 20% each. With domestic Natural Gas supplies likely in major decline by 2012 (coincidence? - I think not), I see nuclear power in Alberta's - and Canada's - future to replace all the gas-fired plants.

They say the Conservatives will use carbon trading to meet their goals as well. This makes me very very sceptical. I see this as the gift to the oil and gas industry, which means we could see no reduction at all in the worst emitters, and general polluters, in the country.

What's missing in this is transportation. I'm hoping the Conservatives will surprise me and introduce major incentives for consumers and industry to reduce transportation emisssions. That could only take the form of high-mileage cars, more rail, and more mass transit. These would be the only changes that would create the real societal changes that would actually reduce our 'perceived need' to endlessly emit CO2.

If instead, the Conservatives (like their Liberal predecessors) focus solely on 'conservation', it will simply not be enough - Canadians, I think, have already gotten that message. We need more concrete, widespread action. Enough beating around the bush. Lets get to it as a nation.

Here is the Math....

EnvCan sets the baseline at 599 Megatonnes (MT) of CO2 (ie. the 1990 'Kyoto' target). EnvCan says as of 2004 we gained 27%... to 754MT, about 2% growth a year for the past 14 years.

If we grew at 2% a year since 2004 and over the next 5 years we grow by an average of 1% a year (assuming we slow our growth gradually), that's about 12% more over the 1990 level or 820MT by 2012. So the Tories want to reduce our emissions by 150MT by 2020 (8 years further on). 150MT will bring us to around 670MT, which is about where we were at in 1998.

It's a good thing that a lot of the provinces are taking initiative on these types of things themselves...I thought it was telling they decided to say the mega-tonnage of the reduction out in front of the annoucement, rather than the actual percentages and comparable year. It's classic "Wow, that's a huge number, arent' we great!" idiocy. With a concerted, immediate effort, numbers could start dropping right away, oil sands or no.

If they came out and announced that the best we can do by 2020 is to reduce back to 1998 levels, people might rightly slap them upside the head. 9 years to build it up, 12 years to build it down? Big #$@#ing deal.

What will happen, I hope, is that these goals will be met by cities and provinces, and ignore the feds and their lax rules. If peak oil starts kicking us in the rear, local solutions will be the only viable ones anyway. In the end, whoever is in power will fluff themselves up and pronounce what a great job they're doing, all the while, actual efforts by smaller jurisdictions have done all the work.

In the end, I don't care who gets the credit, just that something gets done. This is an even smaller and pathetic start than Kyoto would have been.

Remember that Canada's Kyoto target is actually 6% less than the 599 MT because that was the agreed commitment.

The target is meant to be calculated as the average over the period 2008-2012, so the commitment period begins in just eight months. Canada clearly can't meet it now. The Chretien and Martin governments are at least as much to blame for the failure as the Harper government because it was primarily they who squandered the lead time needed for planning.

I think road transportation has become such a focus for energy conservation because it's the largest single category in the inventory. It's worth keeping in mind that liquid fuels account for only 55% of Canada's GHG emissions. Gas produces all but 3% of the balance. Canada could realise some important savings there and will have to in the long term, as supplies decline.

As an aside, international aviation and international shipping are missing from the inventory because countries couldn't agree on who should count them. So when I take a flight from Vancouver to Manchester, using Canadian aviation fuel, neither Canada nor the UK has to count the emissions.

'gas produces all but 3% of the balance'

Could you give us a cite on that?


- release of methane from agricultural activity

- use of coal (primarily in Alberta but also Ontario) to generate electricity -- this I would think is at least 10% of Canadian greenhouse gas production

- general use of biofuels (wood for heat!)

Canada is 'proof' against peak oil (if and when it occurs) in the sense that Canada has effectively a permanent resource in terms of tar sands (but NAFTA and other considerations mean that it will have oil, but at the prevailing world price, which could be very high). However tar sands are fairly devastating from a greenhouse gas point of view (although i am told this problem can be solved, if there is the political will to solve it).

Good catch. I should have said that "It's worth keeping in mind that liquid fuels account for only 55% of Canada's GHG emissions from fossil fuel combustion." So agricultural methane and biomass combustion are not included in those figures.

Emissions from electricity and heat generation in Alberta were 12.5 Mt and in Ontario 8.5 Mt, combining for a contribution to Canada's total of 2.6%.

The source for the fossil fuel data is a 2006 Environment Canada table: Common Reporting Format for the provision of inventory information by Annex 1 Parties to the UNFCC: Table 1A(a). This information may not be on their website and I can send you a copy offline if you email me.

You're right Porsena,
Canada is legally bound to cut by 6% below the 1990 output,
i.e. to 563MT.

That the neo-con Harper is now trying to buy some cover for the Whitehouse junta
by reneging on that solemn undertaking
only demonstrates his disregard for Canada's reputation.

After all, if Canada doesn't keep its word,
what is the point of negotiating with it ?



It's not even so much that we won't be making the targets that bothers me, lots of countries won't make it, even those that have taken large steps. At this point, after leaving it for so long, it's true that we won't make it no matter what. It's the utter lack of an effort that bothers me. And don't forget, this government has been in charge now for 15 months, with certain support from several parties (for US readers, yes, we have 4 parties with significant numbers of seats) on meaningful environmental initiatives. This is the best they could do? Stopping growth in 3-5 years is a pathetic joke. Do it NOW!

It's the utter lack of an effort that bothers me.

I realize that this thread is about Canada, but I want to echo your comment about our situation in the USA. "It's the utter lack of effort that bothers me."

I share your frustration. But I'm not surprised to learn that Canada is following America's bad example. After all, Harper is the northern Bush-clone, isn't he?

Bush clone?

Perhaps on social conservative issues but he is otherwise a far more sensible and independantly thoughtful person - no matter how distateful his ideological dogma. He doesn't need to read the cue cards to remember a four minute speech.

Kyoto is unfortunately dead. Continuing to hold up the Kyoto agreement as a legally binding contract is a waste of breath and keystrokes. No nation of any consequence will reach their Kyoto targets - even that energy utopia we call Europe.

So long as dumping CO2 into the air remains cost free to anyone, everyone will demand that privelege. The benefits of combusting fossil fuels are concentrated and direct while the damages are disbursed over time, victims and very indirect... I'm not holding my breath until laws are passed...

May I quibble slightly with your numbers?

Using your numbers as quoted... 3 years at 2% and 5 years at 1%.

2004 754
2005 2% >> 769
2006 2% >> 784
2007 2% >> 800
2008 1% >> 808
2009 1% >> 816
2010 1% >> 824
2011 1% >> 832
2012 1% >> 841

So I went back and checked the original numbers 754/599 over 14 years >> 1.258 >> 25.8% increase which annualised/compounded is approx 1.65% pa.

Redoing the numbers:

2004 754
2005 1.65% >> 766
2006 1.65% >> 779
2007 1.65% >> 791
2008 1% >> 800
2009 1% >> 808
2010 1% >> 816
2011 1% >> 824
2012 1% >> 832

Closer to your 2007 figure but still bigger than your 2012 result. Where does the 1% come from? Is it fixed/quoted or a guesstimate? It would have to be 0.75% annual for next 5 years to reach the lower result of 820.

I notice that the largest category is “All Others” at 29%. Is this where manufacturing and (non-oil/gas) industry are placed? Are there any other significant sub-sets included under “All Others?”

Antoinetta III

A lot of the data is out of date as the tar sands has grown so fast that the percentages are out of whack... Last I checked, home heating accounted for roughly a third of total domestic GHGs. The Sierra Club seems to agree.

The use of "Others" is really strange when you consider the massive amount of heat it takes to make those massive open concept houses on the arctic plains even a little bit comfortable. I used to live in one. The solution my parents had to making the almost completely glass encased rear of the house warm in the cold dark winter was... Install another furnace.

Here's a different organization of the same GHG source data for 2004, the most recent publicly available in Canada.

Transportation - 24% (rail and marine are minor components)
Other industry - 20% (includes petroleum refining at 4%)
Electricity generation - 17% (3/4 from coal-fired)
Fossil fuel production - 16% (includes pipelines)
Commercial and residential sectors - 11%
Agriculture and forestry - 8% (excludes off-road transport)
Waste management - 4% (mostly methane from landfills)

The largest single component of "other industry" is manufacturing.

I'd be surprised if home heating was such a small proportion (gas, and wood).

Home and commercial A/C would be buried in the 'electricity' sector. Given how little of Canadian electricity is produced from coal, it's striking what a large chunk of GHGs it produces.

There's a bit of a myth about the magnitude of heating emissions in Canada. GHG emissions from the residential sector in 2004 were 43 MT CO2eq (5.7% of Canada's total), primarily related to space and water heating. According to EC, this figure does not include biomass combustion, however, so it represents primarily consumption of distillate and NG. The inventory lumps the use of wood for residential heating together with emissions from forest fires. In any case, I imagine wood combustion is a small fraction of residential heating.

I agree that home and commercial AC is buried in electricity production, as is the growing use of heat pumps, where the electricity comes from non-renewables.

1. other countries are playing fast and loose with Kyoto: it's not just Canada. This includes signatory countries.

2. the problem with fuel economy standards is what that might do to the Ontario economy, which remains highly auto-centric (and 'Big 3' automaker at that, so gas guzzler terrain).

3. the big problem with GHGs in general is the tar sands (as you note) which are absolutely huge emitters of GHGs (and *then* the fuel gets burned somewhere, so double whammy). A second problem is what does Alberta do without coal-fired electricity? And does Ontario keep importing coal-generated electricity from the midwest, when it is closing its own plants?

The Tory policy actually makes a certain sort of sense. Underpinning it, I think, is the fact that the PM doesn't believe that there is global warming, or at least that it is an urgent problem.

Co2 pricing is probably the best way to kick this off. There will be efficiencies that no one has thought of, in the emission of greenhouse gases, particularly in industry.

It's probably more important right now to get a good policy mechanism in place, that a future government can use to tighten the screws.

A much harder problem will be retrofitting all that housing stock to a higher standard of energy efficiency. You can see the potential eg putting in ground source heat pumps. But the cost, and the time, is going to be huge. And of course personal habits have to change, and that *truly* is difficult.

As for the distances people drive as a matter of course, I can't see them giving that up anytime soon. Public transport is all very well, but in something like the Greater Toronto Area, that is only a fraction of the solution-- the suburbs are too spread out for economic use of public transport and the job pattern is no longer 'all jobs are in the core'. Look at the *outbound* traffic in the morning on the Gardiner or the 401.

Canadians are the worst pigs of GHG per capita in the world (bar the Luxembourgish, I believe). Getting from where they are now, to somewhere sensible, is going to be hard work. This in a country with abundant hydro power, and a substantial nuclear plant establishment in Ontario.

My own thought is that everyone is for doing something about global warming, but no one wants to pay for it. We'll have to wait until something really serious happens to the world climate, before people will pay the price for action.

The rubber will hit the road when companies start to relocate to the US (due to no carbon taxes) or when electricity prices start to go up, or new nuclear plants have to be built or we start to talk about meaningful restrictions on, for example, flying.