Greenhouse gas emissions strategy 'inefficient' Canada report says

Canadian governments have taken their own paths to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, leading to inefficiency and a lack of coordination, says a Conference Board of Canada report .

The report, Greenhouse Gas Mitigation in Canada, reviews federal, provincial and territorial climate change action plans and concludes the approach to reducing emissions has been neither effective nor efficient.

“Despite a patchwork of uncoordinated federal and provincial initiatives, Canada appears to have stopped the growth in GHG emissions," said Len Coad, Director, Energy, Environmental and Technology Policy. Since 2005, Canada’s GHG emissions have stabilized and begun to decline. However, without an accelerated pace of climate policy action, the report said Canadian governments are unlikely to meet their own targets. 

Canada’s annual GHG emissions increased by 142 million tonnes between 1990 and 2008. Although emissions stabilized between 2004 and 2008, a downward trend has not emerged. Each province has set a 2020 target for emission reductions, but action will have to accelerate or objectives will be missed. The national target of a 17 percent reduction in emissions by 2020 (from a 2005 baseline) and the individual provincial targets are being addressed through what the report called a "complex, diverse and opaque mix of instruments and programs."

The report found, in general, that provincial plans are well aligned to address their major sources of emissions. As the largest energy producer in Canada, Alberta has the largest GHG emissions; its plan emphasizes reducing emissions through greener energy production and technologies such as carbon capture and storage. Ontario and Quebec, which generate the second and third most GHG emissions, are focusing on reducing energy consumption and, in Ontario’s case, increasing its reliance on green electricity. The federal government, meanwhile, is taking action to promote renewable electricity generation and regulating vehicle emissions.

A broad range of tools is being used to reduce emissions. They include:

  • Voluntary markets for carbon reduction
  • Regulatory limits on emissions intensity
  • Proscriptive regulations (such as tailpipe emissions and electricity generation emissions
  • Communication programs
  • Investment programs
  • Capital subsidies, and
  • Government initiatives to green their own operations.

Carbon pricing in the form of cap-and-trade mechanisms or a carbon tax has not been broadly implemented, the report said. Quebec and British Columbia have adopted carbon taxes, while Alberta has an intensity cap on large final emitters. The intensity cap is one policy instrument where a coordinated approach may produce more efficient results, the report said.

The report is part of the CanCompete program, a three-year program designed to help leading decision makers advance Canada on a path of national competitiveness.

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