chart showing emissions rising, imposed on a picture of pollution rising from a factory

Canada can still achieve net zero emissions by 2050, Commissioner says

It has been more than a month since the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, presented a series of devastating reports about Canada’s inept performance in addressing the climate crisis to the House of Commons. 

“There is a need for the federal government to achieve real outcomes on environmental protection and sustainable development—not just words on paper or unfulfilled promises. All too often, Canada’s environmental commitments are not met with the actions needed to protect air, land, water and wildlife, now and for future generations. And that is a trend we urgently need to reverse,” said Jerry DeMarco. “We’ve had nine plans over the last 31 years,  from 1990 to now, and none of them have achieved their objectives.” 

Jerry DeMarco, Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development

Meanwhile Canada’s emissions have risen 20-21%.

While he believes there is still time to reach net zero emissions by 2050, DeMarco pointed out that the longer Canada waits the more difficult this will be.

DeMarco singled out two projects as examples of the government working at cross purposes with itself. 

“A common denominator between both the TMX expansion and the Emissions Reduction Fund is that they were hastily produced decisions. And it’s not unusual for governments to focus on short term expediency at the expense of long-term gains and these are examples of that. The government  states to the international community and in binding treaties, like the UN convention on climate change that is going to do its part to prevent catastrophic climate change, but then short term expediency can essentially trump that and what ends up happening is you have increased emissions because countless short-term expedient decisions add up in a way that undermine the long term goal.”

He compared reducing Canada’s emissions to pushing a large rock up a difficult hill. At the moment Canada is dispatching one team to push up the hill and other teams to push it back down. 

DeMarco said that when he started the audit, he hoped to get a firm number as to what level of reduction was coming out of the Emissions Reduction Fund, because it was supposed to be an emissions reduction fund.

“I was very disappointed to see that Natural Resources Canada isn’t doing the necessary tracking to estimate net missions,” said De Marcos. “So what happens if you cap a valve here or you stop flaring at this site, but overall you’re increasing production. That would have a negative impact on achieving our climate change targets.” 

In the Emissions Reduction Fund report, it states. “We found that for 27 of the 40 projects, the companies had indicated in their submissions that the new infrastructure they would build with the Onshore Program funding to eliminate venting would accommodate current and future production increases. Submissions for 8 projects had direct statements about increasing production, including projects with specifics about the number of new wells and estimates of the increase in production volume, and submissions for 19 projects had indirect statements about the project being designed to accommodate an increase in future oil or gas production.”

On December 21st, Jonathan Wilkinson Minister of Natural Resources, thanked DeMarco for providing constructive insight to the program’s design.  

“A number of revisions to the emissions reductions fund were announced:

  • Narrowing the scope of funded projects to only those that fully eliminate intentional routine venting and flaring of methane. 
  • Applying strengthened criteria to make sure that we are funding projects that provide the greatest return on investment from an emissions reductions perspective, including  establishing a cost per ton threshold and 
  • providing greater transparency and ensuring the projects demonstrate emissions reductions that are incremental to Canada’s methane regulations. 

A revised third intake period for the program will open in January, 2022 and will remain open until March 31st, 2022 to provide extra time to the companies coming into the program to collect additional application material. And comply with new rules and comply with new requirements,”

DeMarco spoke about, “ The necessity for a longer term view.  This is a really difficult issue for governments to deal with because they frequently discount the future and focus on short-term objectives and gains. Climate change is an intergenerational issue and we need to put in structures that are commensurate with the time span of climate change.” 

The physical effects of climate change pose real risks for Canadians – Courtesy Report 5—Lessons Learned from Canada’s Record on Climate Change

He pointed out that there is no reason to give up the target of reaching zero net emissions by 2050.  The way forward will be difficult, but the alternative – doing nothing – “leads to a disaster that we all want to avoid.”

“Canada was once a leader in the fight against climate change. However, after a series of missed opportunities, it has become the worst performer of all the G7 nations. Since the landmark Paris agreement on climate change was adopted in 2015, there has been some recent momentum in the form of legislation and stronger plans. So I’m still optimistic that Canada’s performance can be turned around. But we can’t continue to go from failure to failure. We need action and results, not just more targets and plans.”

Top photo credit: cover of Report 5—Lessons Learned from Canada’s Record on Climate Change

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