Every April the government of Canada produces a progress report on the country’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Although the data is always two years out of date, the report is the most comprehensive accounting of the amount, type, and sources of the country’s GHG pollution. This year’s report provides data for the year 2021. In that year Canada was in the recovery phase from the Covid caused recession.

There are quite a few points that can be made about the 2023 National Inventory of Emissions. As a start here are three major takeaways.

First, Canada is failing in reducing GHG emissions in line with our commitments under the Paris Accord. Second, the main story behind Canada’s failures on emissions are two fossil fuel, controlled provinces, Alberta and Ontario. Third, is the confirmation of what we know to be true: the only way to reduce GHG emissions is to reduce the extraction and burning of fossil fuels.

  1. Canada is failing

Although Canada is a small country in population terms, we are the tenth largest GHG polluter. Our per capita emissions are through the roof.

Canada’s emission plan is to reduce GHG pollution by 40-45% by 2030 compared to the base year of 2005. To achieve even the lower end of its international commitment –40 % — would require emissions to be reduced by 22 Mt every year between 2020 and 2030.

But this year’s report documents an increase in GHG emissions not a reduction. Between 2020 and 2021 climate destroying emissions increased from 658.7 to 670.4 (Mt CO2 eq). We are back to the pre-pandemic pattern of year over year emission increases. And we have lost another year in our meagre efforts at climate stability.

The increase for one year is 12 MT. or about 2%. That may seem like a small increase. It isn’t. For comparison purposes 12 Mt is the equivalent of adding 3.6 million more gasoline-burning cars to the roads in one year.

According to the National Inventory report, “the major contributors to the overall increase were the Transport subsector and Oil and Gas Extraction category…” As a background point the National Inventory notes that since 2005 over 200,000 oil and gas wells have been drilled in Canada.

In 2021 the Oil and Gas sector on its own, caused 28% of Canada’s emissions, the largest share and a rising one. The rest is caused by burning oil and gas in other sectors such as industry, transportation, and buildings.

Admittedly, between 2021 and now the federal government has introduced new programs, policies, and measures to reduce GHG emissions. The evidence in future reports will likely prove them inadequate.

  1. Alberta and Ontario are the biggest obstacles

In this year’s rankings Alberta and Ontario maintain their positions as the two worst offenders when it comes to GHG pollution. Together they cause over 60% of the country’s GHG emissions. (Alberta at 38.2% and Ontario at 22.4%). And both provinces are effectively controlled by fossil fuel interests.

Alberta because of the tar sands. Between 2020 and 2021 Alberta increased its emissions because of the increased emissions from the tar sands.  The recent election in Alberta has taken climate denial to a mind-numbing level.

Amidst GHG induced raging forest fires, neither Danielle Smith of the UCP nor Rachel Notley of the NDP addressed the climate crisis.

The tar sands have enough stored carbon to overspend the entire world’s remaining carbon budget. Danielle Smith, the premier of Alberta, is a “champion” for the foreign controlled, Alberta oil and gas industry.  Prior to the election campaign she referred to the Paris Accord as ‘peak absurdity’. Now she intends to do battle with the federal government over oil and gas emission caps and clean fuel standards.

The National Inventory provides a tremendous amount of data. Among the many issues it reports on are “fugitive emissions.” The report defines these:

“Fugitive Sources are comprised of flaring, venting and other unintentional emissions from fossil fuel production (coal, oil and natural gas) …”

The latest report notes that these ‘unintentional emissions’ alone amount to 54 Mt. from the oil and gas industry.  That is a huge amount. Again, for comparison purposes, the entire fleet of pickup trucks and SUVs on Canada’s roads are responsible for about 50 MT.  Just the unintentional emissions from the oil and gas sector are more than all the gas guzzling fleet of personal SUVs and trucks. Clearly, both these sources of GHG emissions need to be dramatically reduced.

And then there is Ontario. It’s tempting to characterize Ontario Premier Doug Ford as a ‘fugitive emission’ but there is nothing unintentional about his climate wrecking policies. Ontario, as we all know, is not an oil and gas producing province. Even so we are effectively controlled by fossil fuel interests. Doug Ford’s relationship to colossal fossil parallels his cozy relationship to big Developers.

Between 2020 and 2021 Ontario increased its climate destroying emissions. After years of reduced emissions thanks to the closing of coal fired electricity plants and the unintentional decreases caused by Covid, the Ford government is back to increasing emissions. In fact, Ontario’s emissions grew by an amount that was twice as much as the increase in Alberta between 2020 and 2021.

Doug Ford is a fossil fuel premier.

  • He has given Enbridge Gas, hundreds of millions to subsidize their gas pipelines across Ontario and forced Enbridge customers to pay for it through extra charges on their bills.
  • His government is building more gas fired electricity plants and forcing them on to reluctant municipalities.
  • Ford convinced the federal government to appoint Enbridge as the sole provider in Ontario of the federal government’s heat pump subsidy program. It is no surprise that Enbridge is spending a ton of money to promote gas powered heat pumps.
  • Ford has sided with Enbridge by opposing the right of First Nations and the state of Michigan to protect their waters and territories from the hazardous Enbridge Line 5 pipeline under the Straight of Mackinaw.
  • And he is committed to building more urban sprawl housing and more highways so those living in those houses can drive their personal vehicles to where the jobs are.

The combination of Danielle Smith and Doug Ford is perilous.  They are the two major obstacles to Canada doing its part in reducing emissions enough to keep the climate from going completely off the rails. (If we are not already past that tipping point).

  1. To reduce GHG emissions reduce the burning of fossil fuels.

Between 2019 and 2020 GHG emissions plummeted by 65 MT. That was the Covid pandemic effect on GHG emissions. The pandemic restriction of economic activity generally and more specifically, reduced freight transportation, curtailed industrial activity, and restricted work and personal travel meant less burning of fossil fuels.

There are all sorts of ‘carnival barking’ schemes to reduce emissions from so-called carbon offsets to carbon capture and storage. But the evidence of the pandemic is clear. When you reduce the burning of fossil fuels you reduce emissions.

The challenge for government is to accomplish the reduction without causing economic hardship, without forcing the burden on to Canadian families through higher costs or lost incomes and jobs. There are ways to achieve the twin goals of reduced energy consumption and economic wellbeing. But that isn’t even a consideration in Canada.

Instead, the increase in GHG emissions between 2020 and 2021 is testament to the failure of governments to consolidate the reductions in GHG emissions caused by the Covid upheaval.  Confusing GDP growth with progress, governments are fuelling even more GHG emissions.

In mid May, the European Parliament sponsored a conference titled Beyond Growth. One of the formative questions for the conference was this:

“What narrative is needed to guide progress towards a European Union that aims to prosper, rather than grow?

Rather than Danielle Smith arguing for “more pipelines,” and Doug Ford pushing more gas fired electricity plants and Trudeau supporting more oil and gas drilling (and owning a pipeline) that’s the question we need to address: How do we prosper rather than grow?


David Robertson is a member of the Education Committee as well as the Ontario Project Group and the Campaign and Platform Committee of SCAN!.

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