Aglukkaq touts emissions cuts, numbers tell another story

In reality, emissions targets have never seemed further out of reach

Leona Aglukkaq (Adrian Wyld/CP)

After the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published its discouraging new findings on global warming earlier this week, Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq did her best to turn grim news to partisan advantage. “Thanks to our actions,” she said in the House of Commons, “carbon emissions will go down by close to 130 megatonnes, compared to what they would have been under the Liberals.”

Not only did Aglukkaq look optimistically ahead by asserting that emissions “will go down” thanks to the actions of Stephen Harper’s government, she also alluded proudly to progress supposedly already accomplished, as in “we have seen significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.”

To check out her claims, I turned to the source Aglukkaq’s own staff suggests, an Environment Canada annual report simply called Canada’s Emissions Trends. I started by searching for evidence that actions taken by the Harper government since it came to power in 2006 have already resulted in “significant reductions” in the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases Canadians pump into the atmosphere.

The report does say that total Canadian emissions fell by 35 megatonnes between 2005 and 2011, from 737 to 702 megatonnes. But it attributes that decline, not mainly to any federal policy moves, but primarily to less fossil fuel burning by so-called “emissions-intensive and trade-exposed” industries and from declining coal-fired electrical generation.

What happened, according to the report, was that those trade-exposed industries emitted less because of “the economic downturn [and] technological changes such as improved emission-control technologies.” As for electrical generation, the declining emissions there were “primarily the result of Ontario’s coal generation phase-out.”

So much for any suggestion that Conservative government actions are behind that recent period of lower emissions. That still leaves Aglukkaq’s more central claim that, compared with what the old Liberals would have done had they clung to power, Conservative policy will reduce emissions by 130 megatonnes in the future.

To understand this partisan jab, here’s the key line to consider from the section in Canada’s Emissions Trends on forecasts: “Under the ‘with current measures’ scenario, Canada’s [greenhouse gas] emissions in 2020 are projected to be 734 megatonnes. This is 128 megatonnes less than under a scenario where consumers, businesses and governments had taken no action to reduce emissions post 2005.”

So Aglukkaq is asking us to compare the emissions track that the Canadian economy is on right now with the following highly imaginative scenario: The Liberals stayed in power after 2005, but never did a single thing to reduce emissions again, while consumers, businesses and provincial governments—evidently inspired by the Liberals’ diabolical decision to maintain the ’05 status quo—also opted never to take another step toward energy efficiency.

This meaningless comparison doesn’t tell us anything, of course, about real economic or political choices. Still, that roughly 130-megatonne emissions reduction by 2020 is an interesting projection. It’s worth asking how much of it might be attributed fairly, as Aglukkaq suggests it should be, to the federal government’s own actions.

The report does credit the Harper government’s new regulations (a coordinated Canada-U.S. policy) to reduce emissions from cars and light trucks and its new performance standards for coal-fired generation. But the forecast also builds in provincial measures, such as B.C.’s carbon tax, Quebec’s cap-and-trade program for carbon emissions, and, especially, Ontario’s phase-out of coal-generated electricity. As well, the report notes that energy efficiency has steadily improved since 1990—a key trend in so-called “intensity,” which means any government could look forward to a small annual decline in the amount of emissions for every dollar’s worth of Canadian economic activity.

In other words, a range of regulatory factors and long-term technological and economic changes contribute to that 130-megatonne projected reduction by 2020 from where Canada would have ended up if all progress had mysteriously ceased in 2005.

The biggest single contributor is lower emissions from electrical generating—projected in the report to drop 31 per cent, or 38 megatonnes, between 2005 and 2020. According to Ontario’s environment ministry, the end of coal generation in that province alone, accomplished between 2003 and this year, represents a 30-megatonne reduction.

In case you’re thinking that, no matter who gets the bragging rights, a 130-megatonne cut in Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions sounds pretty good, don’t kid yourself. Remember, that’s just the reduction from the fictional stuck-in-2005 scenario. In the real world, Canada’s Emissions Trends projects a measly three-megatonne trim, from 737 megatonnes in 2005 to 734 megatonnes in 2020.

That’s next to nothing. Why so little progress? Here’s a line from Canada’s Emissions Trends that partly answers the question, but is unlikely to show up on any cabinet minister’s QP answer sheet anytime soon: “Electricity emissions are projected to decline by 38 megatonnes (31 per cent) between 2005 and 2020. In contrast, increased production in Canada’s oil sands is expected to drive a rise in emissions from the oil and gas sector of 38 megatonnes (23 per cent) between 2005 and 2020.”

In other words, reductions in one area are offset by increases elsewhere.  For emissions overall to drop steeply, which must happen if Canada is to meet its international commitments, regulatory change unlike anything we’ve experienced so far, or seriously debated lately, must somehow come into force.

When the Harper government signed the so-called Copenhagen Accord in late 2009, it pledged to reduce Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions to 607 megatonnes in 2020, or 17 per cent below 2005 levels. As of this week, with Aglukkaq sounding so determined to claim credit where it is hardly due, that target has never seemed further out of reach.

Listen to highlights from an interview with John Stone, a lead author of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, former longtime Canadian government official, and now adjunct professor of geography and environmental studies at Carleton University, on this week’s edition of our Maclean’s on the Hill podcast.




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Aglukkaq touts emissions cuts, numbers tell another story

  1. This situation is the same as a medical doctor who is also a Jehovah Witness, whereby he/she refuses to administer a necessary blood transfusion because of his/her Faith. Minister Aglukkaq is an Inuk who should know firsthand how climate change and pollution are affecting the Arctic but refuses to acknowledge the reality based on her political views. Sad.

    • Leftist Mental Disorder is sad.

  2. Glo-Bull Warming is the biggest fraud ever perpetrated in human history.

    • Back to the trailer court, Billy Bob and don’t leave Alberta.

      • You need to call the Canadian Mental Health Association to get some help for your Leftist Mental Disorder.

    • The difference between you and me, Alberta Boy, is that I’ve lived in the Arctic the last 25 years and can visually see the changes over that time. Have you ever been to the Arctic? Didn’t think so.

      • I’m not from Alberta, do not live there.

        As for your living in the Arctic, that’s likely just more Leftist Mental Disorder.

        You have no clue as to where I’ve been.

        If clues were shoes you’d be barefoot.

  3. Conservatives have been saying for years that the climate changes all the time. We are not the deniers! Some centuries the temperature goes up; some it goes down. There are decades that we inexplicably vary from what we think should be happening. When you compare us to the Little Ice Age, we are warming. Duh! We aren’t denying climate change, we are denying your global warming hoax.

    The GWAs (global warming advocates) try to get us to believe that the warming will continue forever and ever without stopping, and it’s our fault. Multiple sources report that about 12 years ago, we stopped the warming cycle (hence the Climategate letters where some scientists were wondering what they would do since we weren’t warming anymore). Instead of the warming advocates admitting this, they changed the political speech from global warming to climate change.

    I, as a global warming denier, don’t deny climate change at all. It looks like now we are changing to a cooling phase. That happens. There are a lot of things that cause these changes other than humans. There’s that bright ball in the sky during the day that has surface eruptions that change our weather patterns all the time. There’s Pacific Decadal Oscillation, which changes patterns as the name implies every decade or so. There are things called volcanoes that change our atmosphere. It was said by “the scientists” that Mount St. Helens alone put 10 times the pollution in the air in one year than man has made since the beginning of mankind. And that’s just one volcano! There are 50 to 60 volcanoes per year. Also, the 2010 Iceland volcano that stopped air traffic over Europe for weeks may have dumped more ash and atmospheric debris than Mount St. Helens. These volcanoes should be ashamed — don’t they know they are causing global warming?

    Larry Byers is right (prior letter). If they don’t have facts, they just invent new terms, like “cooling pause.” The GWAs are denying that we could be getting cooler! Forget about the facts that polar ice is again increasing and that Antarctic icepack is near the largest levels ever recorded.

    I think when the global warming advocates say the debate is over, they mean that since they can’t prove what they’re talking about, they don’t want to debate. I think the cartoon should have the global warming advocates sticking their heads in the sand because they refuse to look at the evidence contrary to their point of view.

    We on the other side have been saying for years that the climate is changing all the time. Unfortunately, that’s not what the GWAs mean when they use the term “climate change.”

    Clarence Sitzman

    • Well said.
      And we on the other side know that all that “science” and “data” hocus-pocus published in “journals” for other elitists to read doesn’t hold a candle to the common sense, blogscience, and cut n’ pasted comments we on the other side possess.

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