The rhetoric on climate change leadership needs to change

Overblown claims and ever more ambitious targets for dealing with climate change won’t help get us to the finish line without action

Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna speaks at Canada 20/20 in Ottawa November 20, 2015. (Photograph by Blair Gable)

Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna speaks at Canada 20/20 in Ottawa November 20, 2015. (Photograph by Blair Gable)

Climate change and reducing greenhouse gases (GHGs) are big news in Canada these days. Alberta recently announced its new plan. The Prime Minister and premiers met publicly with climate scientists and then went to Paris to make a big splash at the COP21 climate change summit. All this attention is to be welcomed by those of us who want to raise awareness about the need to take action against climate change.

Predictably, however, politicians have gone quickly to the “leadership” word to describe their plans, and that’s the problem. Because the inconvenient truth is that the gap between rhetoric and reality has never been wider. Canada is not a leader in the fight against climate change. At best, we are struggling to stay even with the laggards in the climate change marathon. A clear-eyed look at the data on GHG emissions will prove the point.

Before looking at the data, we need to define leadership in the fight against climate change. Being in the lead suggests we are out in front in getting to the level that scientists say we need to stabilize the rise in global temperatures at two degrees Celsius—in the neighbourhood of two tonnes of GHG emissions per capita by 2050. We would measure leadership on this standard by comparing the level of our per capita emissions to those of other countries.

A second way to show leadership would be by reducing our emissions from past levels. Comparing the change in our emissions to changes in other countries would be the measure to focus on.

Table 1 shows the levels of emissions per capita for 2012 (most recent worldwide data available) for selected countries. Among the top 15 global emitters representing 70 per cent of the world’s total emissions, Canada ranks second-worst at 20.1 tonnes per capita. China, the world’s largest emitter in absolute terms, stands at 8.1 tonnes per capita. Collectively, the EU has emissions of 8.8 tonnes per capita. Based on these facts, its pretty hard to argue that Canada is leading the way in getting to the two-tonne-per-capita level needed by 2050.

Table 1: Emissions per capita (2012) for selected countries

Country Tonnes of CO2e per capita Total GHG emissions (Mt) Share of world emissions
Australia 28.5 648 1.40%
Canada 20.1 699 1.60%
United States 19.9 6,235 13.90%
Russia 16.2 2,322 5.20%
South Korea 13.9 693 1.50%
Germany 11 887 2.00%
Japan 10.5 1,345 3.00%
Iran 9.4 715 1.60%
Europe (28) 8.8 4,399 9.80%
UK 8.7 553 1.20%
China 8.1 10,975 24.50%
Mexico 6 724 1.60%
Brazil 5.1 1,013 2.30%
Indonesia 3.1 761 1.70%
India 2.4 3,014 6.70%

Source: World Resources Institute

Table 2 shows the changes in emissions per capita since 1990, the base year for our Kyoto pledge (since repudiated in 2012). No leadership by Canada in evidence here. Relative to 1990, countries like the U.K., Germany and France are far ahead of us.

Table 2: Changes in emissions per capita

Country 2012 - 1990
Canada -12%
United States -16%
Australia 1%
Japan 9%
UK -33%
France -19%
Germany -25%

Source: World Resources Institute

Our domestic climate change rhetoric is equally overblown. Table 3 shows current total and per capita levels of emissions by province. It makes little sense to argue that Alberta is a leader in the fight against climate change. Of the big Canadian emitters, Quebec, Ontario and B.C. are far in the lead in the race to reduce emissions.

Table 3: Current emissions per capita by province

Province Total megatonnes, Co2e (2005) Total megatonnes, Co2e (2012) Per capita, tonnes CO2e (2005) Per capita, tonnes CO2e (2012)
NL 10 9 19.2 16.6
PE 2 2 15.6 13.4
NS 23 19 24.6 20.1
NB 20 16 26.9 21.7
QC 86 78 11.3 9.7
ON 207 167 16.5 12.5
MB 21 21 17.8 16.9
SK 71 75 71.6 68.8
AB 232 249 69.8 64
BC 62 60 14.8 13.2
Territories 2 2 23 17.9
CANADA 736 699 22.8 20.1

Source: Canada’s Emissions Trends 2014

As for ambition, Table 4 shows the provinces’ 2020 targets for per capita emissions. Alberta has no absolute target, but provided a projection in their recently announced plan. Once again, Quebec, Ontario and B.C. are far in the lead in their ambition to further reduce emissions.

Table 4: Provincial targets for 2020

Province Absolute target (megatonnes CO2e) Per capita target (tonnes CO2e)
NL 8.8 17
PE 1.8 12
NS 18.2 19.1
NB 14.9 19.4
QC 71.8 8
ON 154.7 10.7
MB 17.6 13
SK 55.5 47.4
AB 277 60
BC 43.5 8.7
Territories 2.3 19
Sum of provincial targets* 666 17.7

Source: Authors’ calculations, provincial targets and population projections by Statistics Canada
* Canada set a national 2020 target of 611 megatonnes based on the data from the 2014 Emissions Trends.

The numbers don’t lie. Canada has been a laggard, not a leader, in the fight against climate change. We have a long way to go to catch up to the pack. That said, we are finally back in the race and that is a very good thing. However, we should be under no illusion—it’s all hard work from here.

What does this mean as our political leaders meet in Paris to discuss climate change with the rest of the world? Canada should be ambitious in its plans and humble in its claims. Overblown claims and ever-more ambitious targets won’t help get us to the finish line. Actions that lead to results, not rhetoric, are what we need now.


Paul Boothe is the Director and Felix-A. Boudreault is a Fellow of the Lawrence National Centre for Policy and Management at Western University’s Ivey Business School.

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The rhetoric on climate change leadership needs to change

  1. Too bad climate science isn’t allowed to say they are as certain of their CO2 crisis as they are of smoking causing cancer and the earth not being flat.
    It would prevent another 34 more years of debate and climate action delay.

    • “Aren’t allowed to say”.
      Yup, and biologists don’t say for certain that smoking causes cancer.
      That’s because science deals in probability, not proof.
      But you know that because we’ve had this discussion more times than I can count. Fun!
      I get that you do the same standup routine day after day to different audiences. But, you know that this is the same venue every time, don’t you?

      • Ahh..yes. The old “I don’t need proof” just probability argument, that allows Tresus to ignore even the most obvious facts.

        that is how Tresus can ignore the fact that there is no “PROOF” that the climate is changing due to man’s actions; but given he has a lot of “climate scientists” telling him it is the case, he doesn’t have to look at facts. The reality that the “climate scientists” have been wrong in 100% of their predictions; yes, every single predication they have EVER MADE has been wrong….is not evidence enough that Tresus should actually try thinking on his own.

        tresus, please remain the clueless buffon you have proven yourself to be. EmilyOne depends upon you to make her comments look reasonable.

        • Wow! Someone is been to a CAPP sponsored website and discovered that statistics don’t really matter. The problem is that you are betting your children’s future that 99% of the scientists studying this problem are wrong in their predictions. I bet you buy Lotto tickets.

          • the probability of me winning the lottery is greater than the probability of the catastrophe being predicted by the “scientists”

            Wake up…it has nothing to do with real science. Right now, it is all about protecting their reputations and ensuring their “climate funding” keeps coming in.

            In fact, there are more REAL scientists who have doubts about global warming (made made variety) than there are psuedo-scientists like Mann, Suzuki, etc. who believe their own hype.

            Why do you think we keep having these “climate conferences?” It isn’t to save the world…it is to save reputations. Kyoto…failure…..copenhagen…failure……..climate models…failures (all of them so far)……ocean level rises, and other catastrophic predictions are wrong……failure.

            here is what Paris is about. No matter what kind of “Agreement” is reached, here is one thing you can be sure of. Over the next 20 to 30 years, the scientists who were warning us about global warming and climate change will finally point out that the world isn’t going to end….that there has been no catastrophe, etc..etc….

            but they will never admit they were wrong. instead, they’ll refer to the climate conference in Paris, and the “agreement” that was reached, and they’ll say, “See…I told you we would save the world, all you had to do was listen to our plan”….

            The king has no clothes folks……..but today, very few of us have the guts to point that out.


          • Writing your fantasies down doesn’t bring them any closer to reality, no matter how manner times you do it.
            Christopher Monckton is still a lunatic, not a scientist, let alone a “real” one.
            The evidence is still overwhelming, and you still haven’t published your devastating refutation of the scientific consensus.

          • Tresus wrote; (Poorly)

            “Writing your fantasies down doesn’t bring them any closer to reality, no matter how manner times you do it.”

            Tresus, I have provided multiple links over multiple comments. They directed you to well known, and respectable scientists. Frankly, even Monckon, is better equipped to debate climate change that your hero M. Mann. (Yes, mann is a fraud by the way).

            And yet you never bother to read any of them. That is why you remain an ignorant pissant who seems happy to simply write diatribes of which even you cannot understand. I’ll try and make it easy for you with this link. You won’t even have to read it; nor will you need to expend any effort to try and think on your own. You and I both know that you trying to think on your own would be dangerous, so this is something I am willing to do for you. I don’t know if you will be able to understand it even if you do have a look; but good luck.


          • For folks OTHER THAN tresus…who want to actually see what is being discussed. Read the link below, as it takes you to the Senate hearings and shows the degree to which the pseudo-scientists;who claim global warming will doom us all, are willing to go to hide the fact they are full of crap, and have been lying through their teeth to maintain their funding and reputations. here is the link.


            Now, look at the comment provided by Tresus about Ian Pilmer (geologist) and you can see exactly what we are disucssing. Please note, the link above and Tresus’ comments are connected. As apparently, Pilmer was widely respected, consulted, and seen as an expert in his field UNTIL he raised doubts about the science around Global warming.

            It is pretty much a confirmation of what i have been writing. ONLY THOSE WHO DRINK THE GLOBAL WARMING KOOL-AID are allowed to talk, and anyone who provides other evidence that contradicts the narrative, is to be pilloried.

            Note the actions Michael Mann (Hockey stick fraudster) took to make one of his critics (Dr. Judith Curry) look bad.

            Again, this is for normal folks with the capacity to think…Tresus, don’;t waste your time.

          • So having cited a heritary peer who claims to have cured AIDS and the common cold, a mining geologist without any expertise or papers to his name who believes volcanoes emit more CO2 than humans, jameshalifax clinches it with expert testimony from a theatre critic!


            “…but they will never admit they were wrong. ”

            That could be. But one of your kooks would have to actually publish some science to put your assertion to the test. I guess between the video presentations and editorials they just can’t seem to find the time.

          • Thank you for proving my (and Steyn’s Point) Tresus, ‘

            I knew I could count on you.

          • Remind me again what your point was.
            That a theatre critic has overturned a scientific consensus in a a speech?
            And of course, being a theatre critic, he doesn’t have time to back his paradigm-shifting, Nobel-worthy thesis with actual science.
            Is that about right?

  2. It appears the GHG emissions per capita for Canada in Table 1 from WRI is inaccurate.

    The US Dept of Energy Energy Information Agency records per capita carbon dioxide emissions at 16.2 metric tons per person per year in Canada in 2011 while the US is 17.597 metric tons per person in 2011.

    The emissions gap has widened more recently with the closure of coal fired plants in several provinces in last 3 years further reducing Canada’s consumption of coal as percentage consumed to around 6%-7% of total energy consumed.

    By contrast, the DOE EIA reports that coal still accounts for approximately 20% of total US energy consumption.

    Coal is the worst of the worst of all fossil fuels – far dirtier than oil including oil sands oil – with coal roughly double the emissions of oil.

    Therefore, arithmetic and logic suggest that if the US is using a relatively much larger proportion of coal – which is roughly twice as GHG emissions intensive – for total energy needs than Canada, it necessarily follows that GHG emissions per capita will be significantly higher in the US than in Canada.

    • Or you just do apples to apples comparison of data! 2012 EIA per capita isn’t that difficult to find (<2 minutes in excel). Also, the numbers you're looking at are just CO2 equivalent from energy consumption and doesn't include all sources. While the use of coal to produce electricity has been reduced in some provinces it has increased in others. In the US coal is declining, partly due to policy but more often due to market competition from natural gas and wind. One problem for Canada is GHG emissions from oil and gas production particularly tar sands extraction which has higher emission than conventional and shale oil and gas. In any case, does it matter who's winning the race to the bottom?

      • Per Environment Canada, coal “consumption” as a percentage of TOTAL energy consumed is down over the past 5 years across Canada.

        We can thank those provinces that shut down coal fired electricity power plants in recent years for this reduction.

        And Canada uses far less coal as a percentage of its energy use – then and now (6% to 7%) relative to the US (approx. 20%).

        And yes, coal is in decline in the US in part due to more stringent EPA regulations and in part because the price of natural gas has dramatically declined due to large new supply from fracking making natural gas often less expensive than coal causing firms to switch.

        However, race to the bottom is a slogan – not a policy.

        And policy must be evidence based – as the new govt correctly states.

        And this data cited herein is from the US DOE and Cdn NR Can and Environment Canada.

    • Thank you IanLee for your comment. I can address the data issue you are mentioning. The link to the US EIA tables you provided are for “Per Capita Carbon Dioxide Emissions from the Consumption of Energy (Metric Tons of Carbon Dioxide per Person)”, so in other words emissions from burning fossil fuels only (CO2 from combustion). The WRI CAIT tables we used for the article include all six greenhouse gases (incl. CH4, N2O, SF6, HFCs, PFCs and CO2). CO2 is obviously the dominant gas but 21% of Canada’s emissions comes from the other gases (see http://goo.gl/3WmeXW). Other countries have a different mix, depending on their economies (more agriculture would increase N2O and CH4 emissions, for instance). Hope it helps.

      • Felix,

        CO2 is not a pollutant, and it actually has very little to do with the climate changing. In fact, history shows that the climate changed BEFORE the increase in CO2 levels. today’s folks have it all backwards…but will never admit it. The climate has alwasy changed, and it was far warmer, and the atomosphere was far higher in CO2 concentrations than today. The entire argument has been a farce from the start.

        Please show me ANY evidence that climate models have been correct. (and I don’t mean models that have been “adjusted” with phoney data, or estimations – as that is the only way the models will ever show an increase)

        If you want to know what causes climate change……..stick your head out the window during the daytime and look up. It is the sun. That is your climate change device, and no matter how much money is wasted buying “carbon credits” or other such schemes, there is absolutley NOTHING you or anyone else can do to change it. Climate change may very well be happening, but it has nothing to do with humankind.

        the entire debate is rigged, phoney, and a joke. Only the feebleminded, and dishonest actually believe it today.

          • Tresus,

            Many of the links I have provided (which you never bother to look at) show you exactly why people are doubtful of scientists. the link you provide is from a group that has been wrong more often than they have been right. In fact, they are part of the “climate alarmists” we were discussing. This is the faulty PEER REVIEW you seem to rever.

            I told you how “NATURE” is complicit in the fraud, and you provide a link by the same group to back up your claims. You really are clueless.

          • Tresus, you really are daft.

            I just finished writing about how the computer models are not to be trused because “scientists” use proxy data, or other “fixes” to account for what they don’t understand…and what do you do?

            you provide a link to a computer model using adjusted data to fit the current theory.

            You’re an idiot.

            But not as much of an idiot as these guys. If you want to know why the former Government wanted to see what Canadian “scientists” were going to publish before they approved it…..here’s a prime example.

            you dolt…lol


          • The science journals are all part of the conspiracy!
            The world breathlessly awaits your refutation of the paper. That is, if you can find the time – I know you’re pretty busy making entirely unsubstantiated assertions.

            Sadly, simply asserting that something is wrong won’t refute the evidence presented in that paper or numerous other published papers.
            Get to work on that paper – your Nobel Prize awaits!

          • “I just finished writing about how the computer models are not to be trused because “scientists” use proxy data, or other “fixes” to account for what they don’t understand…and what do you do? ”


            You just finished making some completely unsubstantiated assertions without a shred of evidence to back them up and what do I do? Go ahead and present evidence anyway. It’s so unfair!

          • Tresus noted:

            “The science journals are all part of the conspiracy!”

            Tresus, I just presented you a slide show prepared for and created by government of Canada “climate scientists” that has been shown to be completely fraudulent. And yet, in your (feeble) mind, the fact they are scientists outweighs the fact they are guilty of fraud and bogus science.

            Ironically, Tresus noted:

            “You just finished making some completely unsubstantiated assertions without a shred of evidence to back them up and what do I do? Go ahead and present evidence anyway. It’s so unfair!”

            Tresus, I did substantiate them, but as you yourself admitted on many occassions, you don’t bother to look at the links or evidence I provide. I’m not surprised you are so uneducated about the issues, or completely inable to think critically…….you refuse to even look.

            Nice modus Operandi you have there…..Make a claim, ask for evidence when someone refutes what you are saying, ignore the evidence presented, and then claim you are still correct.

            yeah…..great mind you have there…lol..

            by the way…do you enjoy sweeping floors?

          • “Tresus, I just presented you a slide show prepared for and created by government of Canada “climate scientists” that has been shown to be completely fraudulent. ”

            So let’s just pretend what you’re saying is correct.
            Now tell us, what fundamental of climate science was this ‘slideshow’ and it’s creators responsible for establishing, and has now been refuted?

            “Tresus, I did substantiate them”

            So sorry. Simply asserting “commputer models are not to be trused because “scientists” use proxy data, or other “fixes” to account for what they don’t understand” isn’t actually evidence of anything. Nor is finding a newspaper editorial or video presentation of someone repeating the same thing.
            But if you have actual evidence simply cite the PAPER, JOURNAL and VOLUME where this is to be found.

        • Yup.
          That guy with a knife in his back obviously wasn’t murdered cuz 99% of people die of natural causes.

          I do like that you’ve added a James Delingpole newspaper column to your body of “scientific literature”.
          He’s one of the most brilliant “interpreter of interpretations”!



          • Tresus,

            deflection won’t work.

            I bet Charles Manson could tell you that you shouldn’t stick your hand in a fire, and you wouldn’t believe him because he doesn’t have a PHD.

            Other readers, please note: Tresus did not address the link I provided, as he knows he really cannot. That is why he’s in deflection mode.

          • “Deflection”

            But then maybe you don’t understand what an anology is. Let me explain it to you slowly:
            Claiming that humans can’t be causing climate because climate change has been caused be other things at other times, is as rational a deduction as claiming that someone couldn’t have been murdered because people die of natural causes.

  3. The good news is: when you’re really bad, it is easier to improve, with low hanging fruit to be found in many places. Unfortunately, across North America which is the global leader in GHG intensity, the main logic is to replace one source of energy with another; as with GHG intensity, energy intensity should be easy to improve when energy efficiency is so poor as compared to exemplary G20 countries. Denmark provide an instructive example: while continuing to depend heavily on coal, much of their decline in CO2 correlates more strongly to improvement in energy efficiency than uptake of renewable sources, in spite of the fact that Denmark is a leading adopter of wind power. Levelized cost analysis of CO2 reduction options shows that energy efficiency has the levelized cost which is actually negative i.e. it pays back more than it costs; this is hardly surprising as energy cost is a cost factor in all goods and services.

    Unfortunately the GHG issue is just a small corner of the energy industry. Grid reliability in North America is in decline, costing industry billions in lost productivity. Here, Canada and the USA are winning the race to the bottom among the G20 with loss of service (SAIDI) 20 times worse than Germany. The system is a mess – not surprising as Canada has no national energy policy and while electricity represents ~1/3 of all energy product revenue, nowhere near that portion of representation is included in the National Energy Board nor is federally funded energy related research spending anywhere near that proportion. While excess energy use is pure waste, there are no governmental bodies with this file exclusively – it is an obvious mistake to assume that any body concerned with energy production, particularly as an industry, would or could earnestly pursue reduced energy use.

    • “Unfortunately, across North America which is the global leader in GHG intensity, the main logic is to replace one source of energy with another”

      North America also global leader in life expectancy, infant mortality, quality of life however measured, etc etc. Still, gotta break a few eggs to make an omelet – think of the GHG savings if we shutter up a few of those energy pig hospitals, nursing homes (can’t they all wear sweaters!), schools and so on.

  4. “The numbers don’t lie. Canada has been a laggard, not a leader.”

    If it is merely the numbers game that proves leadership, then Canada just needs to keep doubling its population every 10 years and the problem of tonnes per capita will vanish, exponentially…..If only we had China’s population count, we would be Saint Canada.

    For me, the 2 degree tipping point cannot be left up to politicians who can’t conceive of a complete paradigm shift and whose only fallback is juggling population numbers against tonnes of GHGs. Rep by pop and tonnes per cap are the mathematics of business, not mathematics in the employ of science or survival. When you let numbers run everything, you forget that science is still observation, history is hopefully observation, human survival is necessarily observation.

    On the other hand, Capitalism and Fascism are justified by numbers, the numeracy of limitless growth; they are numbers ideologies; they match logistics with war. They are narcissism on steroids. Their only plan is to rebuild the Titanic because their own BIGNESS is the only fantasy they are willing to entertain. Numbers can numb, and when they do, they can lie. They don’t prove leadership, nor should they.

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