The climate data the Tories want to ignore

Whatever the Tories say, emissions rose as Canada's economy bounced back from the Great Recession

Elizabeth May sat in her corner, unimpressed. The object of her disappointment was Colin Carrie, an MP from Oshawa, Ont., who also serves as the parliamentary secretary to Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq. Carrie spent most of Question Period reiterating his party’s talking points on climate change. He claimed the Tories are world leaders on the file. He insisted that emissions have fallen under his government’s watch. May intended to correct the record. Globe and Mail reporter Josh Wingrove tweeted the documentary evidence that Carrie’s claims were untrue.

May had seen the same graph, which lies deep in Environment Canada’s 2013 report on emissions trends. That particular assessment of Canadian greenhouse gases uses careful language:

The government’s approach is to encourage strong economic growth and job creation while achieving our environmental objectives. There are encouraging signs on this front: according to the latest National Inventory Report (NIR), between 2005 and 2011, Canadian GHG emissions decreased by 4.8%, while the economy grew by 8.4% over the same period.

Note the beginning date (2005) and end date (2011) in that executive summary. And then look at the graph within Wingrove’s tweet. Environment Canada’s number crunchers dressed up that graphic in language that was as glowing as their data allow.

The analysis indicates that if consumers, businesses and governments had taken no action to reduce GHG emissions after 2005, emissions in 2020 would have risen to 862 Mt. This is in comparison to the “with current measures” scenario where, as a result of actions taken since 2005, emissions in 2020 are expected to be 734 Mt. This means that, taken together, actions by consumers, businesses, and federal, provincial and territorial governments have decreased emissions substantially from the “without measures” scenario (Figure ES-1).

In other words, emissions would be much worse if the government had done nothing at all. But the graph makes clear that after a steep drop during the last recession, emissions are again on the rise. John Geddes found the source of the reductions when he read the same report last April:

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.”

The story is much more complex than the Tories would like, but they’re not about to explain that a contracting economy helped their quest to reduce emissions. As it stands, the government will have a terribly difficult time meeting its emission reductions targets on its current trajectory, no matter the piecemeal announcements that come out of its ministers’ offices, and no matter how many climate negotiations include a Canadian delegation. Just look again at that graph.

So, yes, May rose at the tail end of QP and asked if the Prime Minister’s Office would read its own government’s data and correct its talking points. But Carrie just kept on reading.