Guilbeault says he will take 'hard long look' at expediting 2030 emission targets

Since 1988, Canada has set eight emissions targets that it has yet to meet.

Guilbeault says he will take 'hard long look' at expediting 2030 emission targets
The Canadian Press / Sean Kilpatrick
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Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said he would take a "hard long look" to hit Canada's long-term emissions targets 10 years earlier than planned after global climate scientists expressed concerns with its efforts to combat climate change.

However, he did not promise it was possible.

His comments came after a new United Nations report cautioning the world is close to missing its emissions targets.

Previous reports from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have forewarned limiting global warming to under 2 C and preferably 1.5 C.

After 1.5 C, "the risks are starting to pile on," said report co-author Francis X. Johnson, a climate, land and policy scientist at the Stockholm Environment Institute. The report references "tipping points" around the temperature of species extinction, including coral reefs, irreversible melting of ice sheets and sea level rise on the order of several metres.

Monday's report claimed the world is approaching its last chance to prevent a climate catastrophe.

The panel of dozens of international climate scientists expects carbon emissions by 2035 to be less than half of 2019 levels — a far cry from their aim for net-zero emissions by 2040.

However, like most, Canada has targeted 2050 to meet their net-zero commitment.

"Humanity is on thin ice — and that ice is melting fast," said United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. "Our world needs climate action on all fronts — everything, everywhere, all at once."

Guilbeault confirmed Canada would review the report but admitted they could not change their targets on a whim because a target is meaningless without a realistic plan.

"This is a new request from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — obviously, one that we will study very carefully in Canada," he said.

"It's one thing to simply say, 'Well, you know, we want to reach this goal,' but we have to give ourselves the means to get there. We do that now in Canada for 2050. We will need to take a second hard look at what the IPCC proposes for 2040."

Since 1988, Canada has set eight emissions targets that it has yet to meet. 

According to the Canada Climate Institute, Ottawa needs more accurate and timely estimates to allow for "course correction" and "early action" by governments to help Canada meet its climate targets.

As the country approaches its upcoming target for 2030, its success hinges heavily on decreasing emissions from key industries like oil and gas and transportation.

Oil and gas production and transportation account for about one-quarter of Canada's total emissions. Ottawa intends to cap those emissions this year and force them down at least 38% by 2030.

The Canada Climate Institute estimated Canada's 2021 carbon emissions at 691 megatonnes, owing to activity across various sectors and oil and gas production levels. While its carbon emissions increased in 2021, they remained below pre-pandemic levels.

Statistics Canada and Simon Fraser University's Canadian Energy and Emissions Data Centre data show the country produced 738 megatonnes of carbon emissions before the COVID pandemic.

However, Canada's emissions fell 2% per unit of GDP compared to 2020.

Ottawa's climate modelling from Budget 2021 unveiled its climate policy forecasted a national emissions reduction of 36% below 2005 levels — the benchmark year for Canada's 2030 climate targets per the Paris Climate Accord. However, that falls short of their commitment to reducing emissions by 40% to 45% over the next decade.

The federal government intends to reduce emissions from where they are today to about 440 megatonnes by 2030 and then to net zero by 2050.

But the energy and climate think-tank Pembina Institute concluded that no government will meet its 2030 or 2050 net-zero goals, as provinces and territories did not include 95% of emissions generated in Canada in their respective 2030 target or climate plans.

"No jurisdiction has developed pathways to describe how net zero can be achieved," reads the All Hands on Deck report.

The 2030 target proposes an emissions reduction between 55% and 60% of 2005 levels.

Based on 2020 emissions levels, meeting the 2030 goal means cutting about 23 million tonnes of yearly emissions or taking five million passenger cars off the road annually until 2030.

Passenger vehicles account for half of all road transportation emissions and about 10% of Canada's total emissions across all sectors. However, Ottawa pledged six million more zero-emission passenger vehicles by the target deadline to mitigate those emissions.

Before the COVID pandemic, annual sales in Canada of cars and light trucks were under two million units, with the total stock of such vehicles in Canada being about 23 million. Guilbeault proposed that one-fifth of all passenger vehicles sold in Canada in 2026 must be electric to meet the target.

The environment minister claimed the climate crisis is an "inescapable reality."

"Climate change can no longer be considered a future threat. It is upon us. Canadians already feel the effects, from droughts to wildfires to shoreline erosion and floods."

The Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) also estimated that Ottawa would add $120 per tonne in carbon tax by 2030. Between 2018 and 2022, the federal carbon tax backstop increased by $10 per tonne per year, reaching $50 per tonne in 2022.

On April 1, 2023, the carbon tax will increase to $65 per tonne with subsequent $15 increases each following year until 2030.

The institute estimates that emissions declined below 2005 levels in all sectors except oil and gas, transport and buildings. According to the PBO, the real GDP for oil and gas and transportation will fall under these targets by 10.8% and 16.2% by 2030, respectively.

The new UN report also declared that by 2035, electricity needs to be entirely emissions-free, including no electricity from coal or natural gas.

Canada is already targeting a clean electricity grid by 2035 and the phasing out of unabated coal by 2030. While gas is still expected to play a role, Guilbeault said that by 2035, gas plants must also employ carbon capture and storage technology.

"The choices and actions implemented in this decade will have impacts for thousands of years," reads the report, calling climate change "a threat to human well-being and planetary health."

"We are not on the right track, but it's not too late," said report co-author and water scientist Aditi Mukherji. "Our intention is a message of hope and not that of doomsday."'

Many scientists, including at least three co-authors, said hitting 1.5 degrees is inevitable.

"We are pretty much locked into 1.5," said report co-author Malte Meinshausen, a climate scientist at the University of Melbourne in Australia. "There's very little way we will be able to avoid crossing 1.5 C sometime in the 2030s."

Scientists emphasize that the world, civilization or humanity won't end suddenly if and when Earth passes the 1.5-degree mark. 

"It's not as if it's a cliff that we all fall off," said Mukherji.

Despite the urgency to reduce emissions, Canadian delegates to the last climate conference burned $622,000 in airfares, despite advocating for "the next step forward for climate ambition."

Guilbeault led a 266-member Canadian delegation — including 53 from his department — to the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, last November 6 to 18.

He said the finances reflect the costs incurred by different government departments as of November 21.

According to Blacklock's Reporter, the federal records peg the expenditures of the entire delegation at $1.8 million, including a million for hotel charges, $622,000 for airfares, and $27,000 on meals. 

However, Guilbeault said the amounts do not reflect final costs.

The environment minister clarified that taxpayers only cover the costs for federal employees and some Indigenous representatives, youth and civil service representatives, stating most delegates cover their expenses out of pocket.

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