Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions shoot above target

New government figures show that greenhouse gas emissions in 1998 were 19% above the level set under the Kyoto Protocol, placing Canada's targets in severe doubt.

Environment Canada, the federal environment ministry announced on 6 September that in 1998 greenhouse gas emissions in 1998 were 13% above 1990 levels, which in turn were 6% above the country’s limit under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which must be met between 2008 and 2012.

The ministry said that emissions in the electricity sector are 28% above 1990 levels and have continued to grow as coal is being used to pick up much of the increased demand for electricity.

Emissions in the transportation sector are 20% above 1990 levels which the ministry blamed on an increase in the quantity of road freight and the number of sport utility vehicles, vans and light trucks, without any improvement in the average fuel efficiency since 1990.

However, Environment Canada said that the growth in emissions is slowing down because between 1997 and 1998 total greenhouse gas emissions grew by one percent. Whereas, in the mid 1990s, emissions were growing at about three percent per year, while Canada’s economy grew at an average rate of about two percent per year, in 1998, the year that emissions growth slowed, GDP grew 4.4%, the ministry pointed out. It also said that emissions in the industrial and manufacturing sectors are slightly below 1990 levels because “energy efficiency improvements in the industrial and manufacturing sectors are keeping pace with production increases”.

Under the legally binding Kyoto Protocol agreement, 39 industrialised nations must reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to an average of 5.2% below 1990 levels by the period 2008-2012 in accordance with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Canada’s performance palls in comparison with that of many other industrialised nations: Germany and the United Kingdom have reduced emissions 15.5% and 12.5%, respectively, from 1990 levels, whilst France, Sweden and Denmark have all curbed their emission growth and started reducing their emissions.

However, Environment Canada pointed out that emissions in USA have increased by 11.5% since 1990, whilst Australia is performing even more poorly with a 16.9% increase in emissions during this time.

In its defence the ministry said that over the past five years Canada had committed more than CA$850 million (US$574 million) “to help understanding and mitigate climate change”, and in the 2000 budget, the government allocated more than CA$600 million (US$405 million) for initiatives related to climate change.

The ministry also announced that more than 450 experts from the federal, provincial and territorial governments including environment ministers, and industry and academic groups will meet in Quebec City on October 16-17 to consider Canada’s first national business plan on climate change.

The government believes that its actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will also bring improvements to air quality, especially in large urban areas such as Toronto, which currently suffers from smog.

Canada’s performance was criticised by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in its Economic Survey of Canada, 2000released on 5 September, which said “it will be very difficult for Canada to meet the Kyoto Protocol targets”. “Even if Canada is able to buy greenhouse gas emission quotas on an international market, it will probably have to take steps to accelerate the reduction in domestic fossil fuel consumption,” the OECD said.

The organisation criticised Canada’s “reliance on voluntary agreements”, which it says “has not been sufficient to achieve environmental objectives, for instance in the case of the management of toxic substances”. “No cost opportunities for curbing pollution are rare and a strategy based on voluntary agreements alone cannot be expected to correct completely for the external costs of pollution,” the report said.

The report also called for “much more concrete action” on climate change, and said that increased taxes on fuel might help reduce transport-related emissions.

The Kyoto agreement will not take effect until it is ratified by 55 percent of the nations emitting at least 55 percent of the six greenhouse gases blamed for global warming and a November meeting in the Netherlands is seen by some as the last chance for ratification.

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