The Canadian government is again  being called out for providing misleading information about its commitment to reducing carbon emissions.
The National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE ) has released its fifth annual report  [pdf] analyzing government efforts to follow through with its obligations to reduce its carbon pollution, as set out under the 2007 Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act (KPIA).
The findings are disturbing and show that Canada’s emissions reduction policies are only about half as effective as advertised. The recent analysis shows that government policies aiming for 54 million tonnes of carbon reductions by 2012 will only yield around 27 million tonnes of reductions.
Individual project emission data was originally evaluated by Environment Canada, Natural Resources Canada and Transport Canada, and taken together showed that the 2011 KPIA plan was on pace to achieve the Conservative government’s climate goals. When Environment Canada combined the individual project totals into an integrated model, however, the results are not so pretty. Environment Canada’s modeling reveals that a significant amount of double counting is taking place between projects. Moreover, best-case scenarios are also being overused (as reference cases) leading to frequent overestimations for reductions.
Clare Demerse , director of climate change at the Pembina Institute, remarked that:
“It’s normal to expect the package to be less than the sum of all its parts but doubling the estimate is unexpected.”
Unfortunately, this type of discrepancy is all too common for the governing Conservatives who continue to oppose  the binding 2012 pollution reduction targets as set out in the Kyoto Accord.
Just last month, in advance of the latest round of United Nations (U.N.) climate talks, the government decided not to include 2009 data from a 567-page  U.N. report on Canada’s carbon emissions. The government has long said that Canada will not achieve the 2012 Kyoto targets, but when the 2009 data was finally released after a media investigation, it showed a significant 20% increase in pollution from Alberta’s tar sands industry and that the government would likely fail to achieve its modest goals for a 17% reduction in total carbon emissions by 2020 (from 2005 levels).
The NRTEE report confirms that a ‘business as usual’ scenario will make it extremely difficult for Canada to control its carbon pollution.
“Sadly, the bottom line from this report is that Canada’s current climate policies are far too weak to reach our national target for cutting greenhouse gas pollution. That’s not a new message, but it’s a critically important one.”
This latest NRTEE report does make the following recommendations in the hopes that the 2020 climate goals are still on the government’s agenda:
1. To improve the consistency between the integrated modelling estimates and measure-by-measure estimates of emissions reductions, the NRTEE recommends that consistent, reliable, and substantiated assumptions be used to define the reference case across all estimates. In particular, if the reference case assumption is that none of the mitigating actions would have occurred in the absence of the policy, the Plan should present sufficient evidence to substantiate this assumption. This recommendation applies in particular for the ecoENERGY for Renewable Power, ecoENERGY for Buildings and Houses, ecoENERGY for Industry, and Pulp and Paper Green Transformation programs.
2. To acquire additional evidence regarding the effectiveness of policies and programs, the NRTEE recommends the government implement additional ex-post (after the fact) policy evaluations. Studies like the analysis implemented by NRCan to explore the actual emissions reductions realized from the ecoENERGY Retrofit Initiative can provide valuable insights as to how the policy has performed historically. As existing programs wind down, these insights can be used to improve estimates of likely future reductions, and can also inform future policy design choices by exploring the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of existing programs.
3. To help Canada continue to be accountable to its emissions reductions objectives, the NRTEE recommends the government continue to broaden its public process for evaluating its climate policies over the long term. The NRTEE applauds the government for publishing its 2020 emissions forecasts in January 2011. The government should continue to publish updated forecasts as it implements new policies and programs and moves toward long-term emissions reductions.
4. To move forward with a coordinated Canadian climate strategy, the NRTEE recommends that consideration be given to how federal, provincial/territorial, and municipal policies can be better coordinated to complement and reinforce current and future efforts. Assessing the effectiveness of provincial/territorial/municipal policies can help highlight the important role of these policies in contributing to Canada’s national emissions reductions objectives and inform future federal action in support.
The NRTEE is an advisory agency to the federal government whose members  are mainly industry and political appointees. In spite of fears that committee members may owe a debt to the government which appointment them, the NRTEE has again proven its independence by calling out Conservative reticence on climate change. Earlier this year, the committee released a report saying that Canada must get serious  on climate and stop dragging its feet waiting for the U.S. to act first.
Photo Credit: NRTEE