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Climate change is now the most serious global environmental threat.1 Its potential impacts include global warming, sea level rise, increased extreme weather events, and altered rainfall patterns. Climate change is a direct consequence of elevated greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations in the atmosphere and feedback mechanisms.
Since GHGs are emitted from fossil fuel burning, energy is the key policy category for tracking and analyzing climate change. The main challenge is to make economic growth less dependent on energy use and related air emissions, by improving energy efficiency and by developing and using cleaner fuels and low-emitting electricity sources.2
Canada is one of the world's largest per capita GHG emitters. Canada ranks 15th out of 17 OECD countries on GHG emissions per capita and scores a “D” grade.3 In 2010, Canada’s GHG emissions were 20.3 tonnes per capita, significantly higher than the 17-country average of 12.5 tonnes per capita. Canada’s per capita GHG emissions were nearly three times greater than Switzerland’s, the top performer.
While Canada’s GHG emissions per capita have fallen since 1990, many other countries have managed to decrease them even more. For example, Germany and the U.K. reduced their per capita GHG emissions by 27 per cent between 1990 and 2010.
Despite international commitments to drastically reduce GHGs, Canada has not seen a substantial improvement on its per capita GHG emissions. In 1992, Canada signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), under which it committed to stabilizing GHG emissions at 1990 levels by 2000. In 2000, however, Canada’s absolute GHG emissions were 22 per cent higher than they had been 10 years earlier.
Canada went on to ratify the Kyoto Protocol in 2002, pledging to reduce GHG emissions to 6 per cent below 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012. As of 2010, however, absolute GHG emissions remained 17 per cent above 1990 levels.
One of the main reasons for the increase has been the growth in exports of petroleum, natural gas, and forest products. These commodities are exported, but the GHG emissions resulting from their production are not. Still, there is significant room for Canada to cut GHG emissions by increasing energy efficiency and using lower-emitting technologies.
To achieve its international commitments, Canada must make substantial GHG reductions now.
Use the drop-down menu to compare the change in Canada's per capita greenhouse gas emissions with that of its peer countries.
No. Canada was a “D” performer in both the 1990s and the 2000s. The report card in the two decades remained the same for all countries except the U.K., which moved from a “B” to a “A,” and Ireland, which moved from a “C” to a “B.”
The energy sector was responsible for 81 per cent of Canada’s total GHG emissions in 2010. Emissions from this sector come from combustion sources (such as electricity and heat generation, and fossil fuel industries), transportation (such as road vehicles), and fugitive sources (generated by oil and natural gas processing and, to a lesser extent, mining). Energy combustion is the largest of these sources, contributing 45 per cent of Canada’s total GHG emissions in 2010.4
Industrial processes (such as the chemical industry), the waste sector (such as solid waste disposal on land), and agriculture also generate a significant amount of GHG emissions in Canada.
The Canadian federal government recently set a new target of reducing total greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020. To achieve this goal, it has introduced three major initiatives:
All of Canada's provincial and territorial governments have also established their own climate action plans with their own targets for reducing GHG emissions. Unfortunately, the lack of coordination among federal and provincial approaches to addressing climate change has reduced the effectiveness and efficiency of GHG reduction policies. Canadians need to get aligned—quickly—on the minimum fundamental requirements of a credible Canadian policy to fight climate change. In the view of The Conference Board of Canada, there are three basic elements to such a policy:
For a detailed analysis of the effectiveness of current federal and provincial government policies to reduce GHG emissions in Canada:
Greenhouse Gas Mitigation in Canada, Ottawa: The Conference Board of Canada, 2011.
To understand how Canada can achieve significant reductions in global greenhouse gas production while sharing fairly the economic impact of adjustment:
A Canadian Climate Change Strategy: Getting the Basics Right, Ottawa: The Conference Board of Canada, 2007.
Canada's Energy Future: An Integrated Path, Ottawa: The Conference Board of Canada, 2007.
In a report on the use of “green taxes,” the Conference Board argues that tax measures, coupled with market forces, will be key to the fight against climate change and the ability of Canadian firms to adjust. Green taxes and green investment tax credits are needed if Canadian firms are to accelerate their technological adaptation to a carbon-priced world. As a complement to green taxes, a cap and trade system should be implemented, combining regulation with market forces via emissions trading.
Use Green Taxes and Market Instruments to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Ottawa: The Conference Board of Canada, 2008.
1 Daniel C. Esty and others. Pilot 2006 Environmental Index (New Haven: Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy, 2006).
2 OECD, Environment Directorate, OECD Key Environmental Indicators (Paris: OECD, 2004).
3 Ranking calculations exclude the offset effects of land use, land-use change, and forestry (LULUCF).
4 Environment Canada, National Inventory Report, 1990–2010: Greenhouse Gas Sources and Sinks in Canada, 2010 (Ottawa: Environment Canada, 2012) (accessed November 17, 2012).
5 Government of Canada, “Backgrounder: Key Features of Canada's Passenger Automobile and Light Truck Greenhouse Gas Emission Regulations” (accessed June 15, 2011).
6 Government of Canada, “Canada’s Action on Climate Change” (accessed November 17, 2012).
7 Government of Canada, "Canada’s Action on Climate Change" (accessed November 17, 2012).
Total GHG emissions excluding land use and land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) measured in tonnes of CO equivalent per capita.
The data on this page are current as of January 2013.