CLIMATE CHANGE: GHG Emissions Trends in Canada

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Environmental law has become increasingly focused on reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. For example, federal environmental law and the laws in several provinces now require certain companies to report their emissions of designated GHGs. (For more information, see “Climate Change: Complying with GHG Reporting Requirements,” Insider, Oct. 2011, p. 1.) Have these laws impacted the levels of GHG emissions in Canada? Here’s a look at a recent report from Environment Canada on Canada’s GHG emissions trends.

Environment Canada Report

The Environment Canada report explains that in December 2009, Canada signed the Copenhagen Accord, a group of 140 countries that together are responsible for 85% of global GHG emissions. The Accord was also signed by the US, China, Brazil and India, which alone account for over 40% of global emissions. By signing the Accord, Canada committed to reducing its GHG emissions to 607 Megatonnes (Mt) in 2020 or 17% below 2005 levels, which were 731 Mt. To achieve this goal, the federal government has targeted the largest sources of emissions: the transportation sector and electricity generation.

Canadian GHG emissions fell in 2008 and 2009, due in large part to the global recession. But as the economy recovers, GHG emissions are expected to begin increasing again. Environment Canada has developed scenarios for future emissions based on different assumptions about future economic and energy market developments. For example, if Canadian governments had taken no action to address climate change, the coming decade of economic growth would likely result in annual GHG emissions reaching about 850 Mt by 2020.

But Canada has taken action to reduce GHG emissions, both at the federal and provincial level. Taken together, these existing measures are having a significant impact on emissions. The report concludes that such measures will reduce GHG emissions in 2020 by about 65 Mt, which represents just one quarter of the reductions needed to reach Canada’s target of 607 Mt. by 2020. So further measures are still needed to close the gap.

Of course, when compared to the rest of the world, Canada’s GHG emissions are a drop in the bucket. According to the World Resources Institute’s 2005 analysis of reported gross GHGs by country of origin, Canada accounts for less than 2% of total global emissions. (See the chart on page X.) Canada’s share of total global emissions is expected to decline in the face of the expected rapid emissions growth from developing countries, particularly China and India, even if its emissions aren’t reduced any further. But the plan is still to reduce the country’s overall emissions to reach the 2020 target.

Bottom Line

Existing GHG emissions regulation by the federal and provincial governments has helped to reduce Canada’s overall emissions. But there’s still a long way to go. So if your company emits GHGs, expect additional regulation in the future.