Canada’s new emissions-reductions target will be “on the lower end” of the 40 to 45 per cent goal that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau committed to in April, Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson told iPolitics on Wednesday.
Canada is required to file its official target with the United Nations, which will come “likely sometime in early July,” Wilkinson said.
“The number is likely to be the lower end of the target,” he said. “I’m not sure that we’ve fully defined that, but it will likely be the lower end of the range,” and will be a specific number, not a range.
At an April meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden, Trudeau promised to reduce Canada’s greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions by 40 to 45 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. That translates to Canada emitting about 440 to 400 megatonnes of GHGs per year by 2030, down from nearly 740 megatonnes in 2005. In 2019, Canada emitted 730 megatonnes, according to figures from Environment and Climate Change Canada.
The government had initially promised to meet the Paris Agreement’s 2030 target of reducing GHGs by 30 per cent below 2005 levels. Subsequent promises have been even more ambitious.
The federal government’s 2018 Pan-Canadian framework was projected to cut emissions by 19 per cent by 2030. The December 2020 Healthy Environment, Healthy Economy plan, which included increasing the carbon price from $50 per tonne of GHGs to $170 per tonne by 2030, estimated a 31 per cent reduction in GHGs by 2030. The 2021 budget investments estimated a 36 per cent reduction in GHGs, also by 2030.
The parliamentary budget officer said in a recent report that the government’s existing measures may be enough to reduce emissions by over 30 per cent, to around 470 megatonnes. It’s unclear what additional measures will be introduced to get Canada’s emissions down by 40 to 45 per cent, to between 440 and 400 megatonnes of GHGs.
“There remain a numbers of steps we need to take to achieve the target we’ve set,” Wilkinson said. “I think Canadians expect that we will continue to be ambitious, and we will speak to that in the context of the plan that we put forward” under the newly passed emissions-reductions bill.
Bill C-12, the Net-Zero Accountability Act, became law on Tuesday after a speedy process in the Senate. It sets regular five-year emissions-reduction targets, starting in 2030, as Canada seeks to produce net-zero GHG emissions by 2050. It requires the government of the day to have a credible plan, informed by an expert advisory body, to meet those targets. The bill also requires the environment commissioner to report on the government’s progress and recommend the best ways to make the required reductions. It’s modelled on similar laws in the U.K. and New Zealand.
Now that the bill is law, the government is required to produce a plan for how Canada will meet its 2030 GHG target within six months, with a possible three-month extension.
That plan will focus solely on GHG reductions and won’t include using international carbon offsets, Wilkinson said. Carbon offsets essentially allow countries to trade emissions. If Canada is on track to exceed its climate target, it can sell the unused space to another country that may have trouble meeting its own.
“Our focus is on direct emissions reductions,” he said. “At this stage, we are not, in the context of the current target, looking at international offsets as a way to achieve our climate targets.”
Wilkinson did open the door to that possibility, however, saying it depends on the outcome of international negotiations of how to structure offsets.
Article 6 of the Paris Agreement attempts to set out rules for the trade and verification of offsets, but the exact terms are being intensely debated by participating countries.
“If all of the countries around the world come to an understanding under Article 6 that will provide for emissions trading, it’s certainly possible in the future that the government of Canada would avail itself of that,” Wilkinson said.
Offsets, however, “would always be a very modest proportion of the overall reductions,” he added. “The vast majority of reductions are always going to have to come domestically.”
Wilkinson also defended the bill from criticism that the advisory body created to inform the emissions-reductions plans lacks climate scientists. The current 14-member body includes just one scientist. The U.K. advisory body has nine members, six of them scientists. In France, the 13-member High Commission on Climate Change has 11 scientists.
“It’s important to have scientific input into the body, and it’s certainly important to have scientific representation on the body,” Wilkinson said. But it’s also necessary to have people who “understand the major industries in this country, and the challenges that are faced in achieving targets,” because “regional economies are very different,” he said.
In order to get to net-zero emissions by 2050, the body must provide advice “that is actually going to work from an economic perspective; that is going to enable us to create an economy and low-carbon future that is going to provide prosperity and jobs for Canadians,” he said.
This story was copy-edited after publication.