Canada’s Emissions Targets Likely Unattainable by 2030, Environmental Commissioner Reports

Jerry DeMarco, Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development holds a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, April 20, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

The latest audit from the office of the commissioner of the environment and sustainable development delivers a stark warning: Canada is on track to miss its 2030 carbon emissions reduction targets. The federal government’s pledge to reduce emissions by at least 40 percent below 2005 levels seems increasingly out of reach, a situation that calls the nation’s commitment to the Paris Accord into question.

The commissioner’s audit, a comprehensive analysis encompassing the government’s approach to environmental initiatives, casts a long shadow over Canada’s emission reduction efforts. Despite a series of measures outlined in the 2030 Emissions Reduction Plan published in March 2022, the audit finds significant shortcomings in their implementation and effectiveness.

A Decade of Insufficient Progress

The report details the sobering reality that notable decreases in Canada’s emissions in the past 20 years occurred during periods of economic downturn, specifically the 2008 financial crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic, rather than as a result of proactive policy. This revelation underscores the challenges facing the nation’s environmental strategy.

Jerry DeMarco, the commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, scrutinized the government’s plan, questioning its credibility and inclusivity, and ultimately its capacity to meet the ambitious targets set forth.

“While the 2030 Emissions Reduction Plan included important mitigation measures to reduce emissions,” DeMarco says, “some of these measures, like the Oil and Gas Emissions Cap and the Clean Fuel Regulations, have faced delays.”

Targets Slipping Away

Initially aiming for a reduction of 40 to 45 percent, the government has since revised its projections downward, first to 36.4 percent, then to 34 percent below 2005 levels. DeMarco points out that although this would mark a notable shift for Canada, it “falls short of Canada’s commitment.”

FILE PHOTO: Petro-Canada’s Edmonton Refinery and Distribution Centre glows at dusk in Edmonton February 15, 2009. REUTERS/Dan Riedlhuber

Flaws in the Plan

The audit criticizes the plan’s lack of specific timelines and measurable targets, with 95 percent of the measures lacking clear goals for emission cuts. “Without expected emission reductions transparently available in the plan, it is not possible to know which of the mitigation measures are key,” the audit states, emphasizing the importance of such information for accountability purposes.

Modeling and Accountability Issues

The audit also highlights the issue with the optimistic assumptions underpinning the government’s emissions predictions, calling out “limited analysis of uncertainties and lack of peer review.” The need for reliable modeling is particularly critical given that Canada has not seen a sustained downward trend in emissions since 2005.

Delays and Lack of Oversight

Less than half of the government’s emission reduction measures have a defined completion deadline, leading to significant delays. “These delays increase the likelihood that Canada will miss its 2030 target,” the audit suggests, stressing that this could also contribute to a higher cumulative release of greenhouse gases.

Moreover, the report finds fault with the plan’s accountability measures, pointing out that the responsibility for reducing emissions is spread across multiple federal organizations, diluting accountability and complicating the leadership required for effective climate change mitigation.

Inclusivity and Infrastructure Concerns

Inclusivity also remains an issue, with the report finding that Indigenous groups’ participation in the plan is lacking. In addition, while progress has been made in the deployment of zero-emission vehicle infrastructure, with more charging stations being introduced, the audit found that “Natural Resources Canada did not do enough to ensure the equitable distribution of charging stations.”

Sustainable Management of Fisheries

Another point of concern raised by the commissioner pertains to Fisheries and Oceans Canada‘s inability to collect reliable data to sustainably manage commercial marine fisheries and protect fish stocks. The haunting reference to the collapse of the Atlantic cod population in the 1990s serves as a poignant reminder of the costs of not maintaining healthy fish stocks.