Contributed by Robert Lyman © 2017

Robert Lyman is an Ottawa energy policy consultant, former public servant of 27 years and a diplomat for 10 years prior.

Before and after the recent COP 23 Conference in Bonn, Germany, Canadian politicians made several statements about the progress that Canada is making in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and about their confidence that, through international collaboration, the goals set for future emissions reduction will be met. The media rarely, if ever, focuses on what these claims mean in terms of quantitative emissions reductions or sectoral impacts.

mckenna heads to Germany to defend Canada's slow start nov 2017

Global News story link below

To offer some insights into these matters, I thought it would be useful to review the projections of Canada’s future GHG emissions as published by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) and published in Canada’s Second Biennial Report on Climate Change.


That report, published in 2016, was based upon a prior ECCC report entitled, National Inventory Report: Greenhouse Gas Sources and Sinks in Canada 1990-2013.


The Targets


Canada’s GHG emissions in 1990 were 591 megatonnes (Mt). They rose to 749 Mt in 2005 and then to 726 Mt in 2013. Successive Canadian governments have established targets for future emissions reduction using 2005 as the formal base year. Thus, the target for 2020 is a 17% reduction below 2005 levels, or 622 Mt, and that for 2030 is a 30% reduction below 2005 levels, or 524 Mt. Some provincial governments have established much more demanding targets.


Projected Emission Levels


In the Second Biennial Report, ECCC modelers presented their projections of future emissions in total and by economic sector using the business–as-usual, or “under current measures” scenario. This is a way to show what currently approved and implemented policy and program measures will achieve and the size of the “gaps” that will potentially be filled by future policy and program measures.

The projections by economic sector are summarized in my table 1.

 Table 1




2013   2020


Oil and gas
























Waste and others








*Emissions Intensive Industries

These projections are notable for a few reasons. Under current policies, Canada will fail to meet the emission reduction targets set for 2020 and 2030.  Indeed, emissions will continually grow from current levels. This is exactly what has been our experience with previous targets. ECCC foresees a sizable reduction in the emissions associated with electricity generation due to the elimination of coal-fired power plants. It also projects a modest decline in transportation emissions due to fuel efficiency regulations and some optimistic assumptions about the future penetration of electric vehicle technology. Apart from this, emissions are projected to be stable or growing in all sectors.


Sectoral Trends


It is easy to see the “villain” of this particular story. If one considers the projected changes in emissions over the period 2005 to 2030, total emissions would grow by 66 Mt, but emissions from oil and gas production would grow by 85 Mt, thereby offsetting whatever emissions reductions occur in the other sectors. This goes a long way to explaining why the oil and gas industry is the target of so much adverse attention from the environmentalist community. The assumptions underlying this projection are that conventional oil production will decline slightly from today’s levels by 2030, but natural gas production will rise from 6.45 trillion cubic feet  (tcf) in 2013 to 7.44 tcf in 2030, and oil sands production will rise from 2.1 million barrels per day (mmb/d) in 2013 to 4.3 mmb/d in 2030.


Emissions from electricity generation are projected to decline from 85 Mt in 2005 to 58 Mt in 2030, with coal-related emissions dropping from 64 Mt in 2013 to 24 Mt in 2030 (but still occurring, contrary to policy statements). Emissions from natural gas-fired generation are projected to almost double from 16 Mt in 2013 to 30 Mt in 2030. This will clearly attract a great deal of policy attention in future.


Emissions from passenger transportation (cars, trucks, buses, rail and aviation) are projected to decline from 185 Mt in 2013 to 138 Mt in 2030. (This comes under the heading of “I will believe it when I see it.”), while emissions from freight transport are projected to rise from 118 Mt in 2013 to 141 Mt in 2030, based presumably upon the expectation that that the economy will grow.


Emissions intensive industries include mining, smelting and refining of metals, pulp and paper, iron and steel, cement, lime and gypsum, and chemicals and fertilizers producers. Emissions from these industries are projected to grow from 76 Mt in 2013 to 107 Mt in 2030, with the largest growth occurring in chemicals and fertilizers.


Emissions from residential and commercial buildings are projected to grow from 86 Mt in 2013 to 109 Mt in 2030, with most of that occurring in the commercial sector, as residences may be affected by stringent (and costly) new building codes.


The Gaps


The estimated gap between the “under current measures” scenario and the 2020 target is 146 Mt, which would increase to 291 Mt by 2030. The 2030 gap, in other words, is equivalent to more than Canada’s total 2013 emissions from energy production, including every oil and gas facility and every electricity generator.


Further, that’s just the beginning. The federal targets notionally accepted in international discussions for 2050 would include 50 to 70% reductions in emissions from 2005 levels by 2050, or emissions levels of 363 Mt or 218 Mt.


The transformation of the Canadian energy economy that would be required to meet these targets is extraordinary. Attaining such a transformation would require far more stringent and costly measures than any of those experienced or even discussed to date.


Having the numbers at hand may, one hopes, allow Canadians better to grasp what lies ahead if the country stays on its current policy path.


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