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Climate change is having a major impact on Canada with an increase in severe weather a big concern.

Canada projected to miss its 2020 greenhouse gas commitment by wide margin

Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Wednesday, December 10, 2014, 2:26 PM - A new Environment Canada report released on Monday has revealed that our nation is setting itself up to fall well-short of commitments made toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.

When representatives from nations around the world met in Copenhagen, in 2009, Canada made a commitment to cut back on the release of greenhouse gases (GHG) from our various economic sectors, promising that by the year 2020, we will have reduced the country's emissions to just 611 million metric tons per year - 17 per cent less than we were emitting in the year 2005.

This would represent a nearly 250 megaton drop from the emission levels estimated for the year 2020, for the case where no reduction measures were in place. This would be a significant step for the country, and these efforts would help the world stay on track to limit the future impacts of climate change, which are projected to become more and more unmanageable - economically or otherwise - over time.

However, the message contained in the latest report detailing Canada's emission projections for the next six years is that we're simply not doing enough to meet that goal.

Even with 'current measures' in place - those emission reduction plans that were in place or signed into effect as of May 2013 - the report's projections have Canada's emission total at 727 megatons by 2020, which is only 1.2 per cent below the 2005 levels. While that is a definite improvement over what would have been a nearly 17 per cent rise over 2005 levels (for the 'no measures' scenario), it's only a little over half of the way towards our target.

Figure ES-1
Canada's past, present and projected greenhouse gas emissions, from the 'Canada's Emission Trends 2014' report. Credit: Environment Canada

Why is this important? The '17 per cent below 2005 emission levels' commitment was not arbitrarily chosen. These are the reductions that are needed to help us avoid catastrophic climate disruption. Thus, actually keeping these commitments is crucial.

RELATED: U.S. Climate report: Time is now for Canada to take action on climate change

In Parliament on Tuesday, when the question was raised about the possibility of regulating Canada's oil and gas industry, Stephen Harper reportedly replied: "Under the current circumstances of the oil and gas sector, it would be crazy ... it would be crazy economic policy to do unilateral penalties on that sector. We're clearly not going to do it."

"This government has been clear that we want to see oil and gas regulations on a continental basis, given the integrated nature of the industry," he added, according to a Canadian Press report on CBC.ca. "With the current conditions in the oil and gas sector, this government will not consider unilateral regulation of that sector."

Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq - who is currently attending the latest UN climate conference in Lima, Peru - supported the Prime Minister's message. According to CBC report, she outlined a plan to address emissions from energy production, to refine vehicle emission standards along with the United States, and even limiting the release of potent, but overall lesser greenhouse gases, such as methane and hydrofluorocarbons. Any plans to reduce emissions by the oil and gas sector, including tar sands oil production, appear to be tied up in 'continental' or 'North American' approaches, which apparently require action from the United States first.

RELATED: UN Climate Conference 2014: Can we still be optimistic about only 2 degrees of warming?

Critics of this message weren't shy in expressing their views.

According to the Globe and Mail, Liberal MP John McKay, the party's environment critic, said that the Conservatives, and Mr. Harper in particular, seem to be pushing the issue of climate change on to the provinces to deal with.

"They are making no progress and they [couldn't] care less," he said in the interview.

NDP environment critic Megan Leslie weighed in as well, telling CBC News: "The prime minister stood up today and for the first time admitted that they are not going to regulate the oil and gas sector. So he admitted that they are breaking their promise. This was the sector that they promised - in 2007, the prime minister stood in the House of Commons and made that promise and many environment ministers after that. They are abandoning it, they are abandoning meeting our goals."

In a separate report by CBC News, Keith Stewart of Greenpeace Canada addressed Minister Aglukkaq's message by saying: "I don't understand how the environment minister can continue to stall on limiting emissions from the oil industry when her own ministry's data shows that the rapidly rising pollution from the tar sands is what prevents Canada from keeping its word on the world stage."

Wait and see?

This 'wait and see' approach, which has been used by many of the world's nations (Canada included) for years now, has stalled any progress on emission reductions. The 'wait' has been for the biggest players on the GHG stage - the United States, China and India - to come through with strong action. The fear has been that, until these major players act, any action by minor players would have no consequence and would, therefore, needlessly impact on economic growth.

However, with the United States and China making a strong commitment towards addressing their emissions at this year's UN Climate Summit in New York, the hope is that the wait will be over.

RELATED: US and China strike landmark climate change and clean energy deal

This will be put to the test over the next year. The purpose of the COP 20 conference, currently going on in Lima, is to lay down a framework for a new climate deal to be signed into effect at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, in Paris, France. With two of the major players now on board, we'll simply have to wait and see if this spurs the kind of action we need to tackle the issue of climate change, and have a real, meaningful impact on the future.

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