Climate change in Canada
In 2000 Canada ranked ninth out of 186 countries in terms of per capita greenhouse gas emissions without taking into account land use changes. In 2005 it ranked eighth. In 2009, Canada was ranked seventh in total greenhouse gas emissions behind Germany and Japan.
Canada is a large country with a low population density, so transportation – often in cold weather when fuel efficiency drops – is a big part of the economy. About 25 per cent of Canada's greenhouse gases (GHG)s come from trucks, trains, airplanes and, especially, cars. Commerce, residential fuel consumption and industry (excluding oil and gas) account for 24 per cent of the total, but much of those emissions come from equipment (mining trucks, front-end loaders) that do not get recorded in the transportation ledger. Another 14 per cent come from non-energy sources. The rest come from the production and manufacture of energy and power. The following table summarizes forecast changes to annual emissions by sector in megatonnes.
|Sector||2004 total||2004-2010 increase||2010-2020 increase||2020 total|
|Upstream oil and gas||127||7||-10||124|
|Upgrading and refining heavier oil||29||34||25||87|
|Commercial and residential||83||1||13||97|
|Non-energy (mostly agriculture)||108||8||11||127|
As Canada creates targets for GHG reductions, policymakers will likely zero in on the three areas – transportation, electricity generation and fossil fuel production – in which the greatest reductions are possible. Together, these activities account for nearly two-thirds of Canada's greenhouse gases. Efficiencies can be found there.
According to Canada's Energy Outlook, the Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) report, NRCan estimates that Canada's GHG emissions will increase by 139 million tonnes between 2004 and 2020, with more than a third of the total coming from petroleum production and refining. Upstream emissions will decline slightly, primarily from gas field depletion and from increasing production of coalbed methane, which requires less processing than conventional natural gas. Meanwhile, emissions from unconventional resources and refining will soar. However, the estimates for carbon emissions differ amongst Environment Canada, World Resources Institute and the International Energy Agency by nearly 50%. The reasons for the differences have not been determined.
Canada is a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol. However, the Liberal government that later signed the accord took little action towards meeting Canada's greenhouse gas emission targets. Although Canada committed itself to a 6% reduction below the 1990 levels for the 2008-2012 as a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol, the country did not implement a plan to reduce greenhouse gases emissions. Soon after the 2006 federal election, the new minority government of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that Canada could and would not meet Canada's commitments. The House of Commons passed several opposition-sponsored bills calling for government plans for the implementation of emission reduction measures.
Canadian and North American environmental groups feel that Canada lacks credibility on environmental policy and regularly criticizes Canada in international venues. In the last few months of 2009, Canada's attitude was criticized at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) conference, at the Commonwealth summit, and the Copenhagen conference.
In 2011, Canada, Japan and Russia stated that they would not take on further Kyoto targets. The Canadian government invoked Canada's legal right to formally withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol on 12 December 2011. Canada was committed to cutting its greenhouse emissions to 6% below 1990 levels by 2012, but in 2009 emissions were 17% higher than in 1990. Environment minister Peter Kent cited Canada's liability to "enormous financial penalties" under the treaty unless it withdrew. He also suggested that the recently signed Durban agreement may provide an alternative way forward. Canada's decision was strongly criticised by representatives of other ratifying countries, including France and China.
|This section requires expansion. (January 2010)|
The Canadian Wildlife Federation (CWF), one of the largest conservation organisations in the country, takes an active stance in lobbying on mitigation of global warming. According to CWF the organisation recognised the need for action in 1977. It had published Checkerspot, a now discontinued biannual climate change magazine.
Climate change by province
While the federal government was slow to develop a monitoring and credible reduction regime, several provincial governments have established substantial programs to reduce emissions on their respective territories. British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec have joined the Western Climate Initiative, a group of 7 states of the Western United States whose aim is to establish a common framework to establish a carbon credit market. These provinces have also made commitments regarding the reduction and announced concrete steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Reduction programs in other provinces, especially in Alberta, are much less developed, according to the environmental think tank, the Pembina Institute, who stresses that "Alberta's targets are dangerously weak and out of step with the large majority of jurisdictions in the industrialized world."
Canada's two largest provinces, Ontario and Quebec, are wary of federal policies shifting the burden of greenhouse reductions on them in order to give Alberta and Saskatchewan more room to further develop their tar sands reserves, therefore chilling relations between the 13 provinces and territories.
In Alberta there has been a trend of high summer temperatures and low summer precipitation. This has led much of Alberta to face drought conditions. Drought conditions are negatively impacting on the agriculture sector of this province, mainly the cattle ranching area. When there is a drought there is a shortage of feed for cattle (hay, grain). With the shortage on crops ranchers are forced to purchase the feed at the increased prices while they can. For those who cannot afford to pay top money for feed are forced to sell their herds.
During the drought of 2002, Ontario had a good season and produced enough crops to send a vast amount of hay to those hit the hardest in Alberta. However this is not something that can or will be expected every time there is a drought in the prairie provinces. This causes a great deficit in income for many as they are buying heads of cattle for high prices and selling them for very low prices. By looking at historical forecasts, there is a strong indication that there is no true way to estimate or to know the amount of rain to expect for the upcoming growing season. This does not allow for the agricultural sector to plan accordingly.
The extreme weather events of greatest concern in British Columbia include heavy rain and snow falls, heat waves, and drought. They are linked to flooding and landslides, water shortages, forest fires, reduced air quality, as well as costs related to damage to property and infrastructure, business disruptions, and increased illness and morality. In recent years, significant extreme events and climate impacts in BC have included:
- the pine beetle epidemic, which resulted in 18 million hectares of dead forest and economic impacts for forest dependent communities; 
- 330,000 hectares of forest lost to forest fire in the 2010 fire season alone, and the loss of 334 homes in the 2003 forest fire season;
- flooding in 2010 leading to the destruction of the Bella Coola highway and evacuation of residents from Kingcome Inlet; and
- heat waves, including the one in the summer of 2009, which are associated with increases in heat stroke and respiratory illness.
BC has implemented many ambitious policies to address climate change mitigation, particularly through its Climate Action Plan, released in 2008. It has set legislated greenhouse gas reduction targets of 33% below 2007 levels by 2020 and 80% by 2050. BC’s revenue neutral carbon tax is the first of its kind in North America. It was introduced at $10/tonne of CO2e in 2008 and has risen by $5/tonne annual increases until it reached $30/tonne in 2012, where the rate has remained. It is required in legislation that all revenues from the carbon tax are returned to British Columbians through tax cuts in other areas.
BC’s public sector became the first in North America to be carbon neutral in 2010. The Clean Energy Vehicles Program provides incentives for the purchase of approved clean energy vehicles and for charging infrastructure installation. There has been action across sectors including financing options and incentives for building retrofits, a Forest Carbon Offset Protocol, a Renewable and Low Carbon Fuel Standard, and Landfill Gas Management Regulation.
BC’s GHG emissions have been going down, and in 2012 (based on 2010 data) BC declared it was within reach of meeting its interim target of a 6% reduction below 2007 levels by 2012. GHG emissions went down by 4.5% between 2007 and 2010, and consumption of all the main fossil fuels are down in BC as well while GDP and population have both been growing.
In 2010, BC launched its Adaptation Strategy which focuses on building knowledge and tools to guide decision making affected by future climate, integrating adaptation into government business, and building adaptation approaches for key sectors such as agriculture and industry.
Ontario is Canada’s most populated province  and, in 2010, had the second highest greenhouse gas emissions inventory in the country. In 1990, Ontario’s greenhouse gas emissions were 176 megatonnes (Mt) of CO2 equivalent. According to Canada’s 2012 National Inventory Report  Ontario’s emissions were 171 Mt in 2010, an amount that represented 25% of Canada’s total emissions for that year. Over the 20-year period between 1990 and 2010, Ontario’s emissions continued to increase until the mid-2000s. Emissions declined significantly in 2008-2009 due in large part to the economic recession. In 2010, Ontario emitted 12.95 tonnes per person, compared with the Canadian average of 20.3 tonnes per person.
In August 2007, the Ontario government released Go Green: Ontario’s Action Plan on Climate Change. The plan established three targets: a 6% reduction in emissions by 2014, 15% by 2020 and 80% by 2050. The government has committed to report annually on the actions it is taking to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change. With the initiatives currently in place, the government projects it will achieve 90% of the reductions needed to meet its 2014 target, and only 60% of those needed to meet the 2020 target.
The largest emissions reductions to date have come from the phase out of coal-fired power generation by Ontario Power Generation. In August 2007, the government issued a regulation that required the end of coal burning at Ontario’s four remaining coal-fired power plants by the end of 2014. Since 2003, emissions from these plants have dropped from 36.5 Mt to 4.2 Mt. In January 2013, the government announced that coal will be completely phased out one year early, by the end of 2013.
Through the Green Energy and Green Economy Act, 2009 Ontario implemented a feed-in tariff to promote the development of renewable energy generation. Ontario is also a member of the Western Climate Initiative. In January 2013, a discussion paper was posted on the Environmental Registry seeking input on the development of a greenhouse gas emissions reduction program for industry.
Over the years, transportation emissions have continued to increase. Growing from 44.8 Mt in 1990 to 59.5 Mt in 2010, transportation is responsible for the largest amount of greenhouse gas emissions in the province. Efforts to reduce these emissions include investing in public transit and providing incentives for the purchase of electric vehicles.
As required by the Environmental Bill of Rights, 1993, the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario does an independent review and reports annually to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario on the progress of activities in the province to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Greenhouse gas emissions increased by 3.8% in Quebec between 1990 and 2007, to 85.7 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent. At 11.1 tonnes per capita, Quebec's emissions are well below the Canadian average (22.1 tonnes) and accounted for 11.6% of Canada's total in 2007.
The latest data confirm a strong trend towards declining emissions in the industrial and residential sectors, which decreased by 23.6% and 27.9% respectively and a sharp rise in transportation (+29.5%) and in the tertiary sector (+53.2%). Emissions in the electricity sector have also spiked in 2007, due to the operation of the TransCanada Energy combined cycle gas turbine in Becancour. The generating station, Quebec's largest source of greenhouse gas emissions that year, released 1,687,314 tonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2007 or 72.1% of all emissions from the sector and 2% of total emissions. The plant was closed in 2008 in 2009 and in 2010.
Between 1990 — the reference year of the Kyoto Protocol — and 2006, Quebec's population grew by 9.2% and Quebec's GDP of 41.3%. The emission intensity relative to GDP declined from 28.1% during this period, dropping from 4,500 to 3,300 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per million dollars of gross domestic product (GDP).
In May 2009, Quebec became the first juridsiction in the Americas to impose an emissions cap after the Quebec National Assembly passed a bill capping emissions from certain sectors. The move was coordinated with a similar policy in the neighboring province of Ontario and reflects the commitment of both provinces as members of the Western Climate Initiative.
On November 23, 2009, the Quebec government pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 20% below the 1990 base year level by 2020, a goal similar to that adopted by the European Union. The government intends to achieve its target by promoting public transit, electric vehicles and intermodal freight transport. The plan also calls for the increased use of wood as a building material, energy recovery from biomass, and a land use planning reform. According to simulations conducted with Quebec's Ministry of Finance econometric model, the reduction goal should impact the province's real GDP by 0.16% in 2020.
Impacts on forestry
According to Environment Canada’s 2011 annual report, there is evidence that some regional areas within the western Canadian boreal forest have increased by 2°C since 1948. The rate of the changing climate is leading to drier conditions in the boreal forest, which leads to a whole host of subsequent issues. This leads to a challenge for the forestry industry to sustainably manage and conserve trees within boreal forest. Climate change will have a direct impact on the productivity of the boreal forest, as well as health and regeneration. As a result of the rapidly changing climate, trees are migrating to higher latitudes and altitudes (northward), but some species may not be migrating fast enough to follow their climatic habitat. Moreover, trees within the southern limit of their range may begin to show declines in growth. Drier conditions are also leading to a shift from conifers to aspen in more fire and drought-prone areas.
Assisted migration of tree species within the boreal forest is one tool that has been proposed and is currently under study. It involves deliberately moving tree species to locations that may better climatically suit them in the future. For species that may not be able to disperse easily, have long generation times or have small populations, this form of adaptative management and human intervention may help them survive in this rapidly changing climate. Assisted migration may offer a potential option to lessen the risks that climate change poses to towards maintaining a sustainable industry, in terms of productivity and health.
There may be benefits and/or consequences to applying assisted migration on wide scale in Canada. Assisted migration may prevent the extinction of certain tree species, enable and conserve market-based goods such as wood products, and conserve processes and services of an ecosystem. Unfortunately, assisted migration could result in competition between the already established trees with the introduced trees, breeding of the introduced trees with established trees or the disruption of key ecological processes. Any decision made on assisted migration to be implemented in the forestry industry will need continued and rely on informed research and long-term studies.
|in kt CO2 equivalent||Change 1990-2008 (%)||Share in 2008 (%)|
|Electricity and Heat Generation||95,500||101,000||132,000||127,000||125,000||117,000||125,000||119,000||24.6%||16.2%|
|Fossil Fuel Industries||51,000||54,000||66,000||72,000||66,000||66,000||70,000||68,000||33.3%||9.3%|
|Mining & Oil and Gas Extraction||6,190||7,840||10,400||14,900||15,600||16,800||23,200||23,900||286.1%||3.3%|
|Commercial & Institutional||25,700||28,900||33,100||37,700||36,700||33,400||34,900||34,900||35.8%||4.8%|
|in kt CO2 equivalent||Change 1990-2008 (%)||Share in 2008 (%)|
|Newfoundland and Labrador||9,450||8,250||8,720||10,100||10,100||9,530||10,700||10,100||6.9%||1.4%|
|Prince Edward Island||1,980||1,880||2,200||2,290||2,230||2,110||2,070||1,970||0.5%||0.3%|
- Arctic Climate Impact Assessment
- Climate change in the Arctic
- Environmental issues in Canada
- List of countries by greenhouse gas emissions per capita
- List of countries by ratio of GDP to carbon dioxide emissions
- March 2012 North American heat wave
- Regional effects of global warming
- 2012 North American drought
- Summer 2012 North American heat wave
- List of articles about Canadian tar sands
Notes and references
- Some emissions are only reported at the national level.
- "WRI Climate Analysis Indicators Tool (registration required to access data)".
- Canada's Energy Outlook: The Reference Case 2006
- Beyond Bali
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- Ontario Regulation 496/07 – Cessation of Coal Use – Atikokan, Lambton, Nanticoke and Thunder Bay Generating Stations, issued under the Environmental Protection Act.
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- Cleaner Air and More Green Space for Ontarians to Enjoy: McGuinty Government Closing Coal Plants Earlier, Growing Greenbelt. January 20, 2013
- An Act to enact the Green Energy Act, 2009 and to build a green economy, to repeal the Energy Conservation Leadership Act, 2006 and the Energy Efficiency Act and to amend other statutes.
- Climate Ready: Ontario’s Adaptation Strategy and Action Plan 2011 – 2014
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- Ste-Marie, C.; E.A. Nelson, A. Dabros and M.E. Bonneau (2011). "Assisted migration: Introduction to a multifaceted concept". Forestry Chronicle 87 (6): 724–730.
- Environment Canada (15 April 2010). National Inventory Report Greenhouse Gas Sources and Sinks in Canada 1990–2008 (3 volumes). UNFCCC.
- Canada's Action on Climate Change - Government of Canada
- Environment Canada - Climate Change page
- Canadian Wildlife Federation - Climate change page
- map showing average changes in ice thickness in centimeters per year from 2003 to 2010 with 4 cm ice mass loss shown within Nunuvut
- Leahy, Stephen (2010-03-18). "Canadian government 'hiding truth about climate change', report claims". Guardian. Retrieved 26 March 2010.