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‘Catastrophic’: Canada set to miss 2030 emissions target by 15%, UN report says

UN warns global temperature rises could bring 'destructive' effects

A grim report published on Tuesday says the world must reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 7.6 per cent each year in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.

In its annual Emissions Gap Report, the United Nations Environment Programme found that on its current trajectory, the globe will warm 3.2 degrees Celsius in less than 100 years.

Economic think tank: Canada can meet emissions targets
Economic think tank: Canada can meet emissions targets

The report’s authors also found the amount of planet-heating gases being pumped into the atmosphere hit a new high in 2017.

READ MORE: ‘Quick wins’ needed to reduce emissions, keep climate goals within reach, UN report says

“If you look at the global emissions, they are still going up,” John Christensen, lead author and director of the UNEP-Danish Technology Institute Partnership, told journalists at a briefing in Geneva. “(Carbon dioxide) has started to increase again, and it doesn’t look too good.”

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Christensen says in order to avoid the dramatic consequences of climate change, GHG emissions need to go down by at least 55 per cent by 2030.

Trump to begin U.S. withdrawal from Paris Climate Accord
Trump to begin U.S. withdrawal from Paris Climate Accord

According to the report, G20 countries — including Canada — account for 78 per cent of GHG emissions.

How does Canada measure up? And how can Canada shift its policy to limit its GHG emissions?

Here’s what experts say:

How does Canada measure up?

In its nationally determined contribution (NDC) outlined in the Paris Agreement, Canada pledged to reduce its GHG emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

During Canada’s federal election campaign, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau went a step further, saying Canada would exceed its 2030 emission goal and achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

However, according to the report, with its current policies, Canada’s emissions in 2030 are expected to be 15 per cent above its NDC target projection.

The report says Canada’s emissions are projected to be 592 megatonnes in 2030, or 223 megatonnes lower than what was projected before the adoption of the Pan-Canadian Framework for Clean Growth and Climate Change.

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In 2017, Canada accounted for 1.6 per cent of global GHG emissions, the report found.

READ MORE: Is the Liberal climate plan achievable?

In an email to Global News, Donald Wright, a political science professor at the University of New Brunswick who studies the politics of climate change, called the findings of the report “catastrophic.”

Wright says the G20 countries are “unleashing forces they can scarcely imagine, let alone manage.”

In Canada, Wright says Canada is spending “not only our carbon budget but the carbon budget of our children and grandchildren.”

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Need to shape climate change policy in a way that addresses ‘legitimate economic concerns’ of Alberta, Saskatchewan: Wilkinson

Wright says the fact that Canada is not on track to meet its NDC is “discouraging, but hardly surprising.”

“Climate policy has consistently taken a back seat to energy policy and industrial policy,” he wrote, saying it is a “continuity of failure” that stretches back to the government of former prime minister Brian Mulroney and that can be traced through the governments of Jean Chretien, Paul Martin and Stephen Harper.

He says that “to its credit,” the Trudeau government “gets climate change,” but Wright adds that it “has to solve the problem with ambitious targets and meaningful public policy.”

Wright says in order to fill in the gaps, Canada needs to become “politically serious” and develop “robust policy” to shift towards a low or no-carbon economy.

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Kathryn Harrison, a political science professor at the University of British Columbia who studies environmental, climate and energy policy, said she believes it is still possible for Canada to meet its 2030 target, but only if it acts “as soon as possible.”

“The Trudeau government has already put in place a number of policies that can be ratcheted up in ambiton over time, including tailpipe standards for motor vehicles, the carbon price, and other regulations,” said Harrison, adding that the country needs to confront the inconsistency between its climate targets and plans for continued expansion of oil production for export.

If the world increases by 3.2 degrees Celsius, Harrison said it would be much worse for Canada, who would be looking at an increase of 6 degrees Celsius of global warming.

How will climate change affect your personal health?
How will climate change affect your personal health?

“We have only a few decades to wean our civilization off fossil fuels,” said Harrison. “We’ll need to move to zero emission vehicles quickly, to build buildings that don’t rely on fossil fuels for heating, and to retrofit the large stock of existing buildings.”

According to the report, technology to help limit global warming exists, but would cost approximately $1.6 trillion to $3.8 trillion annually over the next decade. Although costly, Harrison said inaction would cost “much, much more.”

“Climate change will keep getting worse until we get planetary emissions back to net zero, that is until we stop adding more carbon to the atmosphere than is being taken out,” she said.

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“Giving up just isn’t an option. And the longer we delay, the worse the costs of climate change will be, and the more costly it will be to make even deeper annual reductions than we need today.”

Trans Mountain pipeline project

Trudeau has also taken heat for his government’s attempt to reconcile an ambitious climate plan with continuing the Trans Mountain expansion project (TMX).

In a previous interview, Angela Carter, a political science professor at the University of Waterloo, called the Liberal climate plan “contradictory,” saying it would be “extremely difficult and maybe outright impossible” to achieve the emissions reductions targets.

She told Global News that in order to stay within two degrees of warming, 70 per cent of Canadian oil “must remain in the ground.”

Harrison agrees.

“The production associated with heavy oil exports is the single largest contribution to Canada’s emissions growth since 1990 and that sector is also expected to yield the greatest emissions growth between now and 2030. If we want to create room for that growth, everything else is going to need to be cut even more deeply,” she said.

READ MORE: Canadians want to stop climate change — but half don’t want to pay an extra cent, Ipsos poll finds

“It makes it very, very difficult to meet those targets if we are also expanding oil and gas,” said Carter. “The data that I see indicates that if we’re going to let the oil and gas sector in Canada expand — as the Liberal government and also industry representatives would like it to expand — basically, that means every other sector right across Canadian society has got to undertake emissions reductions.”

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Carter said it would require “unimaginable reductions across Canadian society.”

What is net-zero emission?
What is net-zero emission?

In an effort to stifle criticism, the Liberals have vowed to invest “every dollar” earned from the TMX project into Canada’s clean energy transition and have estimated that additional federal corporate income tax revenues resulting from the project could generate $500 million per year once it has been completed.

However, British Columbia-based economist Robyn Allan, who is skeptical about the benefits of the expansion project, told the Canadian Press she has not been able to get the government to explain the figure for months and has accused the government of obstructing the information because she says the analysis won’t hold up to scrutiny.

“If they can’t tell you how it was derived, it really begs the question if there is any substance to it at all,” she said.

— With files from the Canadian Press and the Associated Press