What The Heck IS Canada’s Climate Policy?

On May 15, 2015 Canada announced its contribution to the global effort to reduce greenhouse gases by announcing its post-2020 target. The target announced today is off-track to the 80 percent cut by 2050 they committed to in 2009 and significantly higher than the U.S. target. The Harper government also announced a series of new measures, but failed to address Canada’s largest source of growing emissions – tar sands.

Here’s what Danielle Droitsch from the NRDC had to say about the Canadian government’s lack of imagination and courage in tackling this global problem:

Canada’s climate target is less-than-meets-the-eye and another disappointing sign of its reluctance to fight climate change. Yet again, Canada blithely ignores addressing its largest source of climate pollution, its tar sands oil development. President Obama has one more reason to reject the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline, which would be a disaster for the climate and is not in America’s national interest.”

The Canadian government is submitting its “Intended Nationally Determined Contribution” to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, announcing the emissions reduction target the country would commit to as a part of the new agreement in Paris this December. Several other countries have submitted their post-2020 targets including the U.S. and Mexico, as well as the E.U.

This target shows that Canada isn’t prepared to take the bold steps necessary to help address climate change. (Read more here)

Canada is not currently on a trajectory to meet our stated 2050 targets, our goals are weaker than the United States’ even though in the past the Harper government has pledged to follow that country’s lead, and this government contiues to fail to regulate our country’s largest growing source of emissions, the Alberta oil sands.

Click here to access the pdf of Canada’s submission to UNFCC.

canada's climate goals


On October 7, 2014, Canada’s Environment Commissioner, Julie Gelfand, expressed her disappointment that Canada is only 7% of the way to meeting our Copenhagen objectives. Our oil and gas sector has the fasting rising emissions. The Harper government has not fullfilled its 2008 promise of regulation of GHG emissions in the oil and gas sector and plans to regulate emissions have been kept secret.  To read Citizens’ Climate Lobby Canada’s response to Gelfand’s report, click here.



The truth is, Canada’s carbon emissions would be going down except for the rising emissions from the Alberta tar (“oil”) sands.  Along with the Alberta provincial government, Canada’s current federal government under Stephen Harper is infatuated with the bitumen economy, and has placed all of its eggs in the bitumen basket, ignoring climate science and the emerging new energy economy (not to mention the impact on First Nations in Northern Alberta, and the toxic pollution of the Athabasca River watershed). There are excellent resources on the tar sands, and I’ve listed a few of them below.

DeSmogBlog: Top 10 Facts About Alberta’s Oil Sands

Pembina Institute: Beneath The Surface: A Review of the Key Facts of the Oil Sands Debate

Garth Lenz: The True Cost of Oil (photo exhibit)


For public consumption, the Harper government in Ottawa says it is concerned about climate change. What the Canadian Government says about climate change:

While the challenges with respect to climate change are great, our responsibility is also clear. We are the stewards of our environment, and we will continue to count it amongst our most cherished and defining characteristics. The time has come for real action. The moment is now and the world must act.” Former Environment Minister Jim Prentice

However, the Harper government’s approach to climate change is piecemeal and ineffective at best, and obstructive and dangerous at worst. One of the lowest moments of the minority Harper government came when the House of Commons passed Bill C311, The Climate Accountability Act, that would have seen Canada act based on the science of climate change, and Harper used his majority in the unelected Senate to kill the bill (read more at: Canadian Senators Turn Their Backs On Democracy).

The Office of the Auditor-General produced a report in the spring of 2012, Meeting Canada’s 2020 Climate Change Commitments. The main points of the report are:

Main Points

What we examined

Since 1992, the Government of Canada has made domestic and international commitments to address climate change, including commitments to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The Government of Canada has now committed to reduce its economy-wide GHG emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, in alignment with the United States. This target was set internationally in the 2009 Copenhagen Accord and has also been communicated in the 2010 Federal Sustainable Development Strategy.

In this audit we examined whether Environment Canada had established an implementation plan designed to meet the 2020 national GHG emission reduction target.

Audit work for this chapter was substantially completed on 21 February 2012. Further details on the audit objective, scope, and criteria are in About the Audit at the end of the chapter.

Why it’s important

Climate change has far-reaching impacts on Canada’s economy, infrastructure, and natural environment, and on human health. Although the Minister of the Environment announced in December 2011 that Canada would withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol, the Government of Canada remains a Party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. As such, the government is committed to achieving its national and international commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.

What we found

  • Environment Canada has indicated that the Government of Canada will use a sector-by-sector approach to regulate GHG emissions. We found that this approach lacks an overall implementation plan designed to achieve the 2020 target, as well as economic analysis to estimate what the approach will cost the Canadian economy.
  • As of February 2012, two regulations were in place to reduce GHG emissions in the transportation sector. These regulations apply to renewable fuels and to passenger automobiles and light trucks. Regulations for the third-largest GHG-emitting sector—the electricity sector—have been proposed but are not expected to take effect until 2015. Currently, no regulations are in place for the second-largest emitting sector, the oil and gas sector.
  • In July 2011, Environment Canada released Canada’s Emissions Trends, a document that outlines GHG emission reductions expected by 2020 under various scenarios. This document is an important planning tool and a step toward a transparent accounting for Canada’s efforts to reduce GHG emissions. However, the document indicates that in 2020, Canada’s GHG emissions will be 7.4 percent above 2005 levels instead of 17 percent below, and it estimates that Canada will need to reduce emissions by 178 million tonnes to meet the 2020 target. Therefore, according to Environment Canada’s forecasts, the 2020 target will not be met with existing measures.
  • Regulations are complex, and those developed to date have taken as long as five years to be developed and to realize greenhouse gas emission reductions. Existing federal regulations are expected to reduce GHG emissions by 11 to 13 million tonnes in 2020. Given that an additional 178 million tonnes in reductions are needed to meet the 2020 target, it is unlikely that enough time is left to develop and establish GHG regulations that together will contribute sufficient GHG reductions to meet the 2020 target.

In other words, our current federal government doesn’t have realistic targets, and doesn’t have any way of meeting even the unrealistic goals that they have set. Good grief.

The Harper government is ideologically opposed to good science, as it is closely allied to big business. To see the chronology of this government’s war on science, waged since winning a minority government in 2006, check out The Canadian War on Science: A long, devastating chronological indictment on ScienceBlogs.com.

What the world says about Canada and climate change:

  • Fossil of the Year goes to CANADA, for bringing a totally unacceptable position into Copenhagen and refusing to strengthen it one bit.  Canada’s 2020 target is among the worst in the industrialized world, and leaked cabinet documents revealed that the government is contemplating a cap-and-trade plan so weak that it would put even that target out of reach.

Canada has made zero progress here on financing, offering nothing for the short term or the long term beyond vague platitudes…

Canada’s performance here in Copenhagen builds on two years of delay, obstruction, and total inaction.  This government thinks there’s a choice between environment and economy, and for them, tar sands beats climate every time. Canada’s emissions are headed nowhere but up.”Climate Action Network, (a group of 500 NGOs) at the end of the Copenhagen Conference, December, 2009

  • Karsten Sach, the head of the German delegation, stated at the Bali Climate Conference in 2007:  “We Europeans don’t see the Canadian position as constructive.”
  • To express their unhappiness with Canada’s position at recent climate talks in Thailand, the South African delegation stood up and led the Group of 77 developing nations – except for a group of small island states – out of the room when Canada addressed the conference.
  • In 2011, Canada was near the bottom of  the industrialized countries in the Climate Change Performance Index (54th out of 61, keeping company with Poland, China, and Saudi Arabia).

In December, 2011, Canada’s Environment Minister Peter Kent signaled that Harper Government’s  intention to withdraw from the Kyoto protocol, the only international agreement to address the problem of rising global carbon emissions and the result global warming. This makes Canada the only nation to pull out of the treaty, although the U.S. never ratified the treaty.

So  why the discrepancy between the lofty words on the Government of Canada website and the reality of the Canadian government’s policy?

Jim Hoggan, founder of PR firm James Hoggan and Associates and DeSmogBlog.com, explains it this way:

“The Canadian government’s climate plan is pure politics – pure public relations. It’s all hot air, with no regulation or legislation to back it up. The government is not passing laws to limit greenhouse gas emissions. It is not setting science-based targets and it’s not financing renewable energy.”

Our federal government has been saying that it is taking climate change seriously while its actions have been showing the exact opposite. Here are some recent examples:

In November, 2010, the unelected Conservative senators killed Bill C311, the Climate Accountability Act, which had been passed by the elected members of the House of Commons. In this unprecedented move, Stephen Harper and his party destroyed the only science-based climate legislation that Canada has. The result is that they have no response to the most pressing issue of our time, because to PM Harper apparently it isn’t important. Harper famously said, before the G20 meetings in June 2010, that the only important thing to focus on was the economy, and everything else was “just noise”.  Apparently Big Oil executives and the prime ministers who hang out with them don’t have to live on the same planet as the rest of us. Nor do their children and grandchildren.  For more information on the death of Bill C311, click here.

Unfortunately for Canadians, Harper and his minions aren’t just killing climate change legislation in Canada, they are also working hand in hand with Big Oil and the Alberta government to kill clean energy legislation outside our borders.  A report released by Climate Action Network Canada in November 2010, Tar Sands’ Long Shadow: Canada’s Campaign to Kill Climate Change Policy Outside Our Borders, documents at least three cases in which the Harper Government and the government  of Alberta colluded with the oil industry to weaken climate change policies. Click here for more info.

Staying true to form, in November, 2010 the Harper government also ended funding for the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences, Canada’s only climate research organization.This confirms this government’s intransigence on moving towards clean energy and tackling this vital issue head-on. Instead, the Harper Government is stuck in the 20th century in its vision and understanding. The words ‘transition’  and ‘renewable energy” don’t seem to be part of the Conservative vocabulary.

Here’s Canadian author and activist Naomi Klein speaking about the current federal government’s push to brand Alberta tar sands oil as “ethical” as well as its increasingly well-deserved reputation as an oil industry cheerleader:


Let’s take a closer look at what the government claims and what it is actually doing:

This is what the Canadian government said was its positions and priorities at Copenhagen, according to a “Factsheet” from a Government of Canada website:

The science is clear: urgent action on climate change is required. The impacts of climate change are evident, particularly in the Arctic. At Copenhagen, Canada will work constructively to achieve a global consensus on a legally-binding international climate change agreement
that is fair, environmentally-effective and comprehensive.

The same fact sheets states that Canada’s approach to Copenhagen is based on 5 principles. Click on them to read more about the reality of the federal government’s actions:

#1:  Balancing environmental protection and economic prosperity.

#2 : Maintaining a long-term focus….contributing to the goal of a 50% reduction in global emissions by 2050.

#3:  Engaging and seeking commitments from all major economies.

#4:  Developing and deploying clean technologies.

#5:  Supporting constructive and ambitious global action.

The government paper goes on to say that “the shared vision” at Copenhagen should emphasize the importance of global action, and the importance of  “long-term cooperative action to achieve low-carbon growth and sustainable development.”  To be effective, the paper states, “all Parties, with the exception of the least developed, should undertake mitigation action…”  According to the government document:

Canada is committed to a mid-term, economy-wide reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 20% from 2006 levels by 2020. Canada has also committed to undertake a full suite of policies and measures as part of a long-term, low-carbon sustainable growth pathway to reach emissions reductions of 60-70% from 2006 levels by 2050…

and here’s a very sticky point:

Developing countries, with the exception of the least-developed, should commit to nationally-appropriate mitigation actions that, at a minimum, lead to a substantial deviation from business-as-usual by around 2020,based on their mitigation potential and national circumstances.

The paper goes on to make further points about the need for enhanced action on adaptation as well as increased action on finance and investment.

This page will continue to be updated with more analysis of the reality of the Canadian government’s action (or inaction) on  this crucial issue.  Stay tuned!

More links and resources:

Harper Government Closes World-Class Experimental Lakes Area, known for identifying effects of acid rain and phosphates on our water system, and currently looking at effects of climate change on freshwater.


Canada First Country To Pull Out of UN Drought Convention

Harper Government Receives Diplomatic Spanking Over Climate Policies

Canadian Senators Turn Their Backs On Democracy and Kill Bill C311, The Climate Accountability Act


Canada pulls out of UN desertification working group

5 thoughts on “What The Heck IS Canada’s Climate Policy?”

  1. I can’t find a site that allows me to join a Canadian Petition to halt off-shore drilling in Canada. Can you enlighten me? If there isn’t one, how come?

  2. Good question Judi. My guess as to why the focus of petitions to get the US to halt offshore drilling is because that’s where the disaster is happening right now, plus a lot of Canadian activist attention is focused on the ongoing disaster of the Alberta tar sands. But you’re absolutely right, the same kind of oil catastrophe could be happening off the East coast of Canada, or in the Arctic. It seems that the drilling that is being considered in the Arctic is significantly deeper than the well that is spewing oil in the Gulf.

    I did find some info – WWF and Sierra Club Canada have been working to shed light on this issue, especially after the recent BP disaster which happened to be when the NEB was holding hearings on offshore drilling in Ottawa. Sierra Club Canada (SCC) is calling for a moratorium on offshore drilling. WWF Canada is calling for an expansion in the National Energy Board (NEB) regulatory review regarding off shore drilling – here are some info and links:


    As for petitions, the only one I could find was this one by the Dogwood Initiative based on the West Coast which targets a pipeline designated to carry oil from the tar sands through their province:

    If you are on Facebook, there is a “Ban Offshore Drilling in Canada” group (http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/group.php?gid=117244764965637 ) . On that group I found Canada-specific info about the “Hands Across the Sands” protest that is being organized as a result of the Gulf disaster:

    And here’s some news you may not want to hear, about the spills that have already happened in our pristine arctic:

    Hope this helps!

  3. The Canadian government will do nothing, because to take strong action would entail pissing off Alberta. We love the revenues the Tar Sands bring in – hey, it’s PROSPERITY! I find it ironic that the only economic interest that matters are those of big oil. Assume, for just a minute, that climate change is real, and that inaction will result in significant levles of CO2, with disastrous consequences. No serious scientist not on thepayroll of Exxon or Suncor would argue otherwise. So, who pays the consequences in the future? Farmers around the world who will have to contend with droughts and floods. Any industry that depends on fisheries or forest products. Individual consumers who will have to pay to cool houses in the summer becuase of abnormally high temperatures, and heat their homes during unprecedented cold spells. How about ski hill operators, vacation lodges, even people with homes on the water that will be engulfed by higher water levels and more virulent storms? Unfortunately, the Tories have proven that Canada is no better, and perhaps even worse than the “pay to play” polictics of the US. Take action sheeple. No number of $80K year jobs in the tar sands are worth this. And frankly, no one has the right to affect any other peoples economic well being because it just happens to be really, really good for their own. I’m disgusted for the first time to be a Canadian.

  4. I have to agree with everything you said, Jeff. We are saddled with a government that seems to think the economy trumps everything, as if there’s a viable economy without a viable planet.

    I do hope you turn your strong feelings into action – join with other people who feel the same way as you do. There are oasis of hope all across our wonderful country – people who are working in the Transition Town movement, for example, or Citizens Climate Lobby groups which are starting up. It may feel overwhelming, but at the end of the day it feels a whole lot better to look the next generation in the eye (whether they’re your children, your nieces and nephews, or the kid down the street) and say that you/we did everything we could to make their world a safe and secure place for them to raise their own children.

  5. The Government of Ontario is working towards improving climate change through its MicroFIT Free Solar program. Under the program, homeowners get the opportunity to develop a small or “micro” renewable electricity generation project (10 kilowatts (kW) or less in size) on their property and also get paid a guaranteed price over a 20-year term. This is a huge investment opportunity for all the home owners who qualify to not only do their bit for the environment but also generate revenue.

    I feel that the Government involvement in increasing tremendously to increase awareness and create programs that motivate and benefit everyone.


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