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Canada's Carbon Cutting Pledge Is Criticized for Being the Weakest Among Leading Economies

The government announced on Friday a plan to cut emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.
May 16, 2015, 4:40pm
Photo by Dan Riedlhuber/Reuters

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The pledge to drive emissions down 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 is "in line with other major industrial countries," the government said, and reflects its "national circumstances," including a growing population, economy, and "significant natural resources."

But Environmental Defence said the Canadian pledge will simply cement its reputation as a "climate laggard" and it accused officials of continuing to "ignore both the dangerous risks of climate change and the tremendous opportunities in the clean energy economy."

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The Canadian advocacy group said the country's commitment, which came ahead of a UN climate summit in Paris at the end of the year, is the weakest in the G7.

The US has said it will cut carbon pollution 26 to 28 percent under 2005 levels by 2025, while the European Union has promised to bring them 40 percent under 1990 levels by 2030.

Japan is expected to announce a 26 percent cut from 2013 by 2030, according to Climate Action Network Canada. China, the largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world, set a goal last fall for its emissions to peak "around 2030."

On the subnational level, California has promised to cut its emissions 40 percent below 1990 amounts by 2030, while the province of Ontario vows to slash carbon pollution by 37 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.

In 2013, Canada's greenhouse gas emissions were 3.1 percent lower than 2005 levels, according to the Canadian government.

On Friday, Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq promised new regulations on methane emissions produced by the oil and gas sector, on natural gas-fired electricity, and on the production of chemicals and nitrogen fertilizers. Canada says it already has one of the cleanest electricity systems in the world, with 79 percent of its electricity supply emitting no greenhouse gases, compared to a G7 average of 38 percent.

Canada said it has spent $10 billion in technologies to promote innovation and emissions reductions and vowed to push for further improvements in the oil sands and other growing sectors although it did not specify how.

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"Canada's ambitious new target and planned regulatory actions underscore our continued commitment to cut emissions at home and work with our international partners to establish an international agreement in Paris that includes meaningful and transparent commitments from all major emitters," Aglukkaq said.

Climate Action Network said the measures are not enough. And it pressed the government to impose a moratorium on new oil sands development and a complete phase out of coal from the electricity sector. It also urged Canada to cut carbon pollution by at least 35 percent below 2005 levels, by 2025.

Related: Tensions ramp up over proposed Energy East pipeline in Canada

"Canada is currently ranked among the world's top 10 largest emitters, with Alberta — the extraction site for Canada's oil sands — accountable for 73 percent of Canada's greenhouse gas emission growth since 1990," according to a statement from Climate Action Network.

"Making progress on climate change in Canada is virtually impossible without addressing this soaring source of pollution," added Environmental Defence about the oil sands.

According to calculations by the World Resources Institute, the EU and the US aim to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2.8 percent per year between 2020 and 2030, compared to Canada's 1.7 percent.

Canada had previously promised to cut emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 but a report last year from Environment Canada indicated it is on track to miss it by a mile. Canada's greenhouse gas emissions actually rose between 2012 to 2013, according to the group.

In 2011, Canada backed out of the Kyoto Protocol, arguing that it couldn't solve climate change if it didn't include the United States and China.

Canada represents just 1.6 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, the Canadian government said.

Follow Natalie Alcoba on Twitter: @nataliealcoba