Ottawa, provinces and territories not on track to meet new climate targets: report

The federal government, provinces and territories have failed to plan emissions cuts sufficient to achieve Canada's net-zero goals, according to a new climate report.

‘All hands on deck’ approach needed to fight climate change, report says

A flare stack lights the sky.
A flare stack lights the sky over the Imperial Oil refinery in Edmonton in 2018. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

The federal, provincial and territorial governments have failed to plan emissions cuts sufficient to achieve Canada's net-zero targets, says a new climate report.

The report by the Pembina Institute, an energy and climate think-tank, concludes that Canada isn't going to achieve its recently announced 2030 or 2050 net-zero goals.

"Unfortunately, we are not on track to meeting Canada's new target of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions by 40 to 45 per cent by 2030, based on 2005 levels," said Isabelle Turcotte, Pembina's director of federal policy.

"The most optimistic projections show that we are on track to reduce emissions by 36 per cent. So there's a big gap here."

Turcotte said the institute's report is the first to assess planned federal, provincial and territorial action to meet the net-zero objectives.

WATCH | Canada not on track to meet new climate targets:

Canada falling short of climate goals, report finds

2 years ago
Duration 1:54
Featured VideoA new report by the Pembina Institute suggests Canada isn’t on track to meet its climate change targets by 2030 and provinces need to take more responsibility in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Although Ottawa has established new targets, the report finds that provinces like Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario haven't committed to meeting them yet. Other jurisdictions like British Columbia have made ambitious commitments, says the report, but it's not at all clear how they intend to achieve them.

"The approach to climate action in Canada is piecemeal," the report says. "It also lacks accountability for governments who promise climate action but don't have timelines or policies to match the urgency of the situation." 

Pembina's report says that while progress has been made — nationwide carbon pricing and the phase-out of coal-fired electricity — it's been offset by emissions increases elsewhere.

The federal government recently boosted its target for greenhouse gas emissions to a reduction of 40 to 45 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030, and to net-zero emissions by 2050. The report says the federal government can only do so much, since provinces and territories have jurisdiction over the energy sector.

Federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said the report points to work that still needs to be done by Ottawa and other levels of government. He said the federal government can't do all the heavy lifting alone.

"The findings are particularly challenging for some of the provinces that have been less robust in their work on the climate file, most particularly some of the Conservative premiers and provinces in the Prairies," said Wilkinson, who read an advance copy of the report.

Ottawa "working against us"

Both the Saskatchewan and Alberta governments responded to the report.

"Instead of working with Saskatchewan, the federal government is actively working against us," said Saskatchewan Environment Minister Warren Kaeding in a media statement. "There is no better example of this than the federal government's arbitrary decision to reject Saskatchewan's proposal to transfer control of the carbon tax, despite having accepted similar proposals from other regions of the country."

In a news statement, the Alberta government acknowledged that achieving a net-zero target will require cooperation from a range of partners.

"Net-zero targets do not mean much without a realistic plan to achieve them. The proposed new federal target is a national emissions target that will require action across all parts of the economy," said Alberta Environment Minister Jason Nixon.

Isabelle Turcotte is the director of federal policy at the Pembina Institute. (Mathieu Theriault/ CBC News)

Alberta accounts for most of Canada's absolute emissions. The province has implemented a cap on oilsands emissions, committed to phasing out coal and introduced new methane regulations and its Technology Innovation and Emissions Reduction (TIER) program.

"Industries and the emissions-reduction know-how within the province will be key to realizing the federal climate ambitions," Nixon said.

The report offers several recommendations to reverse the trend. All governments, it says, should commit to more ambitious emissions targets to achieve Canada's goals, and independent accountability agencies that report to Parliament and regional legislatures should be established.

Governments and businesses must also set carbon budgets that place limits on emissions, says the report. It says that all governments should prepare for the decline of the oil and gas industry, draft net-zero transition plans for the energy sector and push for the adoption of zero-emission vehicles.

Pembina's report was compiled with the help of Simon Fraser University's School of Resource and Environmental Management. The think tank said the findings were shared with the provincial, territorial and federal governments to verify accuracy.


David Thurton

Senior reporter, Parliamentary Correspondent

David Thurton is a senior reporter in CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. He covers daily politics in the nation’s capital and specializes in environment and energy policy. Born in Canada but raised in Trinidad and Tobago, he’s moved around more times than he can count. He’s worked for CBC in several provinces and territories, including Alberta and the Northwest Territories. He can be reached at david.thurton@cbc.ca