Emissions target won't be met without action, panel argues

A federal panel says progress on reducing greenhouse gases in Canada has been significant thanks to action by the provinces and territories, but warns the easy work in cutting emissions is already done.

Canada on pace to get only halfway to reduction target by 2020

A new report from the soon to be defunct National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy says that action taken by the provinces and territories is responsible for three-quarters of Canada's greenhouse gas reductions.

Progress on reducing carbon emissions in Canada to date has been significant, the report says, but the hardest part of the task now lies ahead.

David McLaughlin, head of the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, warns more hard work is needed if Ottawa wants to meet its carbon emissions reduction targets. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The report echoes Canada's environment commissioner and internal Environment Canada documents that cast doubt on whether the Conservative government's emission targets can be met.

"Canada will not achieve its 2020 GHG emission reductions target unless significant new, additional measures are taken. More will have to be done. No other conclusion is possible," the report states.

The study assessed the federal, provincial and territorial governments' efforts to reduce GHGs and applied them to Ottawa's overall goal of reducing emissions by 17 per cent from 2005 levels. The study was requested by Environment Minister Peter Kent in 2011.

 If the federal government does not announce new initiatives, Canada will only be halfway to hitting its target in 2020, the report concludes.

"The reality is we have 14 different climate plans in Canada today, so how can we expect anything but the situation we have today," president and CEO David McLaughlin told CBC News.

'Delay is costly'

The longer Ottawa waits to take action, the report says, the more expensive it is going to get. 

"A central conclusion of all our work and many other independent sources: delay is costly. Put directly, time is money," argues the study.

The government said it is aware of the shortcomings in its plan.

"We recognize that more has to be done. We've always stated this," Adam Sweet, Kent's press secretary, told CBC News Wednesday.

That is why Ottawa is taking a sector-by-sector approach where the government develops regulations for each industry, Sweet added, pointing to new rules for the transportation sector and coal-fired electricity generation. The government is still working on regulations for the oil and gas sector.

"We're the first federal government to actually take action on reducing the greenhouse gas emissions. We're focused on a realistic approach to greenhouse gas regulations that will enable us to reduce emissions while continuing to create jobs and encourage growth in the Canadian economy," said Sweet.

The report, titled Reality Check: The State of Climate Progress in Canada, follows a plea by current and former members of the round table asking the government to save the group. The NRTEE was cut in the last federal budget and will wrap up operations before the end of the fiscal year next March.

Kent has said the government decided the NRTEE had served its purpose, but some in cabinet have also suggested it didn't like the group's advice.

At a news conference in Ottawa last week, round table member Bob Mills argued that was the whole point of the NRTEE.

"I've always said that if you're smart you surround yourself with really smart people. And if you're dumb, you surround yourself with a bunch of cheerleaders. We don't need cheerleaders. What we need are smart people," said the former Conservative Party member for Red Deer, Alta.

In the end, the report recommends the government take what it calls a 3C approach: collaborative, coherent, considered. Essentially, it suggests Ottawa work more closely with provinces and territories to reduce overlap, determine the most efficient way of moving forward and study the results of those efforts.

The NRTEE will release one more report in the fall.