Canada's action on climate change still 'inadequate': Bob McDonald

Canada is lagging behind other countries on reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. So why isn't climate change an election issue?

Another study finds Canada's environmental response wanting

California's drought this summer is seen by many as climate change in action. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

A new report released by the Climate Action Tracker, an independent consortium of four European climate research institutions, has found that international promises to reduce carbon emissions and prevent a 2°C global average temperature increase are not being met. And Canada is rated among the lowest for performance, falling into the category of "inadequate."

There have been some reductions in carbon emissions in this country, mainly from improvements in fuel efficiency of vehicles and lower CO2 from electricity generation - thanks to Ontario shutting down its coal-fired generating stations.

But overall, Canada's greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, and according to the report, will not meet our target of 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. Instead, the researchers estimate that our overall emissions are expected to rise to eight per cent above 2005 levels by that deadline.

Global warming is carving measurable changes into Alaska, which U.S. President Barack Obama witnessed during a recent three-day visit to the northern state. (Matt Snyder/Alaska Division of Forestry/Associated Press)
These increases are due to both increasing activity in energy extraction in the West, and the strange way emissions are calculated by our government.

According to the report, "The accounting options Canada proposes using are fraught with difficulties, including substantial potential for double counting, asymmetric accounting (counting sinks and omitting sources), and other issues." 

In other words, we seem to be cooking the books when it comes to greenhouse gas reporting.

Poor international standing

This country has a history of setting emissions targets, not meeting them, then setting lower targets and repeating the pattern. Since pulling out of the Kyoto Accord in 2011, our reputation on the international scene has suffered greatly.

There have been more ambitious proposals put forward in Parliament that could have enabled Canada to reach beyond its targets, such as the Climate Change Accountability Act, a private member's bill that suggested a reduction target of 80 per cent below 1990 levels. While it passed the House of Commons twice, the last time in 2014, it never got past the Senate.

Canada's poor performance and low rating does not bode well for the upcoming climate talks in Paris this November, where the United Nations is hoping for a universal climate agreement. Promises will be made, but without meaningful action, those promises are rather empty.

Meanwhile, droughts, wildfires, severe weather events, receding glaciers and sea level rise continue to set records as the climate continues to heat up. These events are costing billions in damage, which takes wind out of the argument that reducing emissions will harm the economy. 

Canada is capable of not only reducing carbon emissions, but becoming a world leader in developing new innovative clean technologies. We have world-class universities and colleges spread across the country to do it. 

Instead, Canadian scientists are speaking out against cuts to environmental science budgets, the closing of research stations, weakened environmental protection laws, and their ability to speak freely about their research.

In light of all this, why hasn't climate change become an election issue?


Bob McDonald is the host of CBC Radio's award-winning weekly science program, Quirks & Quarks. He is also a science commentator for CBC News Network and CBC-TV's The National. He has received 12 honorary degrees and is an Officer of the Order of Canada.