Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions fell by nearly 9% in 2020, the first year of the pandemic, according to Canada’s annual emissions inventory released Thursday from Ottawa. Those in Quebec fell in a similar proportion. Insight.
Updated yesterday at 20:56.
672 million tons
Canada emitted 672 million tons (Mt) of greenhouse gases (GHG) in 2020. This is 66 Mt less than in 2019, a decrease of 8.9%. Compared to emissions in 2005, the decrease is 9.3%. Canada has committed to reducing its emissions by 40% to 45% by 2030 from 2005 levels. The drop seen in 2020 is largely due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ottawa acknowledges, which warns that emissions are “likely to pick up again” as economic activity picks up.
decline in transportation
The transport sector alone accounts for more than a third of Canada’s 2020 reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, with a decrease of 26 Mt (12%). The decline is particularly pronounced in the sub-sectors road traffic (22 million t or 14%) and air traffic (3.8 million t or 44%). With total emissions of 190 Mt, the transport sector is Canada’s second largest contributor to global warming, behind the oil and gas sector with 300 Mt, a decrease of 22 Mt (7%).
A first and modest drop of 2Mt was observed a year ago in the 2019 pre-pandemic emissions inventory, and Ottawa estimates that this downward trend would have continued even without the pandemic. The federal government points to the reduction of 7 Mt in the power generation sector due to the coal phase-out in 2020, especially in Alberta, as well as the reduction of 16 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO eq.2) Methane emissions from the oil and gas sector, ie 24%.
Canadians remain among the world’s worst polluters
The decrease in Canada’s total emissions consequently led to a decrease in emissions per capita, which stood at 17.7 tons in 2020, compared to 19.6 tons in 2019. In 2005, Canadian emissions per capita were 23 tons. Despite this decline, Canadians remain among the world’s worst polluters, with per capita emissions comparable to those of Saudi Arabia (18.9 tons) and the United States (17.7 tons), the authorities said Open data site Climate Watch (2018 data).
Decrease in “Emissions Intensity”
Canada’s economy grew faster than its greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 to 2020, the inventory said, highlighting a 39% “drop in emissions intensity”. This method of calculating the carbon footprint of the economy consists of comparing emissions to gross domestic product (GDP). “In other words, Canada is showing the world how we can do more while polluting less,” Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault said in a statement.
Similar decline in Quebec
Quebec’s GHG emissions fell from 84 Mt to 76 Mt from 2019-2020, federal inventory data shows, a 9.5% decrease. Quebec releases its own inventory about eight months after the federal government’s, with generally similar results. Manitoba is the only province whose 2020 emissions did not fall, stagnating at 22 Mt. Ontario fell from 166 to 150 Mt, down 9.6%, while Alberta fell from 279 to 256 Mt, down 8, 2%
According to experts, a “cumbersome” decline
That’s not as optimistic as it sounds, as the declines aren’t structural, just circumstantial. A good chunk of the decline is due to oil production, but it’s also related to the fact that oil prices collapsed in early 2020, and we’ve been catching up on that for a few months. [Les émissions vont] hit back right away.
Normand Mousseau, Scientific Director of the Trottier Energy Institute at the Polytechnique Montréal
A startling observation can be found in the agriculture and waste sectors: there has been no decrease in the last five years and even an increase in greenhouse gases in agriculture from 2019 to 2020. These sectors, which completely evade carbon pricing, are fighting against forget the climate change. But for 12% of Canada’s emissions, we can’t afford to forget them.
Pierre-Olivier Pineau, Chair of Energy Sector Management at HEC Montréal
Much of the drop in greenhouse gases recorded in 2020 is due to the impact of the first year of the pandemic. It probably won’t last. Normally, if we rely on almost all environmental indicators to head in the wrong direction again in 2021, our emissions should follow the same trend, although we hope the opposite. So anyone bragging about this result would be very inappropriate.
Émile Boisseau-Bouvier, climate policy analyst in Équiterre
Of particular concern is that the share of emissions from the oil and gas sector has risen from 26% in 2019 to a new high of 27% in 2020, confirming its title as the world’s most polluting sector. […] The Trudeau government can no longer approve oil and gas projects and must meet its obligation to limit emissions from the sector immediately.
Patrick Bonin, Climate Energy Activist, Greenpeace Canada
The significant declines in the transport sector seen as a result of the pandemic are a clear example of what can be achieved if we reduce the distances traveled and the number of vehicles in circulation. It is possible to rethink our land use planning and mobility in a way that replicates and realizes this GHG reduction in the long run.
Andréanne Brazeau, mobility analyst at Équiterre
The only time emissions fell under Trudeau’s Liberal government was during the worst pandemic of the century […] The Liberal government’s way of presenting these unintended cuts as a source of pride demonstrates its ignorance of the economic devastation and damage Canadians suffered in the first year of the pandemic.
Kyle Seeback, Conservative Party critic on environment and climate change
Such a drop, although almost entirely due to the pandemic, confirms that it is possible to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions if the will were there. However, Liberals need to understand that they cannot stop this decline by approving new oil projects like Bay du Nord or by planning to increase oil production.
Kristina Michaud, Bloc Québécoist critic for the fight against climate change
It took a global pandemic and a halt to economic activity for Liberals to finally cut greenhouse gas emissions. That’s not serious.
Alexandre Boulerice, Vice President of the New Democratic Party