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Alberta hits the trifecta for GHG emissions

Thursday, July 6, 2017

A newly released communiqué from the National Energy Board highlights Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Ontario as standouts among mediocre performers aiming for Canada’s greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction target. In particular, the two Atlantic provinces are hailed for already achieving a 30 per cent drop in GHG emissions within their borders compared to 2005 levels, but accompanying federal sustainability indicators accentuate that more populous and economically productive areas of the country are well off that pace.

Nationwide, Canada’s annual GHG output fell from 738 (Mt) of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) to 722 Mt CO2e over the first 10 years of its commitment period under the Paris Agreement. This leaves a substantial gap still to close to reach the targeted 523 Mt CO2e by 2030.

“Canada must reduce its GHG emissions by 28 per cent within the next 14 years,” the National Energy Board release affirms.

Differing populations, economic drivers and sources of electricity generation are easily discernible in the provincial/territorial breakdown of emissions statistics. Together, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia accounted for just 4.2 per cent of national emissions in 2015. However, even before their impressive curtailment, they contributed less than 6 per cent of national emissions in 2005.

A move away from coal-fired electricity generation underpins much of the improved performance in the three provinces receiving kudos. Ontario registered the largest volumetric decline in emissions, which fell from 204.4 Mt CO2e in 2005 to 166.2 Mt CO2e in 2015. Across Canada, emissions from coal-fired electricity generation dropped from 95 to 61 Mt CO2e in the same period, with 21 Mt of that decrease occurring within Ontario.

Economic malaise and restructuring fill in the rest of the GHG reduction story, with “decreased manufacturing activity”, “shut-down of the Dartmouth refinery” and Ontario’s “declining emissions from heavy industry” credited.

British Columbia, Manitoba and Quebec all enjoy a low-carbon hydroelectric-based electricity supply, but had somewhat disparate emissions tallies, as Quebec registered a 10 per cent decrease, B.C. saw a 5 per cent drop and Manitoba edged slightly above its 2005 emissions output with a 0.9 per cent increase. Saskatchewan — the lone provincial/territorial holdout on the Pan-Canadian Framework on Climate Change — recorded a more significant jump, with emissions growing to 75 Mt CO2e in 2015 from 69.5 in 2005.

Meanwhile, Alberta hits the GHG trifecta with a resource-based economy, surging population growth and a carbon-intensive electricity grid. The oil and gas sector is the single greatest national source for GHG emissions, representing 26 per cent of the 2015 national tally, and it has also become more carbon-intensive as the industry expands in Alberta’s oil sands. The provincial population rose by 26 per cent between 2005 and 2015 — surpassing the 11 per cent national average — and adding to the emissions output of both the transportation and electricity sectors. Annual GHG emissions rose nearly 18 per cent over the 10-year period, from 233.8 to 274.1 Mt CO2e by 2015.

Pulling the lens out 25 years, the sustainability indicators report further outlines the Ontario-Alberta GHG divide. “In 1990, Ontario’s GHG emissions were higher than those from other provinces because of its large manufacturing industry. Alberta’s emissions subsequently surpassed Ontario’s, increasing 56 per cent since 1990, primarily due to the increase in the oil and gas sector for export markets,” it explains.

Nevertheless, they have simply traded places in the big-two rankings of provincial/territorial emitters. “In 2015, the combined emissions from Alberta and Ontario represented 61 per cent (38 per cent and 23 per cent, respectively) of the national total,” the report notes.

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