Canada’s INDC emission cut target exempts oilsands but allows outsourcing

Published 19:37 on May 15, 2015  /  Last updated at 16:44 on May 16, 2015  /  Americas, Canada, Climate Talks, International

Canada announced its INDC to reduce GHG emissions 30% below 2005 levels by 2030 on Friday, proposing to potentially source cuts from abroad while all but exempting the country's oil sands industry from having to curb its rising CO2 output.

Canada announced its INDC to reduce GHG emissions 30% below 2005 levels by 2030 on Friday, proposing to potentially source cuts from abroad while all but exempting the country’s oil sands industry from having to curb its rising CO2 output.

The target submitted to the UN was weaker than its neighbour and main trader partner the US, with which it has moved in lockstep on climate change issues for years, and also diverged from US and EU pledges by leaving the door open to using international carbon credits.

Speaking to reporters, Canadian Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq called -30% a “very ambitious, serious target” that is “in line with other major industrialised countries” and reflects national circumstances.

“We’re quite proud of it,” she said, declining to say whether the federal government had consulted with provinces to devise this target.

Green groups, however, slammed the announcement and Glenn Murray, environment minister of Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, said it “consolidated the federal government’s position as a global climate change laggard.”

“These targets are a nice gesture, but for now that’s all they are, because the numbers here simply don’t add up. There’s no way Canada can hope to cut emissions by a third while this administration is still pursuing every possible opportunity to dig up the tar sands,” said’s Cameron Fenton.

“A climate strategy that includes increased tar sands production is like a diet that includes increased donut consumption. It doesn’t work,” added his colleague Jamie Henn on Twitter.


Aglukkaq said Canada would take a sector-by-sector approach, but it proposed regulations for smaller emitting sectors compared to the oil sands.

She said the country would curb methane from the oil and gas industry, and cut emissions from gas-fired power plants and chemical and fertilizer manufacturers.

The government added it will focus “climate-related investments in innovative technologies to drive further improvements in environmental performance in the oilsands”, but did not announce any further action targeting the sector.

Ottawa is also pushing to phase out coal-fired power after 2020, as ageing plants reach the end of their commercial life.

The initiatives announced today are in addition to new programmes to set more stringent fuel standards for cars, light trucks and heavy-duty vehicles, and to curb highly-potent HFCs, the government said in a press release.

In its INDC, Canada also proposed to use a ‘production approach’ to account for harvested wood products in its calculations. This would allow the country to count more emission removals against its target than under the approach currently used by UN-backed climate scientists at the IPCC.

“The Canadian plan fails to address the Alberta tar sands … and relies on questionable carbon accounting practices in the forestry and land use sectors,” said The Tree, a division of the Global Call for Climate Action, which is a network of more than 400 non-profit organisations.


Prime Minister Stephen Harper has historically asserted that Canada should follow the US closely on climate and energy issues, but last month he said his country’s targets would not match those of its neighbour and the world’s second largest emitter.

The US in March said it would pursue a 26-28% cut in its own emissions below 2005 levels by 2025, implying a deeper reduction trajectory than -30% by 2030. According to the most recent data available, the US is on track to meet that goal, which it said won’t require it to use international market mechanisms.

The EU has pledged to cut its emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2030, also without the help of offsets.

Canada, one of the world’s top 10 biggest emitters, has managed to cut its emissions by just 3% below 2005 levels by 2013, with reductions in large part cancelled out due to the rapid growth of its oilsands industry, but it is off track towards meeting its 2020 goal to slash emissions by 17% from 2005.

This, coupled with Canada’s general lack of a detailed climate strategy over the past few years, has drawn sharp criticism some of its provincial leaders as well as other countries including Brazil and Sweden.

Canada’s GHG output stands some 18% above 1990 levels, compared to the 6% reduction target it signed up to in 1997 under the Kyoto Protocol – the international treaty from which it withdrew in 2011.


Aglukkaq said she would next month meet with the leaders of Canada’s provinces and territories – which are setting their own reduction targets – to collaborate towards meeting the national goal.

Her announcement comes just a day after Ontario said it would cut emissions 27% below 1990 levels by 2030, a far more ambitious target than the national one.

Alberta – home of Canada’s oil sands industry – is expected to announce new GHG targets and a supporting strategy in the coming weeks following last week’s surprise election result, which saw the left-leaning New Democratic Party take the helm following more than 40 years of Conservative rule.

In its federal budget released in late April, Canada declined to earmark any money to slashing emissions, rather awarding tax breaks for the natural gas sector and boosting funding for oil pipelines.

While still high by international standards, Canada’s per capita GHG emissions have fallen to their lowest levels since tracking began, the government said, and national emissions are projected to be 130 million tonnes below BAU levels by 2020.

Canada notes that it accounts for roughly 1.6% of global emissions, but declines to add that it is home to less than 0.5% of the world’s population.

By Mike Szabo and Ben Garside –