Canada to use forests to ease oilsands’ 2030 CO2-cut burden -analysts

Published 23:11 on May 20, 2015  /  Last updated at 00:45 on May 21, 2015  /  Americas, Canada, Climate Talks, International, New Market Mechanisms  /  No Comments

Canada may offset more than 60 million tonnes of CO2 from its fossil fuel industry before 2030 by applying “looser” emissions accounting rules to its swathes of forests, analysts said on Wednesday.

Canada may offset more than 60 million tonnes of CO2 from its fossil fuel industry before 2030 by applying “looser” emissions accounting rules to its swathes of forests, analysts said on Wednesday.

Climate Action Tracker (CAT), an analysis service run by four environmental research organisations, labelled Canada’s INDC “inadequate”, the group’s lowest rating, citing its general lack of ambition as another reason.

Home to 10% of the world’s forests, Canada last week said it would seek to cut its GHG emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030, as part of its national pledge ahead of UN climate talks this December.

However, while outlining a few new policies targeting smaller sectors, the government failed to announce any new measures to tame rising CO2 output from the country’s oilsands, adding that it would leave the door open to utilising international carbon offset markets to help meet its goal.

“Canada’s forest sinks are expected to increase through to 2030. This will create a substantial amount of carbon credits that the government can use to avert action on reducing fossil fuel emissions,” said Louise Jeffery of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, one of CAT’s backers.

CAT said the goal translates to a cut of just 2% below 1990 levels – the baseline year used by many countries and one that Canada had originally adhered to as a signatory to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, before it withdrew from the treaty in 2011.

In contrast, the EU has just pledged in its INDC to cut its emissions by 40% below the same benchmark by 2030.

Under Kyoto, Canada had signed up for a 6% reduction by 2008-2012 with the possibility of using international carbon offsets. But after falling far behind what it needed to abate, it later shunned the idea of buying enough credits to meet the target before abandoning the treaty completely.

FRAUGHT WITH DIFFICULTIES

CAT said Canada’s 2030 target was also equivalent to 21% below 2005 levels once the role of its forests was excluded. However, the group added the country would likely overshoot this goal regardless, as it is currently on track to do with its 2020 target of -17% below 2005 levels.

The accounting options Canada has proposed using are “fraught with difficulties”, including substantial potential for double-counting, asymmetric accounting (counting sinks and omitting sources), and other issues, Jeffery said, adding “not least because Canada is no longer a party to the Kyoto Protocol, so it can use much looser rules.”

In its INDC, Canada proposed to use a production, or ‘net-net’, approach to account for harvested wood products in its calculations, allowing the country to count more CO2 removals against its target than under the approach currently used by UN-backed climate scientists at the IPCC.

CAT estimated that under its proposed accounting rules, Canada could claim upwards of 63 million carbon offsets from its forests before 2030 – emissions roughly equivalent to Sweden’s annual GHG output.

It noted that a 2014 assessment by government agency Environment Canada estimated that by 2020, the country’s LULUCF accounting method would produce a much higher rate of 19 million tonnes of offsets per year for the country.

CAT added that without adopting such an accounting approach, Canada’s emissions are projected to increase on 2005 levels by 1% by 2020, and by 8% by 2030 – figures equivalent to respective rises of 26% and 35% on 1990 levels.

Emissions from Canada’s oilsands – which now account for nearly a tenth of the national output – have increased by 79% since 2005, making the industry the major culprit behind the country’s ballooning GHG levels.

By Mike Szabo – mike@carbon-pulse.com