Feds can't say which regulations to cut greenhouse gas emissions are working: audit

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The federal government needs to start taking stock of whether its climate-change regulations are actually cutting greenhouse gas emissions or not, Environment Commissioner Jerry DeMarco said Thursday

DeMarco published the results of a new audit looking at the impact of five specific climate change policies, which found that Canada doesn't know how much those regulations are contributing to any reduction in emissions.

Not having that information runs the risk that Canada will keep missing its targets for cutting emissions, as it already has time and time again, DeMarco said.

“We say this in the context of 30 years of them missing every target,'' he said.

“So the, 'Just trust us, it will all add up,' doesn't work until they actually start showing that they're able to meet a target. When they start meeting targets, then I'll be more confident in their ability to model their plans and so on. Right now, they don't deserve the benefit of the doubt after 30 years of missing targets.''

Canada has set at least eight targets for greenhouse-gas emissions since 1988 and hasn't met a single one of them to date.

It exceeded its most recent target for 2020, set in 2009 by the former Conservative government, by 52 million tonnes, or about what 11.5 million passenger vehicles emit over the course of a year.

Canada's current target is to reduce emissions by 2030 so they are 40 to 45 per cent less than they were in 2005. DeMarco says if the government isn't certain its regulations are working, it won't be able to correct course in time to avoid missing yet another target.

The Liberals have introduced more than 100 new policies on climate since they came to power in 2015, and additional policies depend on regulations that were enacted before that. DeMarco's audit looked at just five policies.

They included emissions standards that are supposed to lower the emissions from passenger vehicles, heavy duty engines, coal and natural gas power plants, as well as regulations requiring oil and gas companies to reduce or stop methane from leaking out of their wells.

When Canada reports its emissions, it does so by industry, and does not attribute any changes to specific policies.

The most recent report, which covered data from 2021 and was published last week, suggested Canada is finally starting to see real progress on long-term emissions reductions.

But it is still a very long way from its 2030 targets.

Canada's emissions in 2021 amounted to 670 million tonnes, which is 8.5 per cent below what they were in 2005. To meet its 2030 target, Canada must cut almost four times as many emissions over nine years as it did in the previous 16.

Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said the government is always looking to see where it can improve its reporting, but he said it's important to note that Canada is succeeding in bringing its emissions down.

“In the meantime, as they say, the proof is in the pudding,'' he said. “And that's what we're doing. We're bending the emissions curve.”

DeMarco said Guilbeault's department told him it is difficult to determine how many emissions cuts can be attributed to individual policies, because some of them overlap.

While emissions from electricity generation have fallen in recent years, those coming from vehicles and the oil and gas industry have both increased.

© 2023 The Canadian Press

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