Web Letters | The Nation

Canada's greenhouse gas emissions

As it was already thinking of dropping out of the Kyoto Protocol, the Harper government made a commitment in Copenhagen to reduce Canadian GHG emissions by 17 percent in 2020, going from 734 Mt in 2005 to 612 Mt in 2020. According to its “Sixth National Communication and First Biennial Report on Climate Change for 2014” to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Canada will miss its target by 122 Mt (a 0.4 percent reduction). Canada’s own predictions (which I think are largely underestimated) shows that GHG emissions from the exploitation of tar sands alone will jump from 34 Mt in 2005 to more than 137 Mt in 2030, an increase of 303 percent. Of that increase, around 60 percent (or 82 Mt) will come from bitumen “in situ” extraction. In total, GHG emissions from Canada’s Oil and Gas Sector will reach 241 Mt in 2030, or around 30 percent of all Canadian GHG emissions compared to 4.6 percent in 2005.

This report doesn’t even include emissions associated with wildfires (within the managed forest) and carbon uptake (removals) associated with regrowth in areas disturbed in prior years as required under the UNFCCC. As the area burned by wild land fire is expected to increase across most of Canada as climate change progresses, the Canadian government doesn’t want to include GHG emissions and related removals resulting from natural disturbances. According to Natural Resources Canada (NRC), the number of fires (an average of 9,000 a year) has double since the 1970’s, and is predicted to double again or more by the end of the century, because of warmer temperatures expected as a result of climate change. In 2011, the NRC as estimated that “managed forests alone acted as an overall net carbon source, releasing around 84 Mt of CO2 to the atmosphere.

For countries in the Northern Hemisphere, fire on boreal peatlands represents a major concern. As climate change progresses, peatland gets dryer and more susceptible to catch fire. Peatlands ecosystems cover 2–3 percent of the earth’s land surface, but 25–30 percent of the boreal forest region. It is estimated to store 30 percent of all the world’s terrestrial carbon and 64 percent of the total global boreal forest carbon stock. It is also estimated that peat fires release mercury into the atmosphere at a rate 15 times greater than upland forests, which may be a serious human health concern.

Beside peatlands emissions, there are also all the potential larger methane emissions from the melting permafrost. All of that together creates a pretty scary picture; that is probably why the Canadian government wants to hide the truth from its own population and the rest of the world. It would also only add to the bad reputation that Canada already has around the world as a country not doing enough when it comes to deal with climate change.

René Ebacher

Toronto, CANADA

Feb 16 2014 - 1:54pm

Remember the poor

Life is tough. As someone who has had to collect deliquent payments for winter heating, I know firsthand how hard the poor are hit. You cannot just blow off the poor. Government works are in good shape, not the poor. Also I have worked in areas populated by the very environment-friendly trust-fund babies, and they are in a total different world than the working poor.

Jack Connell

Middleton, ID

Feb 13 2014 - 10:19pm