Canada's Emission Trends 2014: chapter 1

Canada’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions in a Global Context

Canada’s Share of Global Emissions

Global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions grew by approximately 40% between 1990 and 2011,Footnote 3 with the bulk of the emissions growth coming from emerging markets and developing countries. Canada’s share of world cumulative emissions since 1990 has been below 2%.

Figure 1: GHG Emissions Growth, 1990 to 2010

Figure 1 - see text description below

Source: World Resources Institute 2014, CAIT database

Text description of Figure 1

Figure 1 presents two lines on a graph to show emissions growth for the world and for Canada, with the horizontal axis spanning the years 1990 to 2012 in five year increments and the vertical axis representing emissions indexed to 1990 levels (1990 = 100) spanning the values 90 to 150 in increments of ten. The two lines begin in 1990 at the 100 level. The Canada line grows to 126 by 2003 at a somewhat steady rate. After that, it rises and falls but is mostly flat and is at 124 by 2008. There is a dip to 117 in 2009, followed by an increase to 119 in 2011. The World line grows more slowly from 1990 to 2002 reaching 113. After that, the World line grows more quickly, intersecting the Canada line at 125 in 2005. In 2008, the growth rate slows and the World line reaches 133, dips slightly in 2009 before rising to 142 in 2011.

Canada’s share of total global emissions, like that of other developed countries, is expected to continue to decline in the face of the expected rapid emissions growth from developing countries and emerging markets such as China, India, Brazil and Indonesia. By 2005, China had overtaken the U.S. as the world’s largest overall GHG emitter and in 2011 accounted for 24% of total global GHG emissions.Footnote 4

Figure 2: Breakdown of Total World Greenhouse Gas Emissions: 2011

Figure 2 (see description below)

Source: World Resources Institute 2014, CAIT database.

Text description of Figure 2

Figure 2 is a pie chart showing the percentage of total world greenhouse gas emissions for the top 11 emitting countries and it is comprised of the following components. China: 24.1%; United States: 14.9%; India: 5.7%; EU-27: 10.3%; India: 5.7%; Russian Federation:  5.4%; Japan: 3.0%; Brazil: 2.6%; Indonesia: 1.9%; Canada: 1.6%; Iran: 1.6%; Mexico: 1.6%; Rest of World: 27.2%.

Canada’s National Circumstances

Canada is fortunate to be naturally endowed with vast expanses of land and water, abundant mineral and energy resources, and geographic variation. However, these attributes also create enormous challenges from the perspective of achieving reductions of GHG emissions in comparison with most developed countries. Canada has the largest land mass of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, which creates long distances and longer travel times for both passenger and freight transportation needs. Our climate is highly variable and extreme, affecting energy demand for both winter heating and summer cooling in our residential and commercial buildings. Heating requirements for households and businesses are greater than in most other developed countries and are primarily supplied by fossil fuels. Resource extraction of minerals, fossil fuels and other energy-intensive primary resources supply increasing world demand and are a significant contributor to Canada’s economic growth, but also affect Canada’s emissions profile.

While Canada’s population remains the smallest among the G7 countries, it is the fastest-growing, with an annual population growth rate of just over 1%. In addition, Canada has experienced sustained economic growth and ranks 11th in the world in terms of gross domestic product (GDP) on a per capita basis.Footnote 5 As a natural resource-rich economy, Canada is a significant exporter of energy and net exporter of agricultural commodities and many emissions-intensive resource-based commodities such as pulp and paper, mined metals and aluminum. Canada has an energy-intensive industrial sector, and over the past decade, industrial output has risen substantially and Canada’s exports of energy, extracted resources and agricultural commodities as a share of GDP have increased by almost 40%.

Global energy demand is expected to grow by one third between 2012 and 2035, and fossil fuels are expected to remain a key component of supply for decades to come. The International Energy Agency’s (IEA) 2013 World Energy Outlook reference case suggests that fossil fuels, as a share of world energy use, will decrease but still provide over three quarters of the world’s energy use in 2035. Given that Canada is a key supplier and exporter of energy resources, our production of oil and gas is projected to rise to meet this demand.

Among the member countries of the IEA, Canada’s energy profile is characterized by one of the highest rates of total primary energy supplyFootnote 6 per unit of GDP. The IEA notes that factors driving energy consumption in Canada are a significant concentration of energy-intensive primary industries; a cold and extreme climate; a small, highly dispersed population; a high standard of living with minimal constraints on space occupation; and vast geography (which affects population density and transportation needs).Footnote 7 Canada has slightly higher-than-average rates of energy use per passenger-kilometres and ranks as one of the highest in terms of number of vehicle miles travelled per person in the IEA countries. Canada has the third-highest residential primary energy consumption per household and has among the highest energy intensities of IEA countries in the service sector (mostly due to energy use in buildings).

Despite these challenges and steady growth in energy consumption, Canada has made significant improvements. Taking into account differences in economic structure, weather and other effects, energy efficiency improved by 25% in Canada between 1990 and 2010.Footnote 8

Emissions per Capita and Emissions Intensity

Emissions intensity, defined as GHG emissions per dollar of GDP, measures the relationship between economic activity and emissions. Although emissions are intrinsically linked to economic activity, this linkage has weakened in Canada over the past two decades due to technological and structural changes such as increases in energy efficiency and the growth of lower-emissions and service-based industries. Although GHG emissions have risen by 18% since 1990, Canada’s economy grew much more rapidly, with GDP rising by 67%. As a result, the emissions intensity for the entire economy has improved considerably, declining at an average annual rate of 1.3% between 1990 and 2012, or a cumulative 29% over the entire period. Emissions intensity is expected to continue to decrease in Canada through 2020.

Per capita emissions have been decreasing significantly since 2005, when they were 22.8 tonnes of CO2 eq per person. In 2012, emissions per capita were 20.1 tonnes of CO2 eq per person, which is the lowest level recorded since records began in 1990.

Projections show per capita emissions are expected to decrease through 2020, falling to 19.7 tonnes of CO2 eq per person in 2020. This reflects a projected increase in Canada’s population of 17% between 2005 and 2020, compared with a projected 1.2% decrease in emissions when LULUCF is included.

International Cooperation

Effective climate change mitigation requires that all countries act to reduce emissions, and accordingly, Canada will continue to do its part. Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Canada signed onto the Copenhagen Accord in December 2009 and committed to reduce its GHG emissions to 17% below 2005 levels by 2020.

The Government of Canada’s approach is to encourage strong economic growth and job creation while achieving its environmental objectives. Canada’s economy is projected to be approximately 32% larger (in real terms) in 2020 compared with 2005 levels.

In recognition of the need for a global solution to address climate change, in 2011 Parties agreed to launch the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action negotiations under the UNFCCC with a view to establishing, by 2015, a new climate change agreement for the post-2020 period that is applicable to all Parties. This development was an important breakthrough for countries like Canada with a long-standing objective to establish a climate change agreement that includes all major emitters. Canada is working with UNFCCC member countries towards the establishment of a new, effective international climate change agreement.

Outside the UNFCCC, Canada is actively participating in a number of international collaborative efforts, including sectoral and regional initiatives and partnerships, that complement the formal UNFCCC negotiations and encourage concrete actions to address climate change. These include the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, the Arctic Council, the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, and the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate Change.

The Electricity Sector in Canada

Worldwide, carbon emissions from the generation of electricity represent 40% of global GHG emissions and are among the largest and fastest-growing sources. According to the IEA, the share of coal in electricity and heat generation emissions has also increased significantly, from 66% in 1990 to 72% in 2011, and it is projected to continue to account for the largest share of CO2 emissions to 2040. Altering this trajectory downwards is a major global challenge.

Canada is a global leader in clean electricity. In Canada, 79% of electricity is generated from non-GHG-emitting sources (e.g., hydro, nuclear and renewables), one of the highest percentages in the world. For comparison, non-emitting sources provide less than one third of power generation for the U.S. and one fifth for China (IEA, 2013). The high level of clean generation in Canada means that emissions from electricity generation are a relatively small share of total emissions (just 12% in 2012).

Moreover, Canada’s electricity intensity (electricity use per unit of GDP) is improving, dropping by roughly 12% between 2001 and 2012. A 2013 Energy Efficiency Market Report by the IEA ranked Canada tied for second among 15 IEA countries for its rate of energy efficiency improvement between 1990 and 2010.  

In addition to using less electricity to produce a dollar of GDP, the emissions associated with generating a unit of electricity are decreasing. Canada’s electricity sector is one of the lowest emitting, per kilowatt-hour generated, in the developed world. In 2010, Canada produced 190 grams of CO2 per kilowatt-hour of electricity generated, which is only one third of the U.S.’s emissions intensity, one quarter of China’s and less than half of the OECD average.

In 2012, the federal government introduced a tough new regulatory performance standard for coal-fired electricity generation that is scheduled to come into effect in July 2015. With this regulation, Canada became the first major coal user to ban construction of traditional coal-fired electricity generation units.

Provincial and federal government regulations have contributed to recent trends that show emissions in the electricity sector decreasing by 29% from 2005 to 2012. While Canada already has one of the cleanest systems in the world, federal and provincial governments have taken steps to make it even cleaner in the future. Provincial policies, in particular Ontario’s ban on coal-fired electricity generation, renewable portfolio standards in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, and a net zero GHG standard for new generation in British Columbia, contribute to further reductions. Emissions in the electricity sector in Canada were estimated to be 94 Mt in 1990, growing to 121 Mt in 2005 before falling to 86 Mt in 2012 (a 29% decrease), and are projected to fall to 71 Mt by 2020 (a 41% decrease).

Electricity generation is currently the third-largest source of GHG emissions in Canada but only accounts for 12% of emissions (2012). In comparison, electricity generation in the U.S. accounts for almost one third of U.S. total emissions and about half of China’s emissions. The U.S. and China each produce about 20% of world generation of electricity (whereas Canada produces about 3% of global electricity), according to Natural Resources Canada. In countries such as these, where coal-fired power generation is dominant, there is significantly more scope for reducing future emissions by fuel-switching to natural gas or alternative sources of energy. In Canada, as coal-fired power is phased out under the current electricity regulations, it is projected that 85% of the utility electricity supply will be generated from non-emitting sources by 2020.  

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