Canada’s GHG Emissions – Georgia’s Roundup

We asked our intrepid summer intern Georgia Campbell to delve into the world of climate statistics for charts and data that can help all of us understand where Canada stands in the world of climate. Georgia asked “Oh Canada, What Are Our GHG Emissions?” and the results aren’t pretty. If you have other statistics you think are important, please feel free to e-mail us and share them at

With all of the discussions and concerns surrounding global warming and climate change, it’s reasonable to expect that comprehensive data on our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are readily available.  Yet, we have entered the second half of 2010 and the most recent official data published by Environment Canada are from 2008. Yes, this year Canada complied with the Kyoto Protocol regulations requiring all participants to submit ‘National Inventory Submissions,’ 2010 reports on emissions; however, our National Inventory Report is derived using 2008 data.

So, as of 2008 how did Canada stack up?

Where Canada Emits

Environment Canada reports that “industry and transportation are the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions” in Canada. In response to this issue, the Federal Government has committed to becoming a clean energy generation leader and has proposed regulations for passenger automobile and light truck GHG emissions. The Pembina Institute has conducted extensive research surrounding the transportation sector in Ontario and has released a report that examines the effectiveness of such government policies.  It is clear that current proposed policies will not be sufficient to reduce Canada’s GHG emissions to acceptable levels.

It is estimated that Alberta’s Oil Sands are responsible for 5 percent of national emissions, which will inevitably grow as production doubles over the next decade.  Andrew Nikiforuk, a business and environmental reporter, asserts that current Oil Sands emissions are larger than the national emissions of Estonia and Lithuania and by 2020 will be larger than that of countries like Belgium, Austria, Ireland and Denmark.

Figure 1: National sectoral greenhouse gas emissions from Canada’s 2008 Greenhouse Gas Inventory data

Figure 1 indicates that our largest source of emissions came from the energy sector.  Electricity and heat generation, taken together, were our biggest contributor, followed by other stationary sources of energy-related emissions such as fossil fuel production and refining, manufacturing industries and commercial and institutional energy emissions. In the transportation sub-sector the three largest emission levels were from light-duty gasoline trucks, gasoline automobiles and heavy-duty diesel vehicles. The energy sector alone was responsible for 81% of emissions nationally.

Figure 2: Historical national greenhouse gas emissions

How Much Canada Emits

Total 2008 GHG emissions in Canada were 734 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt of CO2 eq) gas. To put this into perspective, it is estimated that every 56 seconds Canadians emitted 1000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent gas.  According to the EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator, one tonne of CO2 equivalent emissions is equivalent to the average emissions from 2.1 barrels of oil, 102 gallons of gasoline or 37.8 of the propane cylinders we use on the barbeque at home. It takes about 23.3 seedlings being grown for 10 years to absorb 1 tonne of CO2e gas (taking a very rough average). Between 1990 and 2008, Canada underwent a 24 percent increase in annual GHG emissions.  Of the developed nations, only the United States, Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom produce more total greenhouse gas emissions. Per capita, our GHG emissions were 22 tonnes, which was over four times the global average.

When evaluating the percentage change from 1990 to 2008 levels, it is no surprise that the largest increase was experienced in mining and oil and gas extraction, which have experienced a whopping emissions growth of 286%.  Furthermore, Alberta is responsible for over half of Canada’s emissions growth since 1990, despite contributing less than 20% to the country’s GDP over the same time period. The following graphs from PJ Partington’s post at Pembina are really worthwhile:

Figure 3: GHG, GDP and Population Breakdown by Province.

Figure 4 gives us the shocking extent of Canada’s growth in greenhouse gas emissions compared to the worthy reductions of countries such as Germany and the United Kingdom.  As of 2005, Canada ranked 8th overall for highest greenhouse gas emissions per capita, climbing 4 spots between 2000 and 2005.

Canada has aligned its reduction targets with the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020. Even though this is called a “reduction target” it actually yields a 2.5% higher emission level from the internationally accepted 1990 baseline.  The position of Canada’s government that our economy is “integrated with the United States’ to the point where it makes absolutely no sense to proceed without harmonizing and aligning a range of principles, policies, regulations and standards” makes climate change strategy efforts very complex and slow-moving.  Many more initiatives in all sectors must be adopted in order to meet targets so that we do our part to keep global average temperature increases below the +2°C critical threshold.

Figure 4: Total aggregate greenhouse gas emissions of individual Annex I Parties under UNFCCC, 1990-2007