Is Canada Showing Up For Climate Change?

by Jon Ruse

The UN recently held a climate change summit in New York City on September 23rd 2014, the results of which seem optimistic for the future of the climate change issue. Leaders from some of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases were on hand, including the USA and Great Britain. While no negotiations related to the UNFCCC take place until 2015, some of the important commitments in terms of greenhouse gas emissions were discussed[1].Leading up to the summit, there was cause for concern amongst Canadian politicians, as Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced he would not be attending, despite being in New York.

Are the other political parties in Canada just over concerned or is there a reason why the Prime Minister might not be so eager to attend climate summits that our closest allies’ heads of state attend?

Looking at Canadian greenhouse gas emissions Since the Harper government took over in 2006, it is true that total emissions have reduced from 728 megatonnes CO2 equivalent to 699 megatonnes CO2 equivalent[2].  However, much of this decline is due to the economic recession of 2008 and greenhouse gas emissions are expected to once again begin increasing [3]. Also, the largest decrease in emissions from a provincial standpoint is from Ontario who reduced their emissions from 206 megatonnes CO2 equivalent to 166 megatonnes[2]. This is mainly due to provincial efforts to eliminate coal as an energy source[4]. How about the Prime Minister’s home province of Alberta? The following figure shows greenhouse gas emissions for 1990, 2005 and 2012 by province:

image courtesy environment canada ( )

Most of this large increase is due to the tar sands, and shockingly, if Alberta was its own country, it would have the highest emissions per capita in the world[5]. This fact is reflected in the government’s lack of regulation of the tar sands and greenhouse gas emissions in the environmental assessment process. While the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act has a general guide for practitioners with respect to climate change, it states that “climate change parameters are not explicitly identified in Canadian EA legislation and there remains a lack of legally binding federal, provincial or territorial regulations or targets for GHG emission reductions.[6]” Furthermore, after admitting they would not come close to greenhouse gas reduction targets, the federal government announced that in-situ oil sands projects would not require a federal impact assessment[7]. This is shocking considering the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers estimates that 80 percent of oil sands reserves will be extracted in-situ[8]. The Pembina Institute estimates that in-situ production causes emissions of 91 Kilograms of CO2 equivalent per barrel vs just 36 for regular mining[9]. To reach greenhouse gas emissions targets that Canada has agreed upon in the Copenhagen accord, the federal government should not be turning a blind eye on such a large percentage of potential emissions. Based on the Conservative government’s lack of responsibility when it comes to climate issues. When it comes to the climate, the New York summit is just another example of many where Prime Minister Harper has decided not to shown up.


[1] United Nations. (2014, September 23). 2014 Climate Change Summary – Chair’s Statement. Retrieved October 4th 2014, from

[2] Environment Canada. (2014, April 11). Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data. Retrieved October 4th 2014, from

[3] Environment Canada. (2011, May 30). Canada’s Emissions Trends. Retrieved October 4th 2014, from

[4] Ontario Ministry of Energy. (2010). Ontario’s Long Term Energy Plan. Retrieved October 5th 2014, from

[5] Pembina Institute. (n.d.). Alberta’s Oil Sands Climate Impacts. Retrieved October 5th 2014, from

[6] Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. (2012, July 6). Incorporating Climate Change Considerations in Environmental Assessment: General Guidance for Practitioners. Retrieved October 5th 2014, from

[7] Global News. (2013, October 26). Federal Government Backs Off Oilsands Assessments. Retrieved October 5th 2014, from

[8]Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. (2014). What Are Oil Sands? Retrieved October 5th 2014, from

[9]Pembina Institue. (n.d.). Mining vs. In-Situ Fact Sheet. Retrieved October 6th 2014, from