By: Jacob Schroeder on
Elizabeth May, Green Party leader and MP for Saanich — Gulf Islands, in a press release on September 19, 2016
Canada’s target is allowed by the terms of the agreement. But to meet the agreement’s goal of limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius or less, Canada and all countries combined need higher targets.FactsCan Score: Misleading
Fresh after their 2015 electoral victory, the Liberal government made headlines at the Paris climate change conference by pushing for an agreement to keep global warming within 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. No more than 2 degrees, they said.
Then in September 2016, Catherine McKenna, environment and climate change minister, announced the aim to reduce Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) to 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. This is dubbed the 30-30 target and is the same one set by the former Conservative government.
Is Canada’s 30-30 target incompatible with the Paris Agreement?
The Paris Agreement
Under the Paris Agreement, countries voluntarily set GHG emission reduction targets and describe their plans to meet those targets. This information is called a country’s Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). Canada’s INDC gives the 30-30 target, and ways to meet it include phasing out coal-fired electricity generation and tightened regulations for vehicles.
Once individual countries submit their INDCs, scientists project the cumulative impact of the INDCs on global climate. Countries then negotiate and pursue further reductions if the aggregate effect of their INDCs will not meet the Paris goals.
Countries are not bound to setting certain targets or even achieving them, but are required to report on their progress towards their targets. The idea is that countries will each reduce as much as they can (or want to) today, and over time, reduction targets will be ‘ratcheted’ up as needed.
Canada’s contribution within the whole
Canada submitted its most recent INDC, with the 30-30 target, in May 2015. An analysis by the UN climate change body concluded that this target plus the targets of other countries do not match the Paris goal. Taken together, the targets won’t prevent global temperatures from rising above 2 degrees Celsius.
Is May correct to say the 30-30 target is “incompatible” with the Paris Agreement? It depends how you interpret the comment. If you take her words literally, then her statement is false.
The target is consistent with the agreement in that it is meant to set a floor on Canada’s emission reductions, and theoretically will be tightened further. The Paris Agreement was not designed to solve global warming in one fell swoop but rather to provide a framework for incrementally raising targets until they meet the agreement’s goal.
If you interpret “incompatible” to mean that Canada’s 30-30 goal violates the spirit of meaningfully contributing to the Paris goal, then there is some truth to May’s claim. It is true that the 30-30 target was part of a set of global contributions that, taken in aggregate, would push global temperatures past the goals of the Paris agreement. Matt Horne, director of the climate change program at the Pembina Institute, an energy think-tank that advocates for the reduction of fossil fuels, said May’s criticism is accurate. Canada would need to do more to help the world achieve the goals set in Paris, he said.
Complicating things is that global warming is caused by global actions, not just one country. Canada emits 1.4 per cent of the world’s GHGs and cannot single-handedly determine if the Paris goal is met. This makes judging an individual country’s contribution very difficult.
Global emission levels in 2025 and 2030 under INDCs and other scenarios
We’re not interpreting May literally, so we find the claim misleading. Canada’s target aligns with the Paris Agreement method of persistent incrementalism.
And yet May is correct that to reach the goal of limiting global temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius or less, Canada and other countries will have to do more.