Stephen Harper: “For the first time in history, this country actually has GHG emissions that have been falling.”
By: Brandon Bailey on
Stephen Harper, Prime Minister and Conservative MP for Calgary Southwest, in a interview on December 17, 2014
Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions have risen annually since 2010. While emissions did fall from 2007 to 2009, it was not the first decrease in Canadian history.FactsCan Score: False
In a year-end interview last December, Stephen Harper claimed Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions are falling for the first time in history. Arguing Canada had made “a substantial contribution to confronting” emissions, the Prime Minister said, “for the first time in history, this country actually has GHG emissions that have been falling.”
A similar claim surfaced more recently. In his budget speech in April of this year, Joe Oliver, the finance minister, said “we are the only government in our nation’s history to reduce Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions. Proof that emissions can decline even as economic growth continues.”
We’ll focus on what the Prime Minister said. There are two parts to Harper’s claim. First, that Canada’s GHG emissions are falling. And second, that they’re falling for the first time.
Are GHG emissions falling?
It is true that emissions dropped in recent years. But “falling” implies that the decline continued. This is not the case.
Environment Canada reported national GHG emissions in 2013, the latest date for which data is available, stood at 726 megatonnes, which is 18 per cent above what’s typically considered the baseline 1990 level. But emissions were even higher in 2007, when they peaked at 761 megatonnes. That means emissions were almost five per cent lower in 2013 than in 2007.
However, this change does not represent a steady decline, and it is false to say that emissions are “falling.” They rose from 699 megatonnes in 2009, to 707 in 2010, to 709 in 2011, to 715 in 2012, to 726 in 2013 – an increase of nearly four per cent in four years.
Source: Environment Canada (updated data)
Environment Canada updated the numbers in April 2015 so we used the new set, but it’s likely Harper used the 2014 data. Some yearly emissions levels are different in the 2014 set. The 2014 data can be found on the website of the United Nations body that governs climate change, the UNFCCC, from the last annual emissions report submitted by Canada. The numbers tell the same story that emissions are not currently “falling” (see the screen capture of the old data below).
The last release by Environment Canada explained that the steep decline in 2009 was “mostly due to the economic downturn.” This statement contradicts the credit Harper gave to a concerted government effort, or “substantial contribution to confronting” GHG emissions.
Though emissions are not falling, is the recent drop the first one in Canada’s history?
The drop from 2007 to 2009 is not the first. Other, though less significant, drops occurred from 2004 to 2006, from 2000 to 2001, and from 1990 to 1991. These earlier decreases were relatively small. The largest was above two per cent for the years 2004 to 2006, compared to eight per cent for the recession-era drop.
That makes a double false for this claim. Canada’s GHG emissions are not falling. And even if the aggregate change from the 2007 high to 2013 is counted, then Canada’s emissions are not falling “for the first time in this country’s history.”
Source: Environment Canada (outdated data)
Editor’s note: FactsCan asked Environment Canada to explain the discrepancy between the 2014 and 2015 data and will provide an update here on what we learn.