Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions rose in 2021 compared to the previous year but remained below what they were before the pandemic hit.
The federal government released its 2023 National Inventory Report on Friday. The annual report is submitted to the United Nations and details Canada’s progress on its emissions reduction plan.
Canada produced 670 million tonnes of carbon dioxide and its equivalents in methane, nitrous oxide and synthetic gases in 2021 as pandemic restrictions began to ease.
That’s 12 million tonnes — or 1.8 per cent — more than the total recorded for 2020, when much of the economy was shut down during the onset of the pandemic.
Environment Minister Stephen Guilbeault said a rebound was expected in 2021 and emissions were actually lower than predicted.
“Canada’s economy, in the face of a strong post-pandemic rebound, continues to show signs of becoming more efficient and less polluting as our journey to net-zero emissions continues,” Guilbeault said in a media statement.
The government report says Canada produced 53 million tonnes less in emissions in 2021 than it did in 2019 — the year before the pandemic hit. Guilbeault suggested this means his government was making progress on its emission reduction targets.
“Progress is happening, and Canada has been focused and relentless in taking climate action,” Guillbeault said.
Last year, the government released a plan to slash emissions by 40 to 45 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.
According to Friday’s report, Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions were 62 million tonnes below 2005 levels in 2021 — a reduction of 8.4 per cent in 16 years.
The government report’s conclusions are in line with a similar report from the independent Canadian Climate Institute released in February.
The institute’s principal economist, Dave Sawyer, said Friday’s report proves government policies are working to reduce emissions, but that more still needs to be done.
“Achieving Canada’s 2030 climate target will require faster action and stronger policy from governments across the country — but the progress we see today is a step forward,” Sawyer said in a statement.
Canada’s oil and gas sector is still the biggest contributor to emissions. In 2021, the industry produced 28 per cent of the country’s greenhouse gases. While the industry’s overall emissions were lower in 2021 than they were in 2019, they were still higher than 2005 levels.
Sawyer suggested this means the industry is “trending in the wrong direction.”
In 2021, some of Canada’s largest oil producers announced they were forming an organization called the Pathways Alliance with a goal of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions from oilsands operations by 2050.
Critics have questioned the progress the group has made on that commitment. In September, the Pembina Institute said most of the details of Pathways Alliance members’ decarbonization plans remain undisclosed. Since the group was established, the institute said, its members have made no significant decarbonization investments.
David Suzuki Foundation senior policy adviser Tom Green said Friday’s report confirms the need for an emissions cap on the sector.
“We’re on the right path through national regulations and policies, but we need to use all the tools in our toolbox. Canada can and must do better,” Green said in a media statement.
Last year, the government proposed an industry-specific cap-and-trade system or a modified carbon pricing system to set a ceiling for emissions from the oil and gas sector and drive them down almost 40 per cent by the end of this decade.
Green said the government needs to finalize that plan sooner rather than later.
The transportation industry was the second-largest emitter in 2021, producing 22 per cent of Canada’s emissions.
Provincially, Ontario and Alberta are the country’s largest emitters. But while Ontario has trended downward since 2005, Alberta’s emissions have increased.