How Far Away Are We From Climate Change Targets?

Oil tanker leaving Vancouver

The latest IPCC report has landed with an almighty thud. The report from Working Group 2 of the IPCC looked at Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability of climate change. On this report alone, there were 243 lead authors, 66 review editors from 70 countries, and 436 contributing authors from 54 countries, says the IPCC. Over 12,000 scientific references are cited.

In short, the worst is yet to come and everyone on this planet will feel the impact, especially the poor, elderly, and vulnerable. What's more, we are not prepared for the risks posed by climate change.

As Princeton University professor Michael Oppenheimer, one of the main authors of the 32-volume report put it: "We are all sitting ducks".

Emissions going in wrong direction

The main problem is that human emissions of greenhouse gases continue to rise when we should be rapidly reducing them. Stephen Harper's Conservative Party pulled Canada out of the Kyoto Protocol, saying it couldn't hit its emissions reductions target. But the country is now on course to miss the watered-down emissions targets for 2020 agreed in Copenhagen in 2009.

In British Columbia, which in the past has led on climate change, the Liberal Party's liquid natural gas ambitions will likely make its legislated targets for 2020 impossible.

To help myself understand how BC and Canada is doing with its targets I plugged the details into a Google spreadsheet (below):

Emissions "improvements"

It is worth noting that reported emissions are revised from year to year and differences in reporting by the BC and Federal governments mean emissions totals vary (for example, the BC Government figures include net impact of deforestation).

Matt Horne at environmental NGO the Pembina Insitute says this is not something sinister, but refinement in the way that emissions are reported. It could be improvements of in-the-field reporting or a better understanding of the complexities of climate change. For example, the comparative impact of methane on climate change is being revised upwards. Previously, the global warming potential of methane, the second most prevalent human-made GHG, was considered 21 times greater than CO2 over a 100-year period. It is now considered 25 times greater (and should be even higher, says the IPCC) something that ripples through all the years in the data set when updated.

The Government of Canada will post its latest emissions figures for 1990 to 2012 in April to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) site.

BC has a target, enshrined in law, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 33% of 2007 levels by 2020. The base rate for 2007 was 67.3Mt in the BC Government's GHG Inventory Report 2007 (published 2009), it dropped to 64.9Mt in the British Columbia GHG Inventory 2010 (published June 2012), and is 66.0Mt in the BC Government emissions update for 2011. The BC Government's biennial GHG Inventory Report for the years 1990 to 2012 is expected in June this year.

Beyond the noise of the year to year changes, it's crystal clear that Canada's reliance on fossil fuels means that it is not going to hit its softer 2020 climate target. Nor will BC if it pursues its LNG plans.