April 17, 2015

This week the provinces and territories gathered in Quebec City to discuss their contributions to Canada’s response to climate change. The summit came hot on the heels of the UN’s suggested deadline to submit plans and targets for discussion at the next international climate conference in Paris this December.

Canada missed the deadline but wasn’t alone – others included Japan, Australia and China. However, China has agreed to cap emissions by 2030 at the very latest, which is a first for the country; previously, they have only referred to possible emissions intensity reduction goals, not absolute caps to limit emission growth. The U.S. made their pledge back in November to emit 26-28% fewer GHGs in 2025 than in 2005. Although Canada was not the only country to miss the suggested deadline set by the UN, they did miss the boat on a North America approach to reducing emissions.

You first

The federal government has established that Canada will not meet its 2020 target of 17 per cent below 2005 levels. When it comes to setting the country’s 2050 target and associated strategy for meeting it, the federal Environment Minister is deferring to the provinces, requesting more detail on how they intend to meet their own targets before the Prime Minister announces the national target in June.

This isn’t too surprising, given that the provinces have been taking the lead on climate policy for some time – a reality that’s reflected in the Ecofiscal Commission’s recent report, which suggests that the most cost-effective, practical way for Canada to reduce its GHGs is for every province to put a price on carbon. In fact, with Ontario’s announcement  this week that it would be joining Quebec and California in cap-and-trade, soon more than 75% of Canadians will live in provinces that have some form of carbon pricing.

Is the whole really greater than the sum of its parts?

The table below summarizes the various carbon policy mechanisms in play, illustrating the great strides the provinces have made as well as some of the challenges inherent in a bottom-up approach: there is no real consensus on targets or strategies for meeting them. However, most provinces are currently going through revising processes to either augment actions to meet their 2020 goals, or set post-2020 targets where they don’t already exist.

Province  GHG reduction targets Province/Wide Policy Mechanisms
BC 33% below 2007 levels by 2020
  • Carbon tax of $30/tonne
  • 93% of electricity must come from clean or renewable sources
  • Renewable and low carbon fuel requirements (at least 5% renewable content for gasoline and diesel; 10% reduction in carbon intensity of transportation fuels by 2020)
Alberta By 2020, stabilize greenhouse gas emissions by 50 megatonnes; projecting to exceed 2020 target by 10%By 2050, emissions reduced by 50% below “business as usual” level – 200 megatonnes; 14% below 2005 levels
  • Specified Gas Emissions Regulation (a baseline and credit program): requires Alberta’s largest industrial facilities (emitting 100,000 tonnes of carbon/year) to reduce emissions intensity or pay into a technology fund and/or purchase offsets. Carbon price: $15/tonne, maximum.
Saskatchewan 20% below 2006 levels by 2020
  • Carbon pricing under consideration for several years, enabling legislation but no approach adopted to date.
Manitoba 6% below 1990 levels by 2020
  • Legislated ban on using petroleum coke as a space heating fuel
  • Carbon pricing under consideration for several years, no approach adopted to date.


Ontario 15% below 1990 levels by 2020, 80% by 2050
  • Legislated shutdown of all coal-fired power plants
  • Intends to participate in cap-and-trade with California and Quebec


Quebec 20% below 1990 levels by 2020
  • Small levy on fossil fuels
  • Ultimately, a Cap-and-trade with California (linkage will come, earliest, in 2018): major industrial emitters (emitting 25,000 tonnes of carbon/year), transportation and building sectors, fossil fuel distributors/importers ($12-15/tonne)


New Brunswick 10% below 1990 levels by 2020
Nova Scotia 10% below 1990 levels by 2020
  • Legislated cap on emissions from coal-fired electricity, mandating emissions decrease to 25 per cent below 2007 levels by 2020


PEI 75 to 85% below 2001 levels by 2050
Newfoundland and Labrador 10% below 1990 levels by 2020


Further demonstrating the gulf between different provincial approaches, Saskatchewan made a well-publicized argument at the provincial climate summit against putting a price on carbon, instead advocating for greater investment in carbon capture and sequestration technologies – in his words, “clean coal”.

What next?

Not surprisingly, the final declaration that emerged from the provincial summit didn’t have a lot of specificity: no references to carbon pricing, just a general agreement to “adopt” and “promote” ways to reduce GHGs and “advance” new technologies.

What the provinces and territories DO seem to agree on is the need for the federal government to show greater leadership on climate change. The federal government have an important role in coordinating and setting “rules of the game” and/or minimum standards that provinces can chose to meet, or beat, in whatever way best fits. Greater leadership from the federal government is also necessary because the provinces are unable to do any negotiations.

Due to the federal election in (or before) October, there is potential for dynamics to change regarding the existing role the federal government is playing. As of now, they have said they will put forward their initial targets by June; the road to Paris will continue to see heightened discussion (and hopefully action) across Canada.

The provinces are looking to Ottawa for leadership. Ottawa is looking to the provinces and territories to deliver reductions. Can this approach really move the dial on climate change in Canada, or is there a third way? Let us know what you think.

By: Alex Carr – Senior Associate (acarr@delphi.ca)

Jessica Butts – Consultant, Policy Lead (jbutts@delphi.ca)

Jessika Horak – Marketing Coordinator (jhorak@delphi.ca)