Highest carbon emissions per capita? ‘I don’t care.’

Saskatchewan and Manitoba both have their own strategies to reduce carbon emissions? Critics say these plans don’t do enough.

The very first issue of The Flatlander, Why snow is important to the local economy, which came out in November of last year, looked at how the Prairies are predicted to be a climate change hotspot, which may mean more droughts in our future.

Since writing that issue, I’ve been reading about possible solutions. Saskatchewan and Manitoba both have their own climate change mitigation strategies, so in this issue I thought we would look at what those policies are and what impact these plans will have in reducing carbon emissions.

Saskatchewan on carbon emissions

“A lot of folks will come to me and say, ‘Hey, you guys have the highest carbon emissions per capita.’ I don’t care,” said Saskatchewan Premiere Scott Moe this April at a Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce.

He was commenting on the fact that Saskatchewan leads the country in carbon emissions per capita, according to data from a recent National Inventory Report.

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Metrics: resilience vs. carbon emissions

Moe said per capita emissions is the wrong metric to measure. And if you look at Saskatchewan’s climate strategy, it suggests: “Resilience is a much stronger indicator of effective climate action than simply measuring reductions in greenhouse gas.”

The province’s climate strategy defines resilience as the “ability to cope with, adapt to and recover from stress and change.”

To me, resilience is a more abstract metric than carbon emissions, which are recorded and made public in the National Inventory Report every year.

If a province has set an emissions target, like Manitoba has, it’s easy for anyone to look and see how they are doing with some simple math.

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Manitoba’s climate accountability legislation

In 2018, Manitoba became the first province in Canada to implement climate accountability legislation. However, its legislation doesn’t include setting long-term emissions reduction targets or developing a clear emissions reduction strategy, which is something its critics would like to see.

Manitoba’s current climate goal

According to Manitoba’s Climate and Green Plan Implementation Act, the province needs to set an emissions reduction goal every five years.  

The current goal, since 2018, is for the province to cut emissions by a cumulative one megaton.

Is it enough?

Manitoba is taking a slow and study approach, compared to what the federal government would like to see.

  • The Liberals goal aims to reduce emissions by 40 to 45 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030.
  • In 2005, Manitoba produced 20.5 megatonnes of greenhouse gases.
  • By my math, Manitoba must reduce its greenhouse gas production by 9.4 megatonnes over the next eight years to meet the federal target.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s leading authority on climate research, to limit global warming to roughly 2 C, emissions need to be reduced globally by approximately 25 per cent by 2030 over 2010 levels, and then reach net-zero emissions by approximately 2070.

  • Manitoba produced 19.8 megatonnes of greenhouse gases in 2010.
  • To get to 25 per cent less than that, the province would have to reduce its output by 6.9 megatonnes by 2030.

Long story short, Manitoba currently isn’t a team player when it comes to helping the country or the world meet its carbon emissions targets, and neither is Saskatchewan.

Climate disasters are inevitable?

Saskatchewan’s climate strategy values resilience because “some effects of climate change are already underway and unavoidable.”

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One of the province’s 40 commitments when it comes to climate change is to “encourage family preparedness plans, by making emergency preparedness guides and suggested emergency kit content lists available through Saskatchewan and local government websites.”

As well as:

  • Encourage communities to develop appropriate plans and preparedness to respond and recover from extreme weather events.
  • Encourage municipalities to consider disaster mitigation projects a priority when applying for infrastructure funding

Saskatchewan’s plan for reducing carbon emissions

Some of Saskatchewan’s commitments do include plans to cut carbon emissions for specific sectors. It just doesn’t have a numeric target to hit by 2030.

  • Saskatchewan plans to create a market for the methane that the oil and gas industry currently releases into the atmosphere through venting or flaring.
  • By using this methane for heating and electricity production instead, the province hopes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 38.2 million tonnes.
  • The province also aims to have 50 per cent of its electricity come from renewable sources by 2030. 
  • SaskPower has pledged to reduce its emissions by at least 50 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.
  • Saskatchewan is also looking into using carbon capture and storage technology in its remaining coal-fired power plants. 
  • The province plans to bring emissions from government buildings down to 85,489 tonnes per year.
  • The province would like to see industrial facilities that emit more than 25,000 tonnes of carbon emissions annually collectively cut emissions by 10 per cent by 2030.
  • Potash, coal mining, uranium mining, iron and steel mills, fertilizer manufacturing, pulp mills and ethanol production must reduce their emission intensity by five per cent.
  • Refining and upgrading must cut emission intensity by 10 per cent.
  • Combustion in the upstream oil and gas sector must cut its emission intensity by 15 per cent

I looked up what emissions intensity means, and it’s the volume of emissions produced against another unit, such as emissions per dollar. What this performance metric would be in Saskatchewan isn’t stated.

Companies that don’t want to reduce their emissions intensity can contribute to a provincial technology fund or purchase an offset credit.  

Industrial facilities will also be able to earn a “best performance credit” if they exceed their performance standard.

Saskatchewan doesn’t have targets for the agriculture or transportation sectors, though they’re among the highest emitting industries.

Regardless, Saskatchewan will be reducing its emissions by 2030, but by exactly how much is unclear.

What would it take for Saskatchewan to meet the federal 2030 goal?

  • In 2020, Saskatchewan produced 65.9 megatonnes.
  • In 2005, it produced 14.5 megatonnes.
  • If Saskatchewan wants to hit the Liberal target of reducing its emissions below 40 per cent of the 2005 level, it needs to reduce its emissions by 57.2 megatonnes, which is a tall order.

Meanwhile over in Manitoba, its looking like the province is on track to meet its one megatonne goal by 2022.

The latest National Inventory Report has numbers up until 2020.

  • In 2017, Manitoba produced 21.8 megatonnes of greenhouse gases.
  • In 2018, the province reported 22.6 megatonnes, which is an increase of 0.8 megatonnes from the previous year.
  • In 2019, the province produced 22.3 megatonnes
  • In 2020, the province produced 21.7 megatonnes.

It took three years, for Manitoba to get just below the amount of megatonnes it produced in 2017.

If the province has lost another 0.1 megatonnes between 2020 and the end of this year, Manitoba will have met its goal. Because of how the reporting system works, we should know in 2024.

What the critics say of Manitoba’s plan

Critics of Manitoba’s current Climate and Green Plan Implementation Act, would have preferred Manitoba set a long-term emissions reduction target, enshrining it in law, so the public is aware of it, instead of adjusting the goal, every five years.

Critics say making a long-term target legally binding through legislation increases the province’s accountability to act on climate change and provide predictability for businesses and policy makers trying to sync their own goals.

A very flexible plan

Manitoba currently has built a lot of flexibility into its legislation. At the end of the five years, it must add any shortfalls to its next carbon budget. However, there’s no limit to the amount that can be carried over. In theory, this means, Manitoba could miss its goal completely and carry it forward.

Political whims

The problem with emissions targets is that they can be increased or decreased based on political whims, depending on the government of the day. Whenever a new party is elected federally or provincially, climate goals may change.

Ultimately, it’s up to voters to decide if the Saskatchewan and Manitoba governments are doing enough to reduce carbon gases.

Environmental groups want more action from Saskatchewan and Manitoba

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Manitoba’s Climate Action Team said the province should make specific commitments for electrifying vehicles or motivating people to take the bus.

The organization would also like to see Manitoba’s building code updated to incorporate more energy efficiencies, as well as subsidize people retrofitting their homes.

A report leaked this year showed the Manitoba government hired Dunsky Energy and Climate Advisors to help with a new energy policy framework.

If Manitoba wants to reach the federal government’s net zero emissions target by 2050, the firm suggests the province:

  • Incentivize people to buy electric vehicles so that eventually all cars, passenger trucks, SUVs and light- and medium-duty trucks are electric,
  • Use hydrogen and biofuels for buses and heavy-duty vehicles.
  • Electrify 87 per cent of heating systems for buildings
  • Focus on geothermal energy to cut natural gas systems used to heat buildings by 43 per cent
  • Increase clean electricity generation by 66 per cent, using wind power and biomass.
  • Develop a provincial carbon pricing plan

Saskatchewan Environmental Society wants money for a home energy retrofit program and incentives to retrofit commercial buildings in Saskatchewan, as well as the use of zero-emission vehicles in the transport sector.

It would also like to see Saskatchewan phase out its conventional coal-fired power stations by 2030 and instead import hydro electricity from Manitoba, in addition to using wind and solar power. 

If you enjoyed today’s story, you may also be interested in these past issues:

Important work at a critical time.

Over the last 20 years, on the Prairies and beyond,  local newsrooms have shrunk, which means not much investigative journalism gets done in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The Flatlander is changing this.

 

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