Alberta has largest and fastest-growing GHG emissions in Canada, new national report shows
April 20, 2022
Alberta’s greenhouse gas emissions increased the most of any province or territory between 2005 to 2020, largely due to expansion of oil and gas operations, according to the 2022 national inventory report on GHG emissions in Canada.
Environment Minister Steven Gilbeault released the report on April 14. Canada submits the report annually to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, an international treaty to cooperatively address climate change issues.
Emissions in Alberta have increased by 19 million tonnes (Mt), or 8.2 percent, since 2005 – the biggest increase in Canada, according to the report. Alberta also has the highest volume of emissions with 256 Mt in 2020, or 38 percent of Canada’s total.
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In contrast, Ontario’s emissions have decreased by 55 Mt, or 27 percent, since 2005, mainly due to the closure of the province’s last coal-fired electricity generation plants in 2014. Ontario has Canada’s second-highest volume of emissions – 150 Mt in 2020.
Canada’s oil and gas industry accounted for 179 Mt, or 27 percent, of Canada’s total GHG emissions in 2020 – the highest among economic sectors in the country, according to the inventory report.
Given what the report shows, “It’s logical and obvious that the oil and gas sector needs to reduce absolute emissions,” for Canada to have any hope of achieving its 2030 and 2050 climate goals, Simon Dyer, deputy executive director of the Pembina Institute, said in an interview.
With the current high oil and natural gas prices, companies should be investing now in technologies to reduce carbon emissions rather than focusing on share buybacks and paying dividends, Dyer said.
Industry defends its emissions-reduction record
But the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) defended the industry’s ongoing efforts to reduce emissions.
The oil and natural gas sector is by far Canada’s largest spender on clean technology, accounting for 75 percent of the total annual spending by all sectors, Jay Averill, CAPP’s spokesperson, said in an email to Research Money.
“Canada’s oil sands producers have not only made exceptional progress in reducing GHG emissions intensity, with even more new technology awaiting deployment, but will also displace global emissions over time from poorer performing sectors and jurisdictions,” he said.
Oil sands companies have reduced emissions intensity (the amount of GHGs emitted per barrel of oil production) by eight percent between 2013 and 2019, while production increased by 66 percent during that period, according to a report by CAPP.
Nevertheless, the oil sands industry’s total or absolute emissions still increased – as noted in the national inventory report – due to the large increase in production.
Next to the oil and gas industry, the economic sector with the second-highest volume of emissions was transport, at 159 Mt in 2020, or 24 percent of Canada’s total emissions, according to the report.
However, that was a decline of 27 Mt (12 percent), compared with the previous year, largely due to fewer kilometres driven and a decrease in air traffic as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
First national report to track impact of COVID-19 on GHG emissions
The new national inventory report provides the first detailed tracking of how the COVID-19 crisis affected GHG emissions.
Canada’s total GHG emissions dropped by 66 Mt in 2020, or 8.9 percent, to 672 Mt from 738 Mt in 2019, largely due to the pandemic’s impact, according to the report.
The report also confirms the continued decoupling taking place between Canada’s economy and its emissions performance, Gilbeault said in a statement.
“As Canada’s economy has grown, the emission intensity (amount of GHG emissions per unit of output or GDP) has declined by 39 percent since 1990 and is continuing on this same trajectory,” he said.
The report also shows Canada is on track to meet the federal government’s goal to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40 to 45 percent below the 2012 level by 2025, Guilbeault said.
Methane emissions in 2020 amounted to 92 Mt, or 14 percent, of Canada’s total GHG emissions, according to the report. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, with 86 times the global warming potential in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.
The Pembina Institute’s Dyer, however, said the federal methane emissions-reduction target referred to by Guilbeault is far too low. At the United Nations COP26 climate summit last year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged to reduce methane emissions in the oil and gas sector by 75 percent by 2030.
“There are abundant opportunities to reduce methane emissions even beyond the 75 percent reduction target,” Dyer said.
Numerous technologies have been developed, field-tested and demonstrated that collectively can reduce the oil and gas sector’s methane emissions by more than 45 percent, according to a report by Petroleum Alliance Technology Canada (PTAC). PTAC’s goals are to have the capability to reduce methane emissions in the sector by 45 percent by 2022 and 90 percent by 2030.