B.C., Ottawa and Quebec lead in reducing GHG emissions, Alberta and Saskatchewan are laggard: report

Mark Lowey
July 10, 2024

British Columbia, the federal government and Quebec get top marks for leadership and actions in reducing greenhouse gas emissions to achieve Canada’s 2030 climate target, says a new report by the Pembina Institute and Simon Fraser University.

Alberta and Saskatchewan received the lowest scores for their efforts, according to the report, “All Together Now: A provincial scorecard on shared responsibility to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Canada.” (Photo shows emissions from oilsands plant in Alberta).

“There was very little evidence of adequate work by the governments of Alberta and Saskatchewan to plan to reduce emissions and participate in the emerging clean economy, with these governments also actively opposing some federal climate measures,” the report says.

The report is a collaboration by the Pembina Institute, a Calgary-based clean energy think tank, and the sustainable planning group in the School of Resource and Environmental Management at Simon Fraser University (SFU).

 “Our assessment is a reminder that Canada’s federal government and ten provincial governments must be held equally accountable to this task, so that all Canadians can experience the social, health, environmental and economic benefits of the new energy economy,” said Sara McBain (photo at left), senior policy analyst at the Pembina Institute.

“We are seeing some bright spots of leadership. But too many governments in Canada have climate plans that are out of sync with the scale and pace of the energy transition that is already underway globally – and some are still actively opposing climate measures,” she said in a statement.

“All Canadians deserve to have a future that is climate-safe and economically secure; our report is a reminder to all governments of their shared responsibilities in this.”

The report assessed the performance of Canada’s federal and provincial governments on 23 policy indicators across 12 criteria categories (eight general and four sector-specific). The indicators represent best practices in climate policies and measures deemed to be key components for the reduction of emissions, both broadly and within key economic sectors, the report’s authors said.

In 2022, Canada emitted 708 million tonnes (Mt) of greenhouse gases, according to the most recent National Inventory Report. This represents a 7.1-percent reduction in emissions since 2005, the baseline year against which Canada’s progress on its international climate commitments is measured.

Canada’s per capita emissions are the second highest among the G7 countries. The Pembina Institute-SFU report points out that a 7.1- percent reduction from 2005 levels still leaves Canada with a considerable amount of work to do to achieve its commitment of a 40-percent to 45-percent reduction below 2005 levels by 2030.

“If all current climate policies in Canada (those in place as of August 2023, as well as other new policies since announced) are fully implemented, a reduction of 36 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 is forecast,” the report says.

“If Canada is to meet its 2030 commitment, not only must it fully implement all current and announced policies, it will need to introduce further measures.”

Among Canada’s 10 provinces, two are responsible for a majority of the country’s overall emissions. Alberta accounts for the largest share (38 percent), while Ontario accounts for the second largest (22 percent).

Alberta and Saskatchewan, where most of Canada’s oil and gas production is located, have the highest emissions intensity in Canada. Emissions per unit of GDP in these two provinces is more than double the Canadian average, and the per capita rate is more than triple.

In contrast, Ontario and Quebec have the lowest emissions intensity on a per unit of GDP basis.

[Editor’s note: Ontario has a significant amount of hydroelectricity and nuclear power, while hydropower generates 94 percent of Quebec’s electricity].  

Since 2005, the emissions record of Canada’s top five GHG-emitting provinces has been mixed, the report says. Emissions increased by seven percent in Alberta and by three percent in B.C., while they decreased by 23 per cent in Ontario, eight per cent in Quebec, and six percent in Saskatchewan.

Oil and gas, transportation sectors have the highest emissions

The oil and gas and transportation sectors account for around half of all emissions in Canada (30.6 percent and 22.1 percent respectively), the report says.

This is followed by buildings (12.5 percent), heavy industry (11 percent), agriculture (9.9 percent), electricity (6.7 percent) and waste and other sources (6.8 percent).

Since 2005, there has been varied progress across these different sectors. Emissions increased from oil and gas, buildings and agriculture. They decreased from electricity, heavy industry and waste/others. For the transportation sector, emissions remained flat.

In addition to accounting for more emissions than any other sector, oil and gas also saw the largest increase since 2005, at 11 percent. This is largely driven by Alberta’s oilsands sub-sector, where emissions have increased 142 percent since 2005.

However, over the same period all other oil and gas sub-sectors [e.g. conventional oil and natural gas] made progress to reduce emissions, motivated by federal and provincial regulations to reduce methane emissions, the report notes.

This progress “demonstrates the positive impact that well-designed regulations can have, and underscores the need for policies to drive emissions reductions in the oilsands, such as a strong oil and gas emissions cap, which would also cover the oilsands sub-sector,” the report says.

Although oil and gas is the highest-emitting sector in Canada, it is the highest-emitting sector in only two provinces: Alberta (where it represents 59 percent of emissions) and Saskatchewan (36 percent of emissions).

In five of the remaining eight provinces, transportation is the highest-emitting sector, accounting for between 32 percent and 58 percent of total emissions.

Compared with 2005, total transportation sector emissions have not changed. The passenger transportation sub-sector accounts for nearly 60 percent of total transportation emissions, while the freight transportation sub-sector accounts for the remaining approximately 40 percent.

Canada’s electricity sector has seen the largest decrease in emissions since 2005 (minus 59 percent). Canada’s electricity mix has changed since 2005, seeing an increase in renewable generation coupled with the decline of coal-fired power.

Alberta, for example, is now on track to achieve full coal-phase out this year, more than three decades earlier than was previously regarded as possible by many stakeholders.

B.C. achieved the highest score

British Columbia is the fifth-largest GHG-emitting province in absolute terms (64.3 Mt) and the fourth-lowest in per capita terms. B.C. received the highest score in the report due to several factors, including that the province:

  • has a 2030 emissions-reduction target aligned with Canada’s national target for 2030, as well as interim emissions reduction targets.
  • has legislation or is in the progress of legislating a net-zero by 2025 target.
  • has a climate plan.
  • has a legislation requirement to prepare a climate plan, set reduction targets, and monitor and report.
  • has a public monitoring and reporting program for the climate plan.
  • has a climate adaptation strategy.
  • has legislated the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to take action on reconciliation.
  • has a plan to assess and mitigate climate equity impacts.
  • has a comprehensive plan and policy to support the transition to a clean economy.
  • supports carbon pricing in principal and has an end-use carbon price that meets the federal benchmark.
  • has a carbon price on industrial emitters that meets the federal benchmark.
  • has adopted standards for all new buildings to be net-zero carbon ready by 2030, and a plan to retrofit existing buildings to be net-zero ready – with supporting measures.
  • has a sales regulation for zero-emission light-duty vehicles as well as medium/heavy duty vehicles and supporting incentives.
  • has a comprehensive public transit and active transportation policy.
  • has decarbonized or has a plan for net-zero electricity generation by 2035.
  • has legislated methane emissions reduction targets.
  • has legislated oil and gas emissions reductions targets.

Despite B.C. scoring the highest, the report notes that its oil and gas sector targets are particularly sensitive to the province’s growing liquified natural gas (LNG) industry.

B.C.’s Net-Zero New Industry policy will require all proposed LNG facilities that are in or entering the environmental assessment process to have a credible plan to be net-zero by 2030. However, four of the six LNG terminals now in development are exempt from this policy.

B.C. will need to ensure that all LNG terminals – and associated upstream natural gas production – are able to fit under the sectoral emissions cap, the report says. Also, extensive electrification buildout will be required to meet stated emissions targets if further growth is seen in the province’s LNG industry.

Despite that caution, the report says that “B.C. has made several significant improvements to its climate policy framework in the last few years and remains a climate policy leader in Canada.”

The province has enshrined key features of climate accountability into law, including interim targets and the development of sectoral targets, which distinguishes B.C’s accountability legislation from that of other jurisdictions in Canada, the report says.

Alberta and Saskatchewan lagging in several areas

In sharp contrast with B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan received the lowest scores in the report because both provinces:

  • Don’t have a 2030 emissions-reduction target aligned with the national target, or interim emissions-reduction targets.
  • Don’t have an independent accountability process to advise and evaluate a provincial climate plan.
  • Haven’t legislated UNDRIP.
  • Don’t have a plan to assess and mitigate climate equity impacts.
  • Don’t support carbon pricing in principal nor have an end-use carbon price that meets the federal benchmark.
  • Haven’t adopted standards for all new buildings to be zero-carbon ready by 2030, and no plan to retrofit existing buildings.
  • Don’t have a sales regulation for zero-emission vehicles or a comprehensive public transit and active transportation policy.
  • Haven’t decarbonized nor have a plan for net-zero electricity generation by 2035.
  • Haven’t legislated oil and gas emissions targets.

Alberta published its Emissions Reduction and Energy Development plan in April 2023. But the plan lacked interim emissions reduction targets or any other roadmap for achieving the “aspiration” for the province’s economy to become carbon neutral by 2050, the report says.

“A year on from its release, the plan has yet to be accompanied by tangible actions – such as preliminary stakeholder engagement, or basic sector-by-sector emissions analysis – that would represent the first elements of groundwork towards the plan’s stated aspiration.”

The report notes there is also evidence that provincial government decisions have actively damaged the growth of clean sectors in Alberta – notably the United Conservative Party government’s imposition in 2023 of a seven-month moratorium on renewable energy development.

Pembina Institute analysis found that the moratorium directly affected 118 proposed projects in the province, representing at least $33 billion in investment.

Prior to the moratorium, Alberta’s deregulated electricity market – where organizations can buy energy directly from sellers without going through a centralized utility – had otherwise facilitated a major renewables boom in the province (over 90 percent of Canada’s wind, solar and energy storage additions in 2023 were in Alberta).

In Saskatchewan, the province has a legislated requirement to set province-wide climate targets, but has yet to do so. The province also opposes the federal carbon pricing system, the proposed oil and gas emissions cap, and federal methane regulations.

“The province reluctantly complies with and in some cases, actively opposes several federal climate regulations,” the report says.

The report also points out that Premier Scott Moe has publicly stated he wants the province to continue to run its coal-fired power plants until end-of-life, which means Saskatchewan may ultimately end up in contravention of federal coal phase-out regulations.

Quebec scores much higher than Ontario

The report scored Quebec among the top three jurisdictions (with B.C. and the federal government) for leadership in taking measures to reduce GHG emissions.

Quebec scored well based on several factors, including the province’s interim emissions reduction targets, establishing a climate adaptation strategy, commitments to developing a climate plan and monitoring of climate progress, and advancing transportation decarbonization policies.

Ontario received a lower overall score than Quebec and several other provinces. The report notes that Ontario’s emissions-reduction target is not enshrined in legislation, nor are there dates or timelines to meet the requirements of the province’s climate plan.

Also, Ontario’s reporting is not independently reviewed, nor does it provide sufficient details on the status of measures to implement the plan. Like Alberta and Saskatchewan, Ontario opposes the federal carbon pricing system.

Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Manitoba scored in the middle of the pack in the report.

The report highlighted leadership and priorities for action for Canada’s territorial governments, although a full evaluation wasn’t carried out.

The report says the assessments of different jurisdictions found some common themes of what climate policy leadership looks like. As governments’ emissions-reduction plans develop, the report recommends all governments incorporate these aspects:

  • Set short- and longer-term emissions reduction targets and establish a clear pathway to achieve them.
  • Plan ahead to ensure all communities and groups are well served through good jobs in the energy transition.
  • Foster meaningful reconciliation.
  • Invest in a low-carbon, modernized electricity grid that will underpin Canada’s clean economy.
  • Advance the switch to a clean transportation sector.
  • Accelerate the push toward zero-carbon buildings.
  • Take urgent steps to cap and cut oil and gas emissions, including methane.
  • Maintain and enhance carbon pricing.

Says the report: “Governments that do not take action today to reduce emissions in line with Canada’s international commitments are not only leaving their populations vulnerable to the most devastating impacts of climate change, they are doing a disservice to the future competitiveness of their jurisdictions and their industries in the global marketplace.”

See also: “Quebec gets an A among provinces for building a more sustainable economy, while Alberta and Saskatchewan receive D grades” (a report by Clean Energy Canada, in the June 19 Short Report).


Other News

Events For Leaders in
Science, Tech, Innovation, and Policy

Discuss and learn from those in the know at our virtual and in-person events.

See Upcoming Events

You have 1 free article remaining.
Don't miss out - start your free trial today.

Start your FREE trial    Already a member? Log in


By using this website, you agree to our use of cookies. We use cookies to provide you with a great experience and to help our website run effectively in accordance with our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.