The criticism stems from a report Environment Minister Peter Kent (Thornhill, Ont.) tabled in the House of Commons the day Parliament adjourned for a week-long recess on Friday, Feb. 15.
The report is the government's second annual "update" on progress under the 2009 Copenhagen Accord, in which Canada agreed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020.
The report stated Canada was "halfway" to reaching its target.
But figures and forecasts contained in the report, and confirmed for The Hill Times by Environment Canada, show Canada is actually on track to produce 720 million tonnes of emissions by 2020, a drop of only 1.7 per cent of the 631 million tonnes emitted in 2005. That is due to an overall upward trend following emission reductions during the recession.
The Copenhagen target for Canada's emissions is 607 million tonnes by 2020.
A federal report last summer forecast greenhouse gas emissions from oilsands extraction and upgrading to reach 104 million tonnes by 2020, an increase of more than 200 per cent from 2005 levels that accounts for all of Canada's project increase in emissions over the next seven years and more.
Ambiguous wording in Mr. Kent's update, which Environment Canada later clarified for The Hill Times, actually meant the government was citing a halfway point between an estimate of what greenhouse gas emissions would have been had Canada taken no action at all850 million tonnes of emissions in 2020 and the Copenhagen Accord goal of 607 million tonnes.
"As a result of the combined efforts to date of federal and provincial governments, consumers and businesses, Canada is projected to reduce its emissions by 130 in 2020 when compared to projected business-as-usual greenhouse gas emissions in 2020," the report Mr. Kent tabled says. "This is about half the emissions reductions needed to meet Canada's 2020 emissions target."
Later in the report it says: "The Government of Canada is taking action on climate change domestically and internationally. Under the Copenhagen Accord, Canada inscribed a emission reduction target that is aligned with the U.S. target, this being 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020 to 607 based on Canada's original 2005 baseline."
Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore (Port Moody-Weswood-Port Coquitlam, B.C.) further contributed to potential misconceptions based on the government's position when he answered a question from NDP MP Peter Julian (Burnaby-New Westminster, B.C.) about recent U.S. pressure, based on wording in President Barack Obama's State of the Union Address, challenging Canada to step up its emission reductions. The two countries have partially integrated their reduction measures because of cross-board sectors such as the auto industry and have the same target of 17 per cent reductions by 2020.
"Of course, we have taken action on climate change, and as a matter of fact, we are already halfway toward our goal to reduce emissions by 17 per cent for 2020," Mr. Moore said in the House the day Mr. Kent tabled his report through the Commons clerk, without appearing in the House.
That day, Mr. Kent was in Montreal at a news conference with Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver (Eglinton-Lawrence, Ont.) announcing $62-million in funding for clean-energy technology projects. Mr. Kent responded to questions about Mr. Obama's speech and reiterated the Conservative government has no intention to impose a carbon tax as one way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May (Saanich-Gulf Islands, B.C.) and NDP MP Megan Leslie (Halifax, N.S.) later told The Hill Times that they were frustrated that the government was insisting it was halfway to meeting the Copenhagen Accord emission target for 2020, when Environment Canada reports had suggested otherwise.
Only two weeks earlier, Conservative MP Michelle Rempel (Calgary Centre North, Alta.) told the House of Commons the government would be meeting its Copenhagen 2020 target.
"We have taken a strong, bold, sector-by-sector regulatory approach that will see real reduction in greenhouse gas emissions looking at targeted sectors, including transportation, which we have already looked at," Ms. Rempel told the House.
"We are looking at the coal fire sector right now. We will be seeing reductions in greenhouses gases by 17 per cent of 2005 levels by 2020. This is real action," Ms. Rempel said.
The media branch of Environment Canada, however, confirmed that the government, as a line graph in Mr. Kent's report suggested, had introduced a new comparison, between the Copenhagen Accord target of 607 million tonnes to the theoretical forecast of the 850 million tonnes of emissions Canada would have been emitting in 2020 under a "business as usual" scenario had the provincial and federal governments taken no action.
But the official, communications director general Mark Johnson, at the same time used the halfway there' phrase, as though the government were referring perhaps to halfway there in terms of calendar years.
"Canada is halfway there in our national effort to meeting our target to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020," Mr. Johnson wrote in reply to emailed questions.
But he also wrote in the next paragraph: "Given Canada's growing economy, the most appropriate approach requires comparing our progress against a business-as-usual baseline that accurately captures the real and verifiable level of effort that will be required to reduce emissions through new initiatives."
The government has introduced regulations to reduce emissions in some sectors, but has yet to address the oil and gas industry, including the most contentious sector the oilsands.
Ms. May said the government is attempting to mislead MPs as well as the public.
"This is fraudulent," she said when informed of the latest figures provided by the government and explained by Environment Canada mean the country is on track to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by only 1.7 per cent by 2020 from 631 million tonnes in 2005 to 720 million tonnes in 2020.
The largest decrease in greenhouse gas emissions since 2005 was a result of the worldwide 2009-10 recession, from which the U.S. and Europe are still recovering.
"It's all smoke and mirrors if you try to tell Canadians We're on track to meet our targets,' and then in this report the language is even clearer that by 2020 they expect to be at 720 million tonnes, which is actually significantly above where they were in 2010," she told The Hill Times.
"It was a specific time limit with a 2020 commitment, and it was made by Harper personally, he was in Copenhagen, he can't fob this off on someone else," Ms. May said.
Ms. Leslie compared the government portrayal of greenhouse gas emission reductions to revelations last year stemming from Auditor General Michael Ferguson's report on the government's plan to procure a fleet of 65 F-35 stealth fighter jets that Mr. Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) and his Cabinet withheld $10-billion in operating costs for the new warplane as the 2011 federal election was approaching.
"You see this government constantly hiding information and so it makes you suspicious of these numbers right from the get go, and when you actually do take the time to unpack them and find out what these numbers tell us, you realize it's not an accurate picture and it's creative accounting," Ms. Leslie said.
"We've seen creative accounting when it comes to the F-35s and I think this is the same thing, only now it's being applied to the environment, they've misled Parliament so many times it's hard to take anything they're saying as being factual, as being truthful," Ms. Leslie said.
The Pembina Institute's expert on climate change, Matt Horne, agreed the government approach could be viewed as an exaggeration of what it has accomplished.
"Assessing climate change policies against business as usual is a valid approach, but it needs to be accurately communicated," Mr. Horne said. "Statements that don't mention that progress is being measured against business as usual' are easily misinterpreted. They can give the impression that governments are doing more than is actually the case."
Mr. Horne said Canada will never meet its Copenhagen target unless the government imposes severe restrictions on oil sands mining and upgrading, even though Mr. Harper and Mr. Oliver have pinned Canada's economic growth on the industry's growth and oil sands bitumen exports to the U.S. and China.
"If Canada is going to come close to meeting its target, it needs to assertively deal with oilsands emissions," Mr. Horne said. "We just can't live up to those commitments if we fail to deal with the oil sands."
The Hill Times