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The first year of the COVID-19 pandemic saw Canada’s emissions drop dramatically

Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions fell to their lowest level in nearly three decades in 2020, as pandemic restrictions kept cars out of the way and grounded planes for months.

OTTAWA — Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions fell to their lowest level in nearly three decades in 2020, as pandemic restrictions kept cars out of the way and grounded planes for months.

But a new, more accurate way of counting methane emissions from the oil and gas industry means Canada has emitted more than previously thought over the past 25 years, dampening some of the best news from the emissions report. released Thursday.

Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said in a written statement that overall the 2020 report is good news for the planet.

That year, Canada produced 672 million tonnes of carbon dioxide or its equivalent in methane, nitrous oxide and other gases that trap heat in the atmosphere and contribute to global warming.

That’s 66 million tonnes, or almost 9%, less than in 2019. That’s roughly what is produced by 20 million passenger vehicles in a year, or approximately the emissions produced by eight out of 10 passenger vehicles on Canadian roads.

“Canada is moving in the right direction,” Guilbeault said.

Much more needs to be done to meet Canada’s new goal of reducing emissions to no more than 60% of what they were in 2005 by 2030.

Canada must emit less than 445 million tonnes in 2030 to meet this target.

Emissions have not been lower than they were in 2020 since the mid-1990s. But Guilbeault warns that the steep decline will not be sustained in 2021 as pandemic restrictions have eased and the economic activity was more normal.

Road transportation emissions fell by more than 14% in 2020, representing two-thirds of the total reduction in Canada. Aviation emissions have been cut by nearly half.

Emissions also declined in manufacturing and oil and gas extraction, most of which can be attributed to pandemic-related shutdowns and slowdowns.

Merran Smith, executive director of Clean Energy Canada, an environmental think tank, said Canada’s emissions in 2020 fell more than the global average.

Data published in the journal Nature in January 2021 indicates that global emissions fell by 6.4% in 2020, while an analysis by the Global Carbon Project estimated that they had fallen by at least 7%.

Smith said a decline in emissions is “good news”, but he is dismayed that Canada does not publish anything nationally about its emissions for more than two years after the end of each reporting period.

Environment and Climate Change Canada collects and analyzes data submitted by major emitters and provincial governments, a process that takes over 24 months.

Smith said the UK publishes an interim emissions report just three months after the end of each year.

“Canada should follow suit,” she said. “As we have learned with COVID, up-to-date data better informs decision-making. It also makes governments more accountable as the impacts of their policies are monitored more closely.”

Not all of Canada’s emissions reductions in 2020 can be attributed to the pandemic. Alberta’s continued efforts to transition away from coal-fired power plants have helped reduce emissions from electricity and heat generation by more than 11% in 2020, a reduction that will continue into the future.

Alberta’s coal phase-out was expected to be completed by 2030, but is seven years ahead of schedule.

Since 2005, total electricity and heat emissions have more than halved as all provinces phase out coal. The federal government orders the end of all coal-fired power plants by 2030.

Some are being replaced by nuclear, hydroelectric, wind or solar sources, but many are switching to natural gas. In Alberta, some are in the process of switching to gas, but with the hope that they will eventually be able to run on hydrogen.

The other big change in the 2020 report was a new method for calculating methane emissions. The change, which is in line with standards set by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, came after numerous studies showed that methane leaks from oil and gas production sites were higher than previously thought.

Adjustments have also been made to the way emissions from agricultural soils are counted.

The changes were applied not only for 2020, but the revised emissions go back to 2005. Between 2015 and 2019, the adjustments mean that Canada emitted 47 million tonnes more than previously thought.

However, Guilbeault said ongoing efforts to reduce methane leaks are showing progress and are on track to meet the goal of reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by at least 40% below baseline levels. from 2012 by 2025.

The change also showed that instead of rising emissions in 2019 as previously thought, they have actually started to fall.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on April 14, 2022.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press