2030 is the year many have slated as the deadline for achieving important international goals. From the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals to the 2015 Paris Agreement, the Government of Canada has made some bold and ambitious commitments to improve health and wellbeing nationally and worldwide. With only 9 years left until this deadline, it is extremely important that Canada is actively working towards achieving these milestones, notably minimizing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and mitigating the impacts of the current climate crisis in all areas of our society. This writing piece will outline the commitments that the Federal government has made and evaluate what is currently known as Canada’s progress towards meeting these goals.
The Paris Agreement
The Paris Agreement is an international agreement signed at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP) in 2015 that came into effect on November 4th, 2016 (1). The main goal of this agreement is for the countries involved to “limit global warming to well below 2 degree celsius, preferably to 1.5 degrees celsius, compared to pre-industrial  levels” (1). It also highlights the importance of a transition to a low-carbon economy, as well as increasing adaptive capacity and resilience to the impacts of climate change (2). Once the Government of Canada had confirmed their involvement in the Paris Agreement in October 2016, the government had to submit their own personal target and plan for working towards this goal called a ‘Nationally Determined Contribution’ (NDC) (2). In 2016, the Government of Canada aimed to reduce GHG emissions to 30% below 2005 levels by 2030 (3). The current Federal government has supported this target, while also committing Canada to net-zero GHG emissions by 2050 (4).To achieve this goal, the current Federal government has also created plans for carbon pricing to be instituted in all provinces, new standards for industry emissions, renewable energy strategies, and the phasing out of coal-fired power generation (3).
Many countries submitted goals for 2025 to 2030, and this 2030 deadline is important for many reasons (2). A special 2018 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated with high confidence that global warming is likely to reach 1.5 degrees celsius between 2030 and 2052 if we continue at our current rate of consumption and activity (5). It further explains that the lower our global emissions are in 2030, the lesser the challenge in limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees celsius after 2030, as per the goals of the Paris agreement (5).
The Sustainable Development Goals
In 2015, members of the United Nations, including Canada, adopted the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development (6). Sustainable development is defined by the Government of Canada as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” (6). The 2030 Agenda is a 15 year plan that calls for member states to work towards building a more inclusive, sustainable and resilient future that leaves no one behind (6). The five key elements of this agenda build the foundation for the goals; people, prosperity, planet, partnership, and peace (6). The Agenda was established with the understanding that these goals are universal, interconnected, and indivisible (6). The goals cover a wide range of environmental, social and economic concerns, totalling 17 goals, 169 targets, and 230 indicators (6). A number of goals address the climate crisis directly or indirectly, notably affordable and clean energy (#7), sustainable cities and communities (#11), climate action (#13), and life on land (#15) (6). As the 2030 agenda notes, these goals are highly interconnected, and many parallels can be drawn to Canada’s commitments to the Paris Agreement.
The IPCC special report also explains that climate change impacts are “closely linked to sustainable development which balances social well-being, economic prosperity and environmental protection”(5). It describes how the Sustainable development goals (SDGs) can provide a framework for evaluating the link between 1.5 degrees celsius of global warming and development goals (5). In fact, it states that if global warming were limited to 1.5 degrees celsius, the climate change impacts affecting sustainable development, poverty, and social inequalities would be significantly reduced, emphasizing the importance of intersectionality and interdisciplinary efforts towards addressing the climate crisis (5).
How is Canada doing?
Data and indicators available to demonstrate Canada’s progress towards the SDGs are limited and still missing for many of the various targets. However, analyzing Canada’s emissions and understanding our progress towards the Paris agreement allows us to evaluate the work Canada has done towards SDG #13: Climate Action. This information can also help us quantify the indirect action towards all other goals, given the universal, interconnected, and indivisible nature of the environment and the SDGs as a whole.
Certain sources say that even with all the current climate-related policies taken into consideration, we may only be 63% of the way towards our 2030 target (4). Much of the government’s progress towards this goal may be dependent on unexplored federal policies and technologies (4). Based on Canada’s NDC under the Paris Agreement, the IPCC special report estimates that the strategies “would not limit global warming to 1.5 degrees celsius, even if supplemented by very challenging increases in the scale and ambition of emissions reductions after 2030” (5).
Canada’s most recent greenhouse gas emissions inventory from 2019 reports that our GHG emissions were 730 megatonnes (Mt) of carbon dioxide (7). This is a 1.1% decrease from the reported emissions in 2005, which was 739 megatonnes (7). When we take a closer look at Canada’s total GHG from 2014-2019 (Figure 1), we see that our emissions have stayed fairly consistent, ranging from 707 Mt to 730 Mt, with the biggest increase occurring after 2016 to 2018 (7). If Canada’s NDC is to reduce GHG emissions to 30% below 2005 levels by 2030, this means our emissions must decrease to 517.3 Mt of total GHG emissions in the next 9 years. Figure 2 takes a closer look at emissions from 2019, the most recent year data was collected, compared to emissions in 2005 and where emissions must be by 2030.
Figure #1: A line graph showing Canada’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions between 2014-2019. The green line represents the amount of GHG emissions in megatonnes, and the pink line represents the amount of GHG emissions needed to reach the commitments made in the Paris Agreement (517.3 Mt). Data taken from Environment and Climate Change Canada (7).
Figure #2: A bar graph comparing Canada’s most recent 2019 emissions to the Paris Commitment. Canada has committed to reducing emissions 30% below 2005 levels. Emissions in 2005 were 739 Mt, and emissions in 2019 were 730 Mt. By 2030, emissions must reach 517.3 Mt in order to meet this goal. Data taken from Environment and Climate Change Canada (7).
Taking into account the 1.1% decrease we see in 2019 from the 2005 emissions levels, this means Canada is currently 4% of the way to the Paris Agreement Targets (Figure 3). It is important to note that the unpublished emissions from 2020 and 2021 may demonstrate more or less progress towards the Paris Agreement. We also have yet to see how the COVID-19 pandemic may have affected Canada’s total emissions. The current government’s climate plan is expected to reduce emissions by 85 million tonnes, allowing Canada to exceed the current 2030 target by 2-10% (7). This plan has not yet been fully implemented.
Figure #3: A pie chart showing Canada’s progress towards the Paris Agreement. Canada needs to reduce total emissions by 221.7Mt by 2030, and we have only seen a 9Mt reduction from 2005 emission levels in 2019. Therefore, we are 4% of the way to achieving our goal.
Considering the importance of the Paris Agreement and SDGs, it becomes clear how crucial the next 9 years will be for Canada if we are going to uphold our commitments and avoid the devastating impacts of climate change on the environment, economy, and communities. As a country, we still have a long way to go towards achieving these goals which makes the upcoming federal election of even greater importance. We must take this seriously and make the time to vote, knowing our vote matters and has the power to decide our collective future.
Positionality: Hello! Bonjour! My name is Jordan Kilgour and I use she/her pronouns. I currently reside in Ottawa, ON which is on three Indigenous Territories: the Haudenosaunee, the Anishinabek, and the Algonquin-Anishinabeg Nation. This land is a part of the Crawford Purchase treaty. I recognize all the Indigenous peoples and First Nations who have been on these lands since time immemorial. They took care of, and continue to care for, the land that inspired me to study environment and resource management as a university student, and I dedicate myself to amplifying their voices in all the work that I do in this field throughout my life. I am a ‘White’ settler of both European and French-Canadian descent. I am a cis-gendered, heterosexual female of Christian faith with no physical disabilities. I recognize and acknowledge that the intersection of these identities provides me with a great amount of privilege. I acknowledge that it is my responsibility living in what is currently known as ‘Canada’, to continuously decolonize, un-learn, re-learn, and dismantle the systemic inequalities and discrimination around me, and from which I benefit daily.
1. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The Paris Agreement [Internet]. [cited 2021 August 4th]. Available from: https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/the-paris-agreement
2. Environment and Climate Change Canada. The Paris Agreement [Internet]. 2016 January 6 [cited 2021 August 4th]. Available from: https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/climate-change/paris-agreement.html
3. Chen H. The Road from Paris: Canada’s Progress Towards Its Climate Pledge [Internet]. The Pembina Institute and The Natural Resources Defense Council; 2017 Nov [cited 2021 Aug 4]. Available from: https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/paris-climate-agreement-progress-2017-canada-ib.pdf
4. Powers L. Trudeau’s claim that Canada is ‘on track’ to meet 2030 climate target is misleading. CBC News [Internet]. 2019 Sept 25 [cited 2021 August 4th]. Available from: https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/trudeau-climate-change-2030-fact-check-1.5295961
5. Allen M, Babiker M, Chen Y, de Coninck H, Connors S, van Diemen R, Dube O, et al. Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5 Degrees Celsius, Summary for Policymakers. IPCC [Internet]. 2018 Oct 6 [cited 2021 Aug 4]. Available from: https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/
6. Government of Canada. Towards Canada’s 2030 Agenda National Strategy [Internet]. 2019 July 15 [cited 2021 Aug 4]. Available from: https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/programs/agenda-2030/national-strategy.html#h2.02-h3.01
7. Environment and Climate Change Canada. National Inventory Report 1990-2019: Greenhouse Gas Sources and Sinks in Canada Part One. 2021 [Internet]. 2021 April [cited 2021 August 4]. Available from: https://publications.gc.ca/site/eng/9.506002/publication.html