Progress Report on Greenhouse Gas Emissions Released

This post was guest-authored by Richard McCandless, a retired executive with the BC public service, who has written about the finances of BC Hydro. He has been published by BC Studies, Policy Options and The Tyee. He is an independent intervener in the BC Utilities Commission’s current review of BC Hydro’s rate request. His website is

Recently, the Vancouver Sun reported on a July 5threport by the National Energy Board (NEB) comparing multi-year changes in Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions by province.[1] The NEB’s comparison[2] was based on an earlier Environment Canada report comparing GHG emissions for 1990, 2005 and 2015.[3]

The NEB’s report provides an update on provincial progress toward the Canadian target of a 30% absolute reduction in GHG emissions from the 2005 level to 2030, as agreed during the 2015 Paris climate change conference.[4] The NEB report assumes that the national reduction target applies equally to each province.

The Simple Comparison

From 2005 to 2015, total GHG emissions declined in six provinces, with New Brunswick and Nova Scotia posting declines of about 30%. Ontario (down 19%) and Prince Edward Island (down 14%) also reported significant drops in emissions during the 10 years.

For its part, BC saw a very modest decline of about 5%, prompting Merran Smith, of Vancouver-based Clean Energy Canada, to blame the provincial government for taking no action to address climate change since 2010. “It is absolutely shocking,” she said, “that Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and the Yukon are meeting their targets and BC is far behind.”[5]

Is this a fair criticism? Does it make sense to compare absolute values, without looking at factors that influenced the change in total GHG emissions over the 10-year period?

The authors of the NEB report acknowledge that emission levels will vary by province due to various factors, including changes in population and in economic activity. Provincial economies based on resource extraction will tend to have higher emission levels than economies that are more service-based. And provinces that rely on fossil fuels for electricity generation have more emissions than those where renewable (or nuclear) power is more important.

Some Context

The NEB report noted some caveats respecting the rate of change in the absolute GHG emissions numbers. The Board could have also warned that the rate of economic growth (or contraction) would also affect the trend in reported emissions. If a province records economic (and population) growth at twice the average level, does this mean that it should reduce emissions at a rate double that of the rest of the country? If a province suffers an economic (and population) contraction and emissions decline, is it relieved from the obligation to switch to cleaner sources of energy?

Table 1 compares the percentage increase in population and nominal GDP by province for the 2005 to 2015 period, as well as the change in absolute GHG emissions.

Table 1
Ranked Percent Change in GHG, Population and Nominal GDP,
2005 to 2015
NS (30.2)Sask14.0Manitoba52.9
Ontario(18.7) BC11.8PEI45.3
PEI(14.3) Ontario10.1Alberta44.7
Quebec(9.9) Manitoba10.0BC43.0

The comparative ranking clearly shows that those provinces with large increases in population and GDP were less successful in cutting GHG emissions. Of interest, emissions declined in BC, despite this province’s relatively high growth in population and modest GDP growth over the 2005-2015 period. Conversely, while New Brunswick and Nova Scotia recorded sizable decreases in GHG emissions, both had relatively small gains in population and overall economic activity (GDP).

Table 2 shows the GHG emissions per person in each province in 2005 and 2015. The primary source of electricity generation in each province, which is an important factor influencing the GHG totals, is also shown.

Table 2
Megatonnes of GHG Emissions Per Person
20052015% DiffMajor Electricity Source
Alberta70.165.6(6.4)Coal, Natural Gas
Sask70.066.2(5.2)Coal, Natural Gas
Ontario16.312.0(26.4)Nuclear, Hydro
NB27.118.7(31.0)Coal, Hydro (Quebec)
NS24.717.2(33.4)Coal, Natural Gas
PEI13.812.3(19.1)From New Brunswick
NFLD/Lab19.619.5(0.5)Oil, Hydro
Canada22.920.1(12.3)Hydro (60%) Nuclear (16%)

Looking at per capita emissions, BC remains a relatively low emitter in the Canadian context. And from 2005 to 2015, BC did better than the country as a whole in lowering per capita GHG emissions, outperforming Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Newfoundland/Labrador. On this metric, BC came close to matching Quebec. Both provinces rely on clean renewable hydroelectric power to run their electricity sectors.

Table 3 shows the megatonnes of GHG per billion dollars of GDP by province in 2005 and 2015.

Table 3
Percent Change in Megatonnes Per Billion GDP 2005-2015
20052015% DiffMajor Electricity Source
Alberta1.030.84(18.6)Coal, Natural Gas
Sask1.550.95(39.0)Coal, Natural Gas
Ontario0.370.22(40.9)Nuclear, Hydro
NB0.790.43(46.4)Coal, Hydro (Quebec)
NS0.720.40(44.2)Coal, Natural Gas
PEI0.490.29(40.4)From New Brunswick
NFLD/Lab0.460.34(24.8)Oil, Hydro

This analysis shows that New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Prince Edward Island had the largest percentage reductions of GHG emissions per billion dollars of GDP over the ten years. The 31.2% reduction for BC was similar to those of Quebec and Manitoba; all three of these hydroelectric provinces had low ratios in both 2005 and 2015.

In summary, the National Energy Board report would have been more informative had it provided greater context by examining the reasons for the changes in reported GHG emissions across the provinces.

An economic impact analysis would have also been useful -- for example, what has the change from coal-based to natural gas or hydroelectricity-based generation meant to electricity rates for residents of the Maritime provinces? How have Ontario power rates being affected by the phasing-out of coal and the procurement of significant amounts of additional renewable energy? What effect has the $30 per ton carbon tax had on the rate of economic growth in BC?