Canada 's production of greenhouse-gas emissions stabilized in 2010 despite a growing economy and rising emissions from the oil sands, Environment Minister Peter Kent says.
In an annual report released on Wednesday, Environment Canada said the country's overall greenhouse gas (GHG) production grew by two megatonnes – about 0.25 per cent – to 692 megatonnes in 2010 even as the economy rebounded from recession.
Mr. Kent said this means that Canada is beginning to de-link its growing economy from corresponding increases in greenhouse-gas emissions, which have been blamed for global warming.
"We've seen that as we enjoyed 3.2-per-cent growth [in 2010]we've seen a virtual levelling off of GHGs," Mr. Kent said in an interview.
"In terms of the impact of the recession and the downturn in manufacturing in Central Canada, we would hope that when things crank up, emissions will continue to decline. What we have to do is uncouple continuing prosperity from GHG increases, and we're in the process of doing that."
However, it is not clear whether the progress can be sustained, or whether Ottawa has put the country on a path to meet its commitment to reduce greenhouse gases by 17 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020.
"This report from Environment Canada shows that they are still nowhere near achieving the government's own climate targets," said Keith Stewart, climate campaigner with Greenpeace Canada.
The slight increase in 2010 came after two straight years of declines that resulted from the recession and a reduction in coal use in the power sector. Emissions are now 6.5 per cent below 2005 levels, the Environment Canada report said.
Since 1990, Canada's GHG output has grown more slowly than the economy as a result of a shift from manufacturing to service-based companies and greater efficiency in industry, resource production and household energy consumption.
That still leaves emissions 17.5 per cent higher than 1990 levels, well above the commitment made under the Kyoto Protocol to reduce emissions by 6 per cent from 1990 levels by 2012.
The Conservative government announced this year that it is withdrawing from Kyoto and has embraced the target of 17 per cent by 2020 – a goal that mirrors the commitment from U.S. President Barack Obama.
Last summer, the government said that policies either in effect or announced would achieve a quarter of the emission reductions needed to reach the target.
But Alberta's booming oil sands sector will continue to push up Canada's overall emissions and require deeper reductions in other provinces and industries.
Oil sands extraction and upgrading produce 60 per cent more greenhouse-gas emissions per barrel than does production of conventional crude oil.
The industry has reduced the emissions per barrel of the oil sands by 26 per cent since 1990, although in recent years the progress has been reversed as companies produce more bitumen from energy-intensive in situ projects rather than open-pit mines.
Oil sands emissions grew by 14 per cent in 2010 to 46 million tonnes – or 6.6 per cent of the Canadian total, according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP). The higher emissions resulted from increased production and more energy-intensive extraction techniques.
CAPP spokesman Travis Davies said total oil sands emissions will continue to climb as production grows, but the industry is developing new technologies that will further reduce the emissions per barrel.
Mr. Kent said he hopes to release draft regulations to set targets for emission reductions in the oil and gas industry by the end of this year, and expects to finalize new rules for coal-fired power plants by June.
However, Greenpeace's Mr. Stewart said the oil sands growth has essentially cancelled out the benefits of Ontario's decision to halt coal-fired power generation.
"It isn't fair that good work, like Ontario's efforts to phase out coal, should be undone by a no-limits approach to expanding tar sands production," he said.