IISD Conversations on Regulating Carbon Emissions in Canada - Introduction

By David Sawyer on July 20, 2012

While Canada's inaction in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions leads many to conclude that it is an environmental laggard, Canada has succeeded in achieving significant reductions of heavy metals and criteria air contaminants. Since 1990, emission reductions ranging between 20 per cent and 80 per cent have occurred while Canada's economy has grown by about 50 per cent, indicating Canada has, in some cases, successfully decoupled emissions and economic growth. However, over the same time period, Canada's GHG emissions have grown by 20 per cent despite a continued prioritization to reduce emissions by successive governments. Government forecasts suggest that future emissions will continue to grow over the next 10 years, while IISD has estimated that Canada is on track to achieve at best half of its 2020 GHG emissions target of 607 Mt.

Why has Canada successfully dealt with some pollutants and not others?

IISD Conversations sat down with Dr. Nic Rivers, Canada Research Chair in Climate and Energy Policy at the University of Ottawa, to talk about the conditions of policy success and failure and how to rethink regulating carbon emissions in Canada. The conversation explored five key questions:

  • What are your thoughts on Canada's success in regulating other pollutants?

  • What is Canada's trend in GHG, heavy metals and air contaminant emissions and policy over the last 20 years?

  • Why has Canada been successful at regulating air pollutants and heavy metals, yet less successful in reducing GHGs?

  • What learning from past policy success can inform GHG policy?

  • Can we regulate carbon and avoid the risk of imposing high costs on industry and households?

  • How can Canada improve its approach to regulating carbon emissions?

IISD Conversations will continue to engage leading thinkers on how to turn sustainability challenges into development opportunities.