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Focus on local emissions reduction for small emitters achieves very little, if anything

  • It takes roughly nine days of Chinese GHG emissions to cancel out Canada’s 2030 emissions reduction targets.

Montreal, February 16, 2023 – Canada should focus more on global impact than on local reduction efforts in its attempts to rein in greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new study released this morning by the Montreal Economic Institute.

“Relocating a polluting factory from Quebec to the other side of the world might make our local emissions look great, but it’s doing zilch for the climate,” said Krystle Wittevrongel, senior policy analyst at the MEI and author of the study. “Our governments’ quasi-exclusive focus on local emissions reduction targets is simply missing the forest for the trees.”

The publication highlights the risks of carbon leakage, whereby high-emission activities are simply exported outside the country, a problem that stems from focusing strictly on local emissions reduction. Indeed, if the new location has less stringent environmental standards than Canada, such carbon leakage may well increase global emissions.

The study’s author also points to the very small share of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions that come from Quebec, and even from Canada as a whole, as opposed to the large and rapidly increasing shares of fast-developing nations such as India and China.

In 2019, it took roughly nine days for China to emit enough greenhouses gas to cancel out Canada’s 2030 emissions reduction targets. For Quebec’s targets, the timeframe to cancel out the province’s efforts is 21 hours at China’s 2019 emission levels.

“It takes only 21 days for China to emit as much greenhouse gas into the atmosphere as our entire country does in a year,” said Wittevrongel. “For small emitters like Canada, emissions reductions plans that don’t take global impact into account are akin to shovelling against the tide: no matter how hard we work, it makes very little difference.”

The MEI study is available here.

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The MEI is an independent public policy think tank with offices in Montreal and Calgary. Through its publications, media appearances, and advisory services to policy-makers, the MEI stimulates public policy debate and reforms based on sound economics and entrepreneurship. 

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