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Ambition gap

What is Canadaʼs pathway to limit global warming to 1.5°C?

1.5°C compatible pathways

Canada updated its NDC target under the Paris Agreement in July 2021 setting an economy wide emission reduction target of at least 40-45% below 2005 levels by 2030, including an estimated LULUCF contribution of -27 MtCO₂e/yr.1 This corresponds to a 36-41% reduction below 2005 levels (excl. LULUCF), equal to 428-465 MtCO₂e by 2030 (excl. LULUCF). However, our analysis of Canada’s current policies shows Canada is only on track to reduce emissions 14-17% by 2030 below 2005 levels (excl. LULUCF).3

Furthermore, neither its current policy projections nor its proposed new target are compatible with the domestic efforts required to limit warming to 1.5°C. Achieving this goal would require domestic emissions reductions of 57% below 2005 levels by 2030 (excl. LULUCF), equal to 311 MtCO₂e by 2030 (excl. LULUCF).

Decarbonising the power and transport sectors should be a priority and will make it possible to put emissions on a 1.5°C compatible track. Overall, emissions in the country should have already peaked by 2020.

A fair share contribution to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions compatible with the Paris Agreement would require Canada to go further than its domestic target, and provide substantial support for emission reductions to developing countries on top of its domestic reductions.

Long term pathway

In Canada’s target of net zero GHG by 2050 the role of the land sector to meet the target remains unclear. Excluding LULUCF, to be 1.5°C compatible, the country would need to target GHG emissions reduction of 90% below 2005 levels by 2050.5,19 Remaining GHG emissions will need to be balanced through the use of carbon dioxide removal approaches, including sustainable a/reforestation, direct air capture of carbon dioxide, or sustainable bioenergy coupled with carbon capture and storage (BECCS).

Remaining GHG emissions would come from mainly agriculture and waste given the higher share of methane and nitrous oxide emissions in these sectors. If the uptake of renewable energy in the primary energy supply is at the lower end of the range, then as much as 13% of the primary energy supply (equivalent to 0.8 EJ/year by 2050) would need to also have emissions offset using the above approaches.

1 Office of the Prime Minister of Canada. Prime Minister Trudeau announces increased climate ambition.(2021).

2 Climate Action Tracker. CAT Climate Target Update Tracker: Canada | July 2021 Update. (2021).

3 Climate Action Tracker. Canada. CAT September 2020 Update. (2020).

4 Government of Canada. Regulations Amending the Reduction of Carbon Dioxide Emissions from Coal-fired Generation of Electricity Regulations. in Canada Gazette Part II, Vol. 152, No. 25, Regulation SOR/2018-263 (2018).

5 Government of Canada. Net-Zero Emissions by 2050.

6 Canada Ministry of the Environment. Bill C-12: An Act respecting transparency and accountability in Canada’s efforts to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050. (House of Commons of Canada, 2020).

7 Government of Canada. Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act. in Bill C-12 (2021).

8 Environment and Climate Change Canada. National Inventory Report 1990-2019: Greenhouse Gas Sources and Sinks in Canada. (2021).

9 Government of Canada. Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. 1–86. (2016).

10 Environment and Climate Change Canada. A healthy environment and a healthy economy: Canada’s strengthened climate plan to create jobs and support people, communities and the planet.(2020).

11 Government of Canada. Clean Fuel Standard. (2020).

12 Natural Resources Canada. Canadian LNG Projects. (2020).

13 Canada Energy Regulator. Canada’s Energy Future 2020. (2020).

14 IRENA. Renewable Energy Statistics 2020. (2020).

15 Government of Canada. Canada’s coal power phase-out reaches another milestone. (2018).

16 The Government of Canada. Government of Canada working with provinces to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas operations. (2020).

17 Government of Canada. Clean Fuel Standard. (2020).

18 Transport Canada. Building a green economy: Government of Canada to require 100% of car and passenger truck sales be zero-emission by 2035 in Canada. (2021).

19 While global cost-effective pathways assessed by the IPCC Special Report 1.5°C provide useful guidance for an upper-limit of emissions trajectories for developed countries, they underestimate the feasible space for such countries to reach net zero earlier. The current generation of models tend to depend strongly on land-use sinks outside of currently developed countries and include fossil fuel use well beyond the time at which these could be phased out, compared to what is understood from bottom-up approaches. The scientific teams which provide these global pathways constantly improve the technologies represented in their models – and novel CDR technologies are now being included in new studies focused on deep mitigation scenarios meeting the Paris Agreement. A wide assessment database of these new scenarios is not yet available; thus, we rely on available scenarios which focus particularly on BECCS as a net-negative emission technology. Accordingly, we do not yet consider land-sector emissions (LULUCF) and other CDR approaches which developed countries will need to implement in order to counterbalance their remaining emissions and reach net zero GHG are not considered here due to data availability.


Canadaʼs total GHG emissions

excl. LULUCF MtCO₂e/yr

Displayed values
Reference year
Reference year
1.5°C emissions level
Ambition gap
  • 1.5°C compatible pathways
  • Middle of the 1.5°C compatible range
  • Current policy projections
  • 1.5°C emissions range
  • Historical emissions
2030 emissions levels
Current policy projections
1.5°C emissions level
Ref. year 2005

Energy system transformation

Renewable energy needs to increase from 17% of the primary energy supply to 38-48% by 2030 to be compatible with 1.5°C pathways. If only low levels of renewable energy are achieved, greater deployment of negative emission technology, in the order of 0.2-0.6 EJ (2-10% of primary energy) by 2040 and 0.6-0.8 EJ (6-13% of primary energy) by 2050, will be needed to remain 1.5°C compatible. Given the unproven nature and costs of these technologies at scale, aiming for high levels of renewable energy use would reduce the risk of locking the country into a carbon intensive pathway.

Low energy demand scenarios combined with a higher uptake of renewable energy, of around 40% by 2030, would put the country on a 1.5°C compatible pathway without the need to rely on any negative emissions technology.

Prioritising renewables can also reduce the need for fossil CCS and nuclear. Fossil CCS in particular represents a potential mitigation burden, as these systems still result in carbon emissions that would need to be reduced to further efforts towards net zero emissions. Further, the relative cost trend between CCS in the power sector and renewables means that CCS in the power sector is increasingly unlikely to be able to ever compete with renewable energy.


Canadaʼs primary energy mix

petajoule per year

SSP1 Low CDR reliance
201920302040205010 000
SSP1 High CDR reliance
201920302040205010 000
Low Energy Demand
201920302040205010 000
High Energy Demand - Low CDR reliance
201920302040205010 000
  • Negative emissions technologies via BECCS
  • Unabated fossil
  • Renewables incl. Biomass
  • Nuclear and/or fossil with CCS

Canadaʼs total CO₂ emissions

excl. LULUCF MtCO₂/yr

  • 1.5°C compatible pathways
  • 1.5°C emissions range
  • Middle of the 1.5°C compatible range
  • Historical emissions

1.5°C compatible emissions benchmarks

Key emissions benchmarks of Paris compatible Pathways for Canada. The 1.5°C compatible range is based on the Paris Agreement compatible pathways from the IPCC SR1.5 filtered with sustainability criteria. The median (50th percentile) to 5th percentile and middle of the range are provided here. Relative reductions are provided based on the reference year.

Reference year
Reference year
Year of net zero GHG
incl. BECCS excl. LULUCF and novel CDR
Total GHG
Megatonnes CO₂ equivalent per year
266 to 342
78 to 177
21 to 92
Relative to reference year in %
−64 to −54%
−89 to −76%
−97 to −88%
Total CO₂
186 to 281
16 to 141
−15 to 47
2044 to 2066
Relative to reference year in %
−68 to −51%
−97 to −75%
−103 to −92%