Manitoba's greenhouse gas emissions have dropped a smidge, according to new data, but the decline is so slow it will take a decade for the province to make good on its Kyoto target.
That's why the Selinger government is about to abandon that target.
In the coming weeks, the province will unveil its post-Kyoto plan, which will not include proscribed emission-reduction goals. Instead, the province will launch, likely this fall, public consultations to help determine what Conservation Minister Gord Mackintosh called "aggressive but realistic" short- and long-term targets.
In its post-Kyoto plan, the province will also offer a new batch of immediate climate change pledges as well as a proposal for new rules forcing more companies to report their emissions. And the new plan will also focus more heavily on adapting to the effects of climate change, which means dealing with floods, droughts, forest fires and thinning northern ice.
"It's now time to carefully build on Manitoba's recent efforts," said Mackintosh. "We have to take our efforts to new levels."
New data, quietly released earlier this spring by Environment Canada, show Manitoba's greenhouse gas emissions weighed in at 19,500 kilotonnes in 2011, down by one per cent over 2010. Since taking a significant dip following the 2008 recession, the province's climate change pollution levels have continued to inch down despite a growing population and economy that has grown 80 per cent in a decade.
But the reductions are nowhere near the NDP's much-ballyhooed promise to shrink emissions to levels mandated by the now-obsolete Kyoto Protocol. That's six per cent below 1990 levels, or 17,200 kilotonnes. That goal was enshrined in legislation -- widely criticized as toothless -- in 2008.
The deadline for reaching 17,200 kilotonnes was last year, and the province has acknowledged it has fallen well short.
Mackintosh said Manitoba's Kyoto promise was thwarted in part by federal inaction on climate change. The province expected national progress on industrial regulations, vehicle-emissions standards and some kind of cap-and-trade system.
And it was difficult to tailor policies because the province lacked data on local emitters, such as small businesses or even Hutterite colonies that still burn coal.
The province's new post-Kyoto plan will ask those small emitters -- it's not yet clear how many -- to begin counting and reporting their greenhouse gases for the first time.
Right now, only companies that emit more than 50,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases must report their emissions to Environment Canada. Provinces such as British Columbia and Ontario already decided that threshold is too low and created their own provincial reporting schemes with thresholds of 10,000 kilotonnes and 25,000 kilotonnes respectively.
Mackintosh favours 10,000 tonnes, with even lower thresholds for public bodies such as Crown corporations or municipalities.
"You can't cut what you can't count," he said.
Before the province makes any moves, though, Mackintosh said he will consult widely and look to ensure any new regulations don't pose a financial burden on business.
Asked whether the NDP regrets legislating its Kyoto targets, Mackintosh said the legislation allowed the province to get serious about climate change instead of sitting around waiting for others to take action.
"This was about leadership," he said.
Josh Brandon of the Green Action Centre said he is discouraged to hear the province is shying away from tough targets such as those proscribed by Kyoto, which were designed to forestall the kind of climate change that has catastrophic consequences.
"It's a step backward," he said. "Without clear targets, we don't know where we're going."
He said while the province's emissions are headed in the right direction, progress has been too slow, especially on relatively easy policies such as reducing methane from landfills or discouraging driving using modest increases to the gas tax. There's much more the province could be doing, he said.
At three per cent, Manitoba's contribution to Canada's total greenhouse gas problem is almost negligible, thanks largely to the lucky gift of hydro power. Alberta's emissions, by contrast, make up nearly half of all greenhouse gas pollution in Canada.
Only a handful of provinces, including Quebec and Ontario, saw their emissions decline in 2011 like Manitoba's.
In the coming years, the province's climate change policies could also get a boost from relatively aggressive new vehicle-emissions standards coming into force continent-wide, and a big emissions cut at the province's second-largest point-source, the Brady Road Landfill. A methane-capture project there, a decade in the making, will finally start next month, halving the dump's greenhouse gases.