What The Heck IS Canada’s Climate Policy?
The truth is, Canada’s carbon emissions would be going down except for the rising emissions from the Alberta tar (“oil”) sands. Along with the Alberta provincial government, Canada’s current federal government under Stephen Harper is infatuated with the bitumen economy, and has placed all of its eggs in the bitumen basket, ignoring climate science and the emerging new energy economy (not to mention the impact on First Nations in Northern Alberta, and the toxic pollution of the Athabasca River watershed). There are excellent resources on the tar sands, and I’ve listed a few of them below.
Pembina Institute: Beneath The Surface: A Review of the Key Facts of the Oil Sands Debate
For public consumption, the Harper government in Ottawa says it is concerned about climate change. What the Canadian Government says about climate change:
“While the challenges with respect to climate change are great, our responsibility is also clear. We are the stewards of our environment, and we will continue to count it amongst our most cherished and defining characteristics. The time has come for real action. The moment is now and the world must act.” Former Environment Minister Jim Prentice
However, the Harper government’s approach to climate change is piecemeal and ineffective at best, and obstructive and dangerous at worst. One of the lowest moments of the minority Harper government came when the House of Commons passed Bill C311, The Climate Accountability Act, that would have seen Canada act based on the science of climate change, and Harper used his majority in the unelected Senate to kill the bill (read more at: Canadian Senators Turn Their Backs On Democracy).
The Office of the Auditor-General produced a report in the spring of 2012, Meeting Canada’s 2020 Climate Change Commitments. The main points of the report are:
What we examined
Since 1992, the Government of Canada has made domestic and international commitments to address climate change, including commitments to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
The Government of Canada has now committed to reduce its economy-wide GHG emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, in alignment with the United States. This target was set internationally in the 2009 Copenhagen Accord and has also been communicated in the 2010 Federal Sustainable Development Strategy.
In this audit we examined whether Environment Canada had established an implementation plan designed to meet the 2020 national GHG emission reduction target.
Audit work for this chapter was substantially completed on 21 February 2012. Further details on the audit objective, scope, and criteria are in About the Audit at the end of the chapter.
Why it’s important
Climate change has far-reaching impacts on Canada’s economy, infrastructure, and natural environment, and on human health. Although the Minister of the Environment announced in December 2011 that Canada would withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol, the Government of Canada remains a Party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. As such, the government is committed to achieving its national and international commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.
What we found
- Environment Canada has indicated that the Government of Canada will use a sector-by-sector approach to regulate GHG emissions. We found that this approach lacks an overall implementation plan designed to achieve the 2020 target, as well as economic analysis to estimate what the approach will cost the Canadian economy.
- As of February 2012, two regulations were in place to reduce GHG emissions in the transportation sector. These regulations apply to renewable fuels and to passenger automobiles and light trucks. Regulations for the third-largest GHG-emitting sector—the electricity sector—have been proposed but are not expected to take effect until 2015. Currently, no regulations are in place for the second-largest emitting sector, the oil and gas sector.
- In July 2011, Environment Canada released Canada’s Emissions Trends, a document that outlines GHG emission reductions expected by 2020 under various scenarios. This document is an important planning tool and a step toward a transparent accounting for Canada’s efforts to reduce GHG emissions. However, the document indicates that in 2020, Canada’s GHG emissions will be 7.4 percent above 2005 levels instead of 17 percent below, and it estimates that Canada will need to reduce emissions by 178 million tonnes to meet the 2020 target. Therefore, according to Environment Canada’s forecasts, the 2020 target will not be met with existing measures.
- Regulations are complex, and those developed to date have taken as long as five years to be developed and to realize greenhouse gas emission reductions. Existing federal regulations are expected to reduce GHG emissions by 11 to 13 million tonnes in 2020. Given that an additional 178 million tonnes in reductions are needed to meet the 2020 target, it is unlikely that enough time is left to develop and establish GHG regulations that together will contribute sufficient GHG reductions to meet the 2020 target.
In other words, our current federal government doesn’t have realistic targets, and doesn’t have any way of meeting even the unrealistic goals that they have set. Good grief.
The Harper government is ideologically opposed to good science, as it is closely allied to big business. To see the chronology of this government’s war on science, waged since winning a minority government in 2006, check out The Canadian War on Science: A long, devastating chronological indictment on ScienceBlogs.com.
What the world says about Canada and climate change:
- “Fossil of the Year goes to CANADA, for bringing a totally unacceptable position into Copenhagen and refusing to strengthen it one bit. Canada’s 2020 target is among the worst in the industrialized world, and leaked cabinet documents revealed that the government is contemplating a cap-and-trade plan so weak that it would put even that target out of reach.
Canada has made zero progress here on financing, offering nothing for the short term or the long term beyond vague platitudes…
Canada’s performance here in Copenhagen builds on two years of delay, obstruction, and total inaction. This government thinks there’s a choice between environment and economy, and for them, tar sands beats climate every time. Canada’s emissions are headed nowhere but up.”Climate Action Network, (a group of 500 NGOs) at the end of the Copenhagen Conference, December, 2009
- Karsten Sach, the head of the German delegation, stated at the Bali Climate Conference in 2007: “We Europeans don’t see the Canadian position as constructive.”
- To express their unhappiness with Canada’s position at recent climate talks in Thailand, the South African delegation stood up and led the Group of 77 developing nations – except for a group of small island states – out of the room when Canada addressed the conference.
- In 2011, Canada was near the bottom of the industrialized countries in the Climate Change Performance Index (54th out of 61, keeping company with Poland, China, and Saudi Arabia).
In December, 2011, Canada’s Environment Minister Peter Kent signaled that Harper Government’s intention to withdraw from the Kyoto protocol, the only international agreement to address the problem of rising global carbon emissions and the result global warming. This makes Canada the only nation to pull out of the treaty, although the U.S. never ratified the treaty.
So why the discrepancy between the lofty words on the Government of Canada website and the reality of the Canadian government’s policy?
Jim Hoggan, founder of PR firm James Hoggan and Associates and DeSmogBlog.com, explains it this way:
“The Canadian government’s climate plan is pure politics – pure public relations. It’s all hot air, with no regulation or legislation to back it up. The government is not passing laws to limit greenhouse gas emissions. It is not setting science-based targets and it’s not financing renewable energy.”
Our federal government has been saying that it is taking climate change seriously while its actions have been showing the exact opposite. Here are some recent examples:
In November, 2010, the unelected Conservative senators killed Bill C311, the Climate Accountability Act, which had been passed by the elected members of the House of Commons. In this unprecedented move, Stephen Harper and his party destroyed the only science-based climate legislation that Canada has. The result is that they have no response to the most pressing issue of our time, because to PM Harper apparently it isn’t important. Harper famously said, before the G20 meetings in June 2010, that the only important thing to focus on was the economy, and everything else was “just noise”. Apparently Big Oil executives and the prime ministers who hang out with them don’t have to live on the same planet as the rest of us. Nor do their children and grandchildren. For more information on the death of Bill C311, click here.
Unfortunately for Canadians, Harper and his minions aren’t just killing climate change legislation in Canada, they are also working hand in hand with Big Oil and the Alberta government to kill clean energy legislation outside our borders. A report released by Climate Action Network Canada in November 2010, Tar Sands’ Long Shadow: Canada’s Campaign to Kill Climate Change Policy Outside Our Borders, documents at least three cases in which the Harper Government and the government of Alberta colluded with the oil industry to weaken climate change policies. Click here for more info.
Staying true to form, in November, 2010 the Harper government also ended funding for the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences, Canada’s only climate research organization.This confirms this government’s intransigence on moving towards clean energy and tackling this vital issue head-on. Instead, the Harper Government is stuck in the 20th century in its vision and understanding. The words ‘transition’ and ‘renewable energy” don’t seem to be part of the Conservative vocabulary.
Here’s Canadian author and activist Naomi Klein speaking about the current federal government’s push to brand Alberta tar sands oil as “ethical” as well as its increasingly well-deserved reputation as an oil industry cheerleader:
Let’s take a closer look at what the government claims and what it is actually doing:
This is what the Canadian government said was its positions and priorities at Copenhagen, according to a “Factsheet” from a Government of Canada website:
The science is clear: urgent action on climate change is required. The impacts of climate change are evident, particularly in the Arctic. At Copenhagen, Canada will work constructively to achieve a global consensus on a legally-binding international climate change agreement
that is fair, environmentally-effective and comprehensive.
The same fact sheets states that Canada’s approach to Copenhagen is based on 5 principles. Click on them to read more about the reality of the federal government’s actions:
#4: Developing and deploying clean technologies.
The government paper goes on to say that “the shared vision” at Copenhagen should emphasize the importance of global action, and the importance of “long-term cooperative action to achieve low-carbon growth and sustainable development.” To be effective, the paper states, “all Parties, with the exception of the least developed, should undertake mitigation action…” According to the government document:
Canada is committed to a mid-term, economy-wide reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 20% from 2006 levels by 2020. Canada has also committed to undertake a full suite of policies and measures as part of a long-term, low-carbon sustainable growth pathway to reach emissions reductions of 60-70% from 2006 levels by 2050…
and here’s a very sticky point:
Developing countries, with the exception of the least-developed, should commit to nationally-appropriate mitigation actions that, at a minimum, lead to a substantial deviation from business-as-usual by around 2020,based on their mitigation potential and national circumstances.
The paper goes on to make further points about the need for enhanced action on adaptation as well as increased action on finance and investment.
This page will continue to be updated with more analysis of the reality of the Canadian government’s action (or inaction) on this crucial issue. Stay tuned!
More links and resources:
Harper Government Closes World-Class Experimental Lakes Area, known for identifying effects of acid rain and phosphates on our water system, and currently looking at effects of climate change on freshwater.