Canada's New Government Cold Shoulders Climate Change Action

OTTAWA, Ontario, Canada, April 4, 2006 (ENS) - In office just two months, the Conservative government led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper has begun disassembling Canada’s Climate Change Program, according to the Sierra Club of Canada.

All climate change programs announced in Action Plan 2000 have not been renewed and Natural Resources Canada has begun laying off staff, the conservation group points out.

“Apparently, the federal government has launched a stealth campaign against action on climate change,” said John Bennett, senior policy advisor for energy with the Sierra Club of Canada.

Included in the cuts is the Canadian Climate Impacts and Adaptation Research Network (C-CIARN), a national network that provides funding for targeted research and activities that will contribute to a better understanding of Canada’s vulnerabilities to climate change and provide information necessary for the development of adaptation strategies.

The Conservative government also appears to be backpedaling from engagement in the Kyoto Protocol to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which entered into force on February 16, 2005.

Canada ratified the protocol in December 2002, and so is legally bound to reduce its emission of greenhouse gases by six percent by the year 2012.


Canadian Environment Minister Rona Ambrose represents the oil producing province of Alberta. (Photo courtesy House of Commons)
Yet on March 1, Canada's new Environment Minister Rona Ambrose said, "Our position remains that the Kyoto accord is seriously flawed and that the emissions targets it imposes on Canada are unrealistic and unattainable."

"The Kyoto framework does not optimize Canada's position to develop new technology or take other effective measures to reduce Canada's greenhouse gas emissions," Ambrose said.

But regardless of the Conservative government's attitude towards the Kyoto Protocol, Canada cannot just abandon the treaty without due process.

In response to an ENS question, the UNFCCC Secretariat explained that after three years from the date on which the protocol has entered into force for a Party such as Canada, that Party may withdraw from the protocol by giving written notification.

Such a withdrawal takes effect one year from the date when the notification of withdrawal was received, or on a later date that may be specified in the notification.

So, the Secretariat explains, Canada would have to wait around three years to disengage from the Kyoto Protocol.

If the Conservative government does take Canada out of the protocol, the treaty would still hold together, since it requires the participation of Annex I industrialized countries accounting for 55 percent of that group’s carbon dioxide emissions in 1990 to be valid.

Presently, Annex I countries accounting for 61.6 percent of the required emissions have ratified the protocol, while Canada accounts for only 3.3 percent of the emissions at issue.

power plant

The Grand Lake-4 power plant in the province of New Brunswick burns coal and emits greenhouse gases. (Photo courtesy NB Power)
Ambrose takes the position that the Kyoto Protocol's flexible mechanisms that allow Annex I countries to offset domestic emissions by investing in projects that reduce emissions abroad are not good for Canada.

"While emissions trading systems may be part of an eventual greenhouse gas reduction strategy," she said, "in our view the government of Canada should not engage in purchasing credits from foreign countries that do not result in verifiable reductions in Canada's emissions."

Still, Canada is leading the UNFCCC process until November with Ambrose in the presidency.

"I am honored that the Prime Minister has nominated me to this prestigious post," said Ambrose. "The President of the Conference of Parties is an important opportunity for Canada to provide leadership in the global dialogue on environmental issues."

Canada will retain the presidency until a new president is elected during the next meeting of the Conference of Parties in November 2006.

Although the Conservatives opposed ratification of the Kyoto Protocol while in opposition, publicly they now have said their team will do a better job of cutting emissions than the previous Liberal government.

“There's an action plan that we are going to move on very quickly,” Ambrose told the "Globe & Mail" newspaper late in February. She said the action plan will include an emissions trading system for large polluters and will try to engage the public in a new way.


Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper was sworn into office on February 6, 2006. (Photo courtesy Office of the Prime Minister)
But conservationists are wary. In the run-up to the January 2006 election, Harper several times repeated that a Conservative government would turn its back on the Kyoto accord and set its own targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“The Kyoto accord will not succeed at achieving its objectives and this government, the Canadian government, cannot achieve its objectives,” Harper said.

“According to Mr. Harper’s public statements, a Conservative Party government would ignore the first stage Kyoto commitment to reduce greenhouse gases by six percent below 1990 levels by 2012," said Gaile Whelan Enns of Manitoba Wildlands. "Given the urgency of the need to reduce far more by 2020, the Conservative Party position represents a significant threat to progress in confronting climate change.”

“It appears that a Canadian government under Stephen Harper would move Canada more into the same camp as U.S. President George W. Bush,” commented Kathryn Malloy, executive director of the British Columbia Chapter of the Sierra Club of Canada.

Bennett says the Conservative government has a responsibility to preserve Canada's scientific accomplishments in the field and to further the public understanding of climate change.

“The Harper minority government has no mandate to destroy more than decade’s worth of research programs and knowledge networks needed to provide a science-based response to climate change,” he said. “If they want to do this and respect the democratic principles they espouse, a public debate is needed and not silent backroom program chopping."