Canada Sued for Abandoning Kyoto Climate Commitment

OTTAWA, Ontario, Canada, May 29, 2007 (ENS) - Friends of the Earth Canada today filed a lawsuit against the Government of Canada for forsaking its international commitments under the Kyoto Protocol.

Filed in Federal Court in Ottawa by the environmental law firm Sierra Legal, the lawsuit alleges the federal government is violating Canadian law by failing to meet its legally binding commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"Because climate change is the most urgent crisis ever facing the planet, Friends of the Earth is resorting to the courts to require the federal government to respect its Kyoto promises," said Friends of the Earth Canada Chief Executive Officer Beatrice Olivastri.

The lawsuit is an application for judicial review and alleges that the government’s failure to effectively regulate greenhouse gases is likely to violate the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC, and its Kyoto Protocol.
power plant

The coal-fired Grand Lake-4 power plant in New Brunswick shown emitting greenhouse gases. (Photo courtesy NB Power)
This violation of international law contravenes section 166 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, which states that Canada must abide by its international agreements in preventing pollution, the lawsuit alleges.

On April 26, the Conservative Government led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced its "Turning the Corner" climate change strategy which set greenhouse gas reduction targets from industry and other sources to 20 percent below 2006 levels by 2020.

This would leave Canada approximately 39 percent off target with Kyoto in 2012 and would not achieve the Kyoto target until 2025, if at all, said Olivastri.

As a Party to the Kyoto Protocol, Canada is legally bound to reduce its emissions of a basket of six greenhouse gases by six percent below 1990 levels by the end of 2012 - an annual target of 563 megatonnes of greenhouse gases.

Figures submitted by Environment Canada Friday to the UNFCCC show that in 2005 Canada's greenhouse gas emissions exceeded its Kyoto target by far, although they did not increase over 2004 emissions.

"Greenhouse gases are still over 32 percent higher than our Kyoto target," said Environment Minister John Baird.

Environment Minister John Baird, a first-time Member of Parliament, was elected to the House of Commons in 2006. (Photo courtesy U. Manitoba)
The data show that Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2005 were 747 megatonnes, Mt, representing an increase of 25.3 percent over the 1990 level of 596 Mt, a 0.3 percent increase from 2003, and no increase from 2004.

The nearly flat growth in emissions from 2003 and 2005 was primarily due to a "significant decline in emissions from electricity as well as a reduced demand for heating fuels due to warmer winters," said Baird, whose government took office in 2006.

A reduced rate of increase in fossil fuel production contributed to this low growth in emissions, he said.

"The slowdown in greenhouse gas growth appears to have been the result of action taken by the provinces to reduce coal-fired and increase nuclear and hydro-electricity generation," said Baird.

Canada's 2005 report shows that emissions from the transportation sector continued to increase.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been in power since February 2006. (Photo courtesy Office of the Prime Minister)
Friends of the Earth objects to the "Turning the Corner" plan's exemption of industry from hard caps on greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, the plan sets "intensity-based" targets based on units of production.

Intensity targets mean companies must reduce the amount of emissions used to produce their individual products, but they do not have to reduce emissions overall. If a company increases its production, its total emissions can rise.

"While the government talks about "Turning the Corner," in reality it has made a serious wrong turn that will affect the lives of generations to come," Olivastri said.

"Canadians expect the Government of Canada to live up to its domestic and international commitments to combat global warming, and our environmental laws require it to do so," says Sierra Legal lawyer Robert Wright. "Our government shouldn't have to be asked to put on a credible and lawful climate change cap."

"The federal government has a legal duty to Canadians and the world to make demonstrable progress in reducing greenhouse gases under the UN agreements, and to work with all Canadians to adapt to impacts of climate change," says Christine Elwell, Friends of the Earth Canada campaigner.

"Instead, we see important programs dismantled, terminated and slashed," said Elwell, "all part of the pattern of Kyoto denial by the federal government."

On Thursday, Baird exempted from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act greenhouse gas emissions from the first Canadian oil refinery to be built since global warming became a concern.

Irving Oil plans to build a C$7 billion dollar, 300,000 barrel per day refinery adjacent to its existing refinery in Saint John, New Brunswick, already the largest in Canada.

The Irving Oil Refinery at Saint John, New Brunswick (Photo courtesy Kiewit)
The existing Irving refinery is among the top 25 greenhouse gas emitters in the country at 3.3 million metric tons of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide per year.

The gasoline from the new refinery is to be marketed in the northeastern United States. Six out of 10 cars on the road in Boston are already fueled by gasoline refined in Saint John.

"We are appalled that Minister Baird does not plan to have Environment Canada assess the impacts of the new Irving refinery’s emissions on global warming and smog," said David Coon, policy cirector of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick.

"The carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides will cross provincial and international boundaries, one of the triggers for a federal environmental assessment," said Coon. "Clearly, the federal government has legal obligations for the impacts of increased greenhouse gas emissions on global warming."

On April 27, Baird told a CBC reporter that the Irving’s new refinery "will provide great economic benefits for the province, a lot of jobs, a lot of hope, a lot of opportunity will be created with that. If we didn’t have an intensity-based system [for regulating greenhouse gas emissions] that wouldn’t be able to go ahead."

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency says the proposed scope of the environmental assessment would be restricted to the potential impacts of the construction of a pier and breakwater to load gasoline and petroleum coke onto ships for export and the unloading of crude oil from supertankers.

The public has until June 30 to comment on the proposed scope of the federal environmental assessment at:

Baird said Friday that the initiatives being taken by the Harper Government "will stop the increase of greenhouse gas emissions by 2010 and no later than 2012 and achieve an absolute reduction of 150 megatonnes of greenhouse gases by 2020."

"This plan will also cut air pollution from industry in half by 2015," said Baird.

But that pledge does not satisfy Friends of the Earth Canada. "The remedy we seek is clear," said Olivastri, "Canada must comply with our environmental laws and live up to our domestic and international commitments to combat global warming."