Canada Backs Away From Kyoto Protocol Commitment

OTTAWA, Ontario, Canada, November 22, 2006 (ENS) - Canada cannot meet its greenhouse gas reduction commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, so Environment Canada is proceeding with a rapid roll out of new regulations that will postpone action on regulating these emissions until at least 2010.

Yet Canada has ratified the Protocol to the UN Climate Convention and is legally bound to cut emissions six percent in the five years from 2008 through 2012.

The country cannot achieve that and the government must be "realistic" said Environment Minister Rona Ambrose, who led the Canadian delegation to the UN climate conference in Nairobi last week.

"Canada is 35 percent above our Kyoto target," she told the assembly of 100 fellow ministers and thousands of delegates from around the world.

Ambrose

Canadian Environment Minister Rona Ambrose at the UN climate conference in Nairobi, November 15, 2006. (Photo courtesy Office of the Minister)
Ambrose, who represents the oil producing province of Alberta, is a member of the minority Conservative government that took office February 6 led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, also an Albertan.

"We recognized that it was time to face up to our challenges in the most Canadian way – to be forthright with Canadians and our international partners about the results of Canada's previous efforts, and to be realistic on the progress we could make by 2012," Ambrose said.

Instead of honoring its commitment under the Kyoto Protocol, the Harper government is proposing to allow industrial emissions to continue to grow until 2050.

Government officials will meet with environmental organizations Thursday, after already meeting with industry and most of the provinces to discuss the government proposal to abandon its Kyoto obligations.

The purpose of the meeting is to gather reactions of environmental organizations to a discussion paper circulated by Environment Canada on the government proposals for greenhouse gases and air pollution, says John Bennett, executive director of the nonprofit Climate Action Network, who will take part in Thursday's meeting.

The paper lists 12 questions the department wants feedback on before presenting draft regulations in the new year. Not one of the questions refers to the Kyoto Protocol.

“Canada has a legal obligation under the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to levels six percent below 1990 levels or about 560 megatonnes," said Bennett. "The point of this exercise is to ease the burden on the polluters not protect the environment."

power plant

The Grand Lake-4 power plant operated by New Brunswick Power burns bituminous coal, emitting greenhouse gases. (Photo courtesy NB Power)
Bennett said, "Environment Canada is looking only for advice on how to devise a regulatory system that has the least impact on the polluters. They seek input on offset systems and technology funds and how to factor in the economic impact on the polluters."

The shift in Canada's climate policy is contained in the Clean Air Act introduced in Parliament October 19.

Under this bill, "short-term intensity based greenhouse gas reduction targets would be set in consultation with provinces and territories and all affected industry sectors," Ambrose told the Members of Parliament, introducing the legislation.

"The government is committed to achieving an absolute reduction in greenhouse gas emissions between 45 and 65 percent from 2003 levels by 2050," she said.

"These targets would exceed those proposed by the previous government and will produce real environmental progress here in Canada," said Ambrose.

But these targets do not relate to the Kyoto Protocol, which Canada signed and ratified under the previous Liberal government. Protocol targets are accounted in absolute emissions of a basket of six greenhouse gases.

The Harper government's approach is based on greenhouse gas intensity - the ratio of greenhouse gas emissions to economic output. This is the policy of the United States under President George W. Bush, who rejected the Kyoto Protocol, which was signed during the Clinton administration, because he said, it would hurt the U.S. economy.

The Liberal opposition calls the proposed Clean Air Act a repackaging of existing government regulations, accompanied by vague promises of environmental consultations with big polluter industries.

The measure sets up a system of short, medium and long term greenhouse gas emissions targets unrelated to the Kyoto Protocol.

"The Clean Air Act does not set any short-term targets for the emission of greenhouse gases or air pollutants until 2010," said Liberal Leader Bill Graham.

Graham

Liberal Leader Bill Graham, who represents a Toronto district in Parliament. (Photo courtesy Liberal Party)
"Moreover," he said, "the targets that are set will be intensity-based, meaning that greenhouse gas emissions and pollution will be allowed to rise until its medium term targets kick in 2025."

Liberal Environment Critic John Godfrey said the proposed Clean Air Act would tie up any real environmental action for years while the legality of the measure is fought out in the courts.

“The so-called Clean Air Act pretends to deal with air pollution and greenhouse gases by removing them from the toxics section of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, and putting them in a new part of the act,” said Godfrey. “Apparently no one told the Prime Minister that the government only has the legal power regulate toxic substances. The government is begging for a lawsuit!"

“Will the Environment Minister Rona Abrose admit that her real intention is to delay action on climate change for years when she already has the tools she needs to act today?” Godfrey fumed.

Liberal MP Pablo Rodriguez, whose Private Members bill calling on the government to respect its commitments to the Kyoto Protocol passed its second reading in Parliament in October, scolded the Conservatives for walking away from Canada’s international environmental obligations.

“Ms. Ambrose has just put the axe to Kyoto,” said Rodriguez. “No short-term objectives. No measurable targets. No compulsory timetable. Her only precise target is 2050."

“I wonder how old she'll be by then," Rodriguez said. "Will there be any glaciers left in the north? How many coastal cities will be flooded? How many people will die from the direct or indirect consequences of climate change? How can the minister do this to our planet? And more importantly, how can she do this to our children and our grandchildren?”

Meanwhile, the private sector is moving into wind energy generation across Canada in record numbers.

The Canadian Wind Energy Association, CanWEA, announced today that Canada has now installed a record breaking 657 MW of new wind energy capacity in 2006, representing more than Cdn$1 billion in investment, and shattering the previous annual installation record of 240 MW set in 2005.

Canada's total installed wind energy capacity now stands at 1,341 megawatts, MW, doubling the 684 MW in place at the start of the year, and enough capacity to meet the electricity needs of 406,000 Canadian homes.

windfarm

Wind turbines at the Cowley Ridge North windfarm in Alberta. (Photo courtesy Nordex)
"Wind energy is an emerging Canadian success story and 2006 will be remembered as the year that our country first began to seriously capture the economic and environmental benefits of wind energy deployment," said CanWEA President Robert Hornung.

CanWEA represents 250 wind energy companies - turbine and component manufacturers, wind energy project developers, and service providers to the wind energy industry.

CanWEA's goal is to see 10,000 MW of wind energy capacity either contracted or installed in Canada by 2010.

Wind energy projects have already been commissioned this year in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Nova Scotia; additional facilities in Quebec and Prince Edward Island are expected to come on line before the end of the year. These projects include Canada's largest windfarm, the 189 MW Prince Wind Energy Project in Ontario.

"Canada's is on the cusp of a wind energy boom as provincial governments are now targeting to have a minimum of 10,000 MW of installed wind energy capacity in place by 2015," says Hornung. "If Canada is to meet and exceed that objective, provincial and federal governments must continue to build on their existing efforts and put in place a stable and sustainable policy framework for wind energy development in Canada."