Canada has a long history of failure on climate change. Failure to act at home and abroad have made Canada an international pariah when it comes to action on climate change. There is not a single federal regulation on the greenhouse gas pollution from Canada’s fastest growing source of emissions – the tar sands, and provincial regulations for air, water and climate pollution are widely criticized as being dangerously inadequate.
Weak domestic action
Canada is on track to achieve less than half of its stated emission reduction targets (17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020). Independent reports from the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy and even its own Environment Canada ministry have warned that current and planned federal policies will not come close to meeting already weak targets. http://www.pembina.org/blog/643.
Bad international reputation
Canada ranks as the worst performer in the developed world on climate change. In the most recent ranking of climate change performance, Canada was trailed only by Kazakhstan, Iran and Saudi Arabia, ranking 58th out of 61 countries. http://germanwatch.org/en/download/7158.pdf
Canada is also the only country to have formally withdrawn from the Kyoto Protocol in 2011 and was the only country to return from Copenhagen climate change negotiations and weaken its greenhouse gas emissions reduction target.
Canada has been repeatedly accused of working to undermine international climate change negotiations at the United Nations. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-11-27/scientists-decry-canadian-undermining-of-climate-science.html
Broken promises and missing environmental regulations
Canada has so far only put in place GHG regulations in two sectors: coal and the automotive sector.
Regulations on Canada’s fastest growing source of emissions, the oil and gas sector, have been promised by four different ministers over the course of seven years. The Government has said as recently as February 2013 that these regulations are close to completion. If they are tabled, analysts will be watching closely to determine whether they will be a meaningful first step towards a hard cap on tar sands pollution. Recent regulations presented for coal fail to meaningfully reduce emissions.
Canada’s coal regulations have been heavily criticized for barely impacting coal emissions before 2045. And analysis of the new vehicle emission standards shows that these regulations are essentially “business as usual” for the automotive sector. http://www.pembina.org/blog/349.
Canada has also repeatedly failed to deliver on repeated promises to independently monitor the impacts of the tar sands on water. New projects continue to be approved in the absence of credible monitoring data to inform decision making.
The Government of Alberta does have a carbon tax that amounts to between 18-22 cents per barrel. At this price it is cheaper for industry to pay this price that take any other initiatives to reduce their greenhouse gas pollution or improve their environmental performance.
The tar sands are already Canada’s fastest growing source of pollution, and much of the remaining oil can only be extracted through in situ technology, which is more greenhouse gas intensive on a per barrel basis leading to even faster growing emissions.
Canada favours a tar sands PR strategy over real action
The federal government has established an “Oil Sands Advocacy Strategy” in the Department of Foreign Affairs, which is attempting to weaken clean energy and climate change policies in other countries in order to promote the interests of oil companies. At least three specific cases where federal government officials have lobbied on behalf of the oil industry have already been identified (California’s low-carbon fuel standard, a U.S. federal clean fuels policy known as Section 526, and the European Union’s Fuel Quality Directive).
The federal government has also been explicit in its aggressive lobbying to limit and diffuse opposition to proposed pipelines that would serve unfettered and unregulated tar sands expansion. The most well known of these proposed pipelines are the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, the Enbridge Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline and megatanker project and the Enbridge Trailbreaker (line 9) tar sands pipeline. Each of these pipelines is facing formidable public opposition. For more information see: http://climateactionnetwork.ca/2012/03/08/dirty-oil-diplomacy.
Canada has gutted its environmental laws to fast track oil pipelines like Keystone XL
In 2012, the current government presented a budget bill that included sweeping changes to environmental laws (among other legislation unrelated to the budget). The bill included dramatic changes and gutting of decades of environmental protection laws and regulations. The most immediate implication of the changes to environmental laws is that it removes obstacles for rapid pipeline and tar sands infrastructure development.
The undemocratic nature of this bill sparked extraordinary outcry across the country and inspired the largest collaborative campaign by environmental organizations in the country’s history – Black Out Speak Out. The campaign aimed to speak out on two core Canadian values: nature and democracy. The context was that, ‘our land, water and climate are all threatened by the latest federal budget. Proposed changes in the budget bill will weaken environmental laws and silence the voices of those who seek to defend them.” For more information see: http://www.blackoutspeakout.ca/
No comparison: Canada vs. U.S. support for clean energy
Since his election, President Obama has committed over $90 billion for clean energy investment. http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/cea/factsheets-reports/economic-impact-arra-4th-quarterly-report/section-4
In comparison, the only major Canadian program to support energy efficiency and renewable energy (EcoEnergy) ended in 2012.
If Canada kept up, our per capita equivalent in Canada would exceed $9 billion, but Canada currently has little federal strategy or funding to develop a clean energy economy.
Canada was recently ranked last among G8 countries in terms of its clean energy investments, see: http://o.canada.com/2012/08/15/green-economy-mega-trend-sweeping-planet-joe-oliver-told/.
Declining support for climate change research / muzzling government climate scientists
The federal government has systematically slashed funding and support for government research and scientists that generate evidence raising concern related to rapid tar sands expansion and climate change.
In 2012 the government ended the National Round Table on the Economy and the Environment, an arms length advisory body set up in the mid-90’s, because, as members of the cabinet confirmed, the government did not like the organization’s advice on putting a price on carbon and acting on climate change. They have also eliminated support for renowned scientific research programs such as the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Science.
In early 2012 Canadian scientists published an open letter and did high profile media interviews articulating the ways in which they were being muzzled by the federal government. Scientists also recently held a very well attended protest on Parliament Hill to mark the ‘Death of Evidence’ in federal government policy making.
For more information see: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-16861468 and
Steps to restoring credibility
The bottom line is that the Keystone XL pipeline, and the tar sands expansion it would bring, cannot coexist with a safe climate. Current industry and government plans for tar sands expansion are in lockstep with what the International Energy Agency says would put us on track for a world with 6 degrees of global warming. Government and Industry have plans for a tripling in tar sands growth over the next 7 years. This would cancel out progress in emissions reductions from every other Canadian sector combined.
Beyond the reality check that the planned reckless expansion of tar sands cannot happen, there are steps that could be taken by industry, the Government of Alberta and the Canadian government to begin to build credibility when it comes to environmental protection and a commitment to do Canada’s fair share when it comes to action on climate change.
These include (but by no means are limited to):
- Slowing the out of control expansion of the tar sands. Canada cannot meet any meaningful climate target while allowing this industry to rapidly expand
- Making polluters pay – the first step would be long-promised oil and gas regulations, with assurance from credible experts that they will achieve a meaningful hard cap on tar sands emissions, and could be easily integrated into a future carbon pricing mechanism.
- Develop a credible plan for a clean energy transition, starting with restoration of meaningful federal support for clean energy and efficiency programs