Critics dispute Kent’s greenhouse emissions figures
Published Wednesday, August 8, 2012 9:43AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, August 8, 2012 11:15PM EDT
Canada is halfway toward its target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent from its 2005 levels by 2020, Environment Minister Peter Kent announced on Wednesday.
But critics were quick to point out that Canada’s 2020 emissions target of 607 megatonnes is based on the projection that 850 megatonnes of harmful gases would have been released into the atmosphere had the federal government done nothing to reduce emissions.
By using that projection as a starting point, instead of the roughly 750 megatonnes of greenhouse gases Canada emitted in 2005, the government can say it’s halfway toward reaching the goal. However, emissions are currently down only three per cent from 2005 levels, at 720 megatonnes.
“I find it extremely insulting, misleading for the federal government to say their plan is yielding any results,” Steven Guilbeault, co-founder of the environmental group Equiterre, told CTV News.
Not only are the numbers deceptive, Guilbeault said, it’s the provinces that deserve much of the credit for the little progress that has been made on greenhouse emissions.
Still, the provinces’ efforts have been offset by oilsands activity, he said.
“We're talking about 10 companies that are operating in the tarsands and will annihilate all the efforts that have been done by hundreds of companies in British Columbia, Ontario, Nova Scotia,” Guilbeault said.
Speaking to reporters from the Algonquin Centre for Construction Excellence in Ottawa, Kent credited the government’s “sector-by-sector” approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions for bringing Canada halfway to its goals.
“This is the result of our government’s realistic sector-by-sector approach to greenhouse gas regulations that is reducing emissions while continuing to create jobs and encourage economic growth” he said.
In a statement issued by Environment Canada on Wednesday, Kent said reductions in the electricity and transportation sectors in particular have contributed to the country’s emissions reduction target.
Advances in new building construction and a number of new, more-efficient vehicles on the road have also contributed to reducing the levels of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere.
Under the Copenhagen Accord, Canada will now have to develop ways to cut emissions by an additional 113 megatonnes to reach its 2020 target.
Kent also said that this is the first year that the Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) sector’s contribution to lowering emissions have been included in the country’s emission trends. Previously these contributions had been excluded.
Environment Canada estimates that the LULUCF sector’s contributions will result in a 25 megatonne reduction in the country’s emissions by 2020 – a significant achievement, said Kent.
Following their “sector-by-sector” approach, the minister said the government will continue to work on reducing emissions in other sectors, including the steel, cement and construction industry, as well as the major oil and gas industries.
Kent pointed to regulations expected in the next few weeks to curb emissions from coal-fired electricity generating stations.
He also said he’s currently in talks with the provinces and territories concerning the oil and gas industry and hopes to draft regulations next year.
The minister said future regulations will not be based on precise targets, but rather on “best performance standards.”
For example, the oilsands industries have indicated that they would like to reduce their emissions to the same levels that conventional oil and gas operations use, said Kent.
Critics were quick to jump on Kent’s announcement.
Liberal MP Francis Scarpaleggia, the party’s critic for public safety and water policy, said Wednesday that he doesn’t expect the government to meet the 2020 emissions target set out in the Copenhagen Accord.
“It doesn’t have a national plan,” Scarpaleggia told reporters during a press conference. “The provinces, because the federal government refuses to show leadership, have had to take things into their own hands and in many cases they deserve the credit (for emissions reduction).”
Climate Action Network Canada, which is made up of more than 85 member organizations, said over the last year the government has done little more than “act as a lobby arm for the tar sands.”
In a press release issued on Wednesday the network credits provincial policy for the reduction in Canada’s emissions.
“When it comes to federal policies, little to no progress has been made towards their weak goals,” said the network’s executive director Christian Holz in the press release.
“Sadly, as the government faces the nearly insurmountable challenge of meeting their own goals, they are dismantling key institutions such as the National Roundtable on the Environment and Economy that could help them,” said Holz.
The government’s support of oil sands development and Canada’s withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol has drawn criticism from environmental groups.
In December 2011 Kent announced that Canada was pulling out of Kyoto, an international environmental treaty aimed at reducing greenhouse gases levels by the end of 2012.
Kent and the Conservatives had long argued Kyoto is an impediment to finding a solution to climate change because the world’s largest polluters, China and the U.S., are not members of the pact.
Kent also said it is impossible for Canada to meet its targets under the accord by the time it expires, and it didn’t make economic sense to pay the monetary penalties -- up to $14 billion -- for failing to live up to its obligations under the accord.
Countries that are signed on to the accord, including France and Japan, have said Canada’s decision to withdraw from Kyoto weakens the entire accord, and sets a bad example for other countries struggling to meet their commitments to reduce emissions.
During Wednesday’s press conference, the minister again pointed out the failures of the world’s largest polluters to offer to report or verify their emissions.
The minister said that while Canada is committed to meeting the Copenhagen targets by 2020, the government will continue to encourage other countries to “get into the game and do their part to actually reduce emissions.”
With a report from CTV’s Daniele Hamamdjian