The door has been firmly closed on the Kyoto treaty.
The Conservative government has heralded its own wide-ranging environmental plan, one that it says will save billions in health costs and only marginally affect the Canadian economy.
Dubbed Turning the Corner, the strategy focuses equally on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving air quality ? a favourite issue of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who suffered from childhood asthma.
Everything from the efficiency of household dishwashers to the carbon dioxide emissions of Alberta?s oilsands will fall under new regulations over the next several years.
Canadian households will also get hit in the pocketbook, with prices for appliances, cars and electricity expected to rise slightly. Still, the government promised the plan would mean only an 0.5-per-cent dip in the GDP, would raise gas prices by only six per cent and would have a negligible impact on jobs.
?Our plan strikes a balance between the perfection that some environmentalists might be seeking and the status quo that some in industry seek to protect,? said Environment Minister John Baird. ?Canadians demand leadership from their government for both a clean environment and a growing economy.?
The measures represent months of work by the Tories, who realized by the end of last year that the environment had exploded in the Canadian consciousness.
With former environment minister Stephane Dion as the new Liberal leader, and figures such as Al Gore and David Suzuki achieving rock star status, nothing less than a complete overhaul of their policy was in order.
Their challenge now is to sell their scheme as one that is tough enough on polluters.
While the oil and gas industry called the emission targets the ?toughest? in the world, environmental groups and opposition politicians decried the plan as one that failed to deliver on the pressing issue of global warming.
?What they have announced today is not a plan, it?s a scam,? said Dion. ?There is no real effort to go somewhere where emissions will really go down. This intensity target is barely more than the status quo.?
The Harper Conservatives will also have to persuade Canadians that moving away from the Kyoto treaty was unavoidable given the situation they found on taking office.
?What we?re representing today does meet Kyoto, if today was 1997. But the reality is that I didn?t decide to do nothing in 1997,? Baird said. ?I can?t take responsibility for 10 lost years, but I can fully accept our responsibilities today and we?re doing just that.?
The strategy has two major components: Dealing with the major industrial emitters of greenhouse gases, and clearing the air of smog and other
pollutants. The government predicts that improving air quality will save the country $6 billion annually in health costs.
Companies that belch smog-producing pollutants will face tougher regulations than those that emit greenhouse gases. Reductions of sulphur oxide, for example, will have to attain a reduction of 55 per cent by 2015 and the targets will be firm limits.
The provinces already largely manage such pollutants.
Meanwhile, industries that emit a lot of carbon dioxide will face a reduction of 26 per cent by the same year, and targets will be based on their level of production rather than a firm limit.
That so-called intensity target is one of the main differences between what the government proposes and what the opposition and environmentalists have railed against.
?This means that pollution can go up as long as the intensity goes down,? said Aaron Freeman of Environmental Defence. ?Well, the environment doesn?t care about intensity, it cares about absolute amounts of pollution.?
Dale Marshall of the David Suzuki Foundation said the plan amounts to Canada reneging on its international commitments.
?If this is the plan moving forward, then essentially Canada has abandoned Kyoto,? he said.
Pierre Alvarez, president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, took a decidedly different view.
?These targets are the toughest targets the oil and gas industry is (going to) face anywhere in the world,? he said.
The Tories? promise is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent over 2006 levels by 2020. The Kyoto commitment was to reduce by six per cent over 1990 levels by 2012.
The gap is between 40 and 50 per cent, according to environmental groups. The government did not endorse those figures.
Opposition parties will not have an opportunity to vote on the new scheme: It will be undertaken purely through regulatory changes that do not require their support.
Ironically, the government?s first stab at going green last fall ? the Clean Air Act ? was studied by parliamentarians for months.
Industry will have choices for how it meets its reduction targets, and those options reflect a change of heart within the Conservative government.
After railing against carbon-credit trading schemes, where a heavy polluter buys credits from a cleaner company, a domestic market is now being advocated.
Companies can also buy into an environmental technology research fund at a rate of $15 per tonne of carbon as a way of meeting their obligations ? the same rate that the previous Liberal government had promoted.
That is expected to be labelled a tax by big industry, which has been waiting
anxiously to find out what the cost will be to its bottom line. Still, the $15 is what many industry players privately said they were hoping would be the ceiling.
?This announcement is just more hot air,? Liberal MP John Godfrey said of the entire Tory plan. ?They call it a plan, but they?re really announcing that they believe nothing can be done.?
NDP Leader Jack Layton was equally dismissive: ?This won?t get the job done. With this plan we fall further behind our international obligations.?
Goodbye Kyoto: Now it’s time to sell new plan
The door has been firmly closed on the Kyoto treaty.