By Bea Vongdouangchanh
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government has until next month to develop a plan to meet Canada’s commitment to the Kyoto Protocol under Private Member’s Bill C-288, but so far the government isn’t indicating its next move.
“Canada’s New Government will respect the will of Parliament and the law,”
Environment Minister John Baird (Ottawa West-Nepean, Ont.) told The Hill Times last week in an email, without elaborating on the progress of satisfying the requirements of Bill C-288, the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Bill. “Unfortunately we can’t turn back the hands of time on 13 years of Liberal inaction and broken promises on the environment and on the Kyoto Protocol. That doesn’t mean that we aren’t committed to action.”
Liberal MP Pablo Rodriguez’s (Honoré-Mercier, Que.) private member’s bill, C- 288, came into effect, or into force, on June 22 when it received Royal Assent. The bill requires that the government “ensure that Canada meets its global climate change obligations under the Kyoto Protocol” by requiring the environment minister to develop “a climate change plan” within 60 days of coming into force with clear regulations and targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It also requires the environment minister to seek advice from the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE) on the effectiveness of the plans and requires the environment commissioner to track the progress of the implementation by submitting an annual report to the Speaker of the House.
Liberal MP David McGuinty (Ottawa South, Ont.), his party’s environment critic and former chair of the NRTEE, predicted last week that the Conservatives would continue to oppose the Kyoto Protocol and try to get around complying with the law. “I think they’re going to pursue the same strategy they’ve been pursuing since they’ve been elected on the environment, something I call the three Ds on the environment–deny, delay, deceive,” he said last week. “The only way they can continue to do it in my view is by breaking the law, by pretending that they’re not bound by the law, by ignoring the law. That’s what they’ll do. That’s what they’ve been doing since they got elected with respect to Kyoto.”
Mr. McGuinty said he believes the government will not bring forward a new plan, but will use its “Turning the Corner” plan, released in April, to try to comply with C-288. “They will pretend that their plan constitutes a plan under this law, but that’s not possible, because their plan deliberately sets out not to achieve Kyoto targets,” he said.
Mr. Baird said in the email that Mr. McGuinty’s suggestion “is outrageous” and that although the government will follow the law, “Bill C-288 is a poorly written and irresponsible piece of legislation as it calls for the government to fulfill its Kyoto commitments starting in January 2008, something the Liberals could not do when they had a 10-year head start.”
In an analysis called, “The Cost of Bill C-288 to Canadian Families and Business,” the government concluded that in order to reach the Kyoto Protocol target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by six per cent below 1990 levels, “the necessary changes to the Canadian economy would result in a decline in GDP by more than 6.5 per cent from expected levels in 2008. This would result in a recession comparable to the one in 1981-1982, which stands as the largest recession to date in Canada since the Second World War.”
Greenhouse gases have risen 35 per cent above 1990 levels since 1997 when the Liberal government signed onto the Kyoto Protocol, and the Conservative government has said it is unable to meet the targets. “The government of Canada believes that C-288 represents and unbalanced approach that would hurt workers, families and businesses,” the analysis said.
Political science professor Matthew Paterson, who teaches climate change politics and international relations at the University of Ottawa, said that although the Conservatives are right to criticize the Liberals for not doing anything on the environment front while in government, they are also misleading Canadians as to what is actually required in the Kyoto Protocol under C-288.
“The problem with [“The Cost of Bill C-288 to Canadian Families and Business”] is that it misrepresents what Kyoto requires [and] that’s not right,” Prof. Paterson told The Hill Times last week. “What Kyoto says is that at some point during the period 2008 to 2012, emissions have to be six per cent lower than they were in 1990. So it doesn’t have to be there from the beginning of 2008 and then all the way through the period. They’ve got in effect until the end of 2012. So all of their sums are based on the idea that you have to reduce emissions by 35 per cent in six months and that’s a fallacy, that’s a scam that they’re running.”
Environmental Defence’s policy and campaign director Aaron Freeman, who is a regular contributor to The Hill Times, said that from the Conservatives’ past actions, the government will not take C-288 “seriously” even though they have an obligation to comply with it. “It’s a legal obligation, so it’s going to be a hard one for the government to get out of it if that’s the way they’re going to try to go,” he said, adding that the Conservatives cannot simply use the “Turning the Corner” plan to satisfy the requirements under C-288. “They have themselves admitted that we are not going to meet our Kyoto targets under that plan. And the law clearly requires a plan that will meet our Kyoto obligation. It would be very difficult if the government, after having declared that they’re not going to meet our obligation, to then argue that they have a plan in place to meet our Kyoto obligation.”
Under the bill, the government has to come up with a plan, seek advice from the NRTEE, give the public an opportunity to respond and table the advice, the plan and a final statement in both the House of Commons and the Senate, all in 180 days. Mr. McGuinty said this is a reasonable amount of time, but if the Conservatives wanted to make it easier on themselves, they should recall Bill C-30, the Clean Air Act, for debate in the House and allow it to go through the legislative process to be passed.
“It’s all in C-30. It’s all been written for them,” Mr. McGuinty said. “The air quality standards have been improved, the regulations have been improved, the carbon budget has been improved, the notion of allocation has been improved, participation of an international carbon market has been captured.
It’s all there in black and white. Of course they don’t want to do that because that would be an admission that their plan is a fraud and it would be an admission that they have to do and be bound by the will of Parliament, which up to now they have refused to admit. That’s where it’s at, right in front of them, C-30. Just dust it off, bring it back to the House and go from there. I have a sneaking suspicion that if you took C-30 and you delivered it as the plan required under C-288, and took it to the National Round Table, I have a sneaking suspicion that it would actually pass the test.”
While Mr. Baird did not say whether the government would consider calling C- 30 for debate when the House returns, he called it a “Liberal Carbon Tax Plan” and criticized it for giving “industry an unlimited licence to pollute.” He said the government has a better plan.
“Had our ‘Turning the Corner’ regulatory plan to achieve 20 per cent in absolute reductions of greenhouse gases by 2020 been in place when the Liberals signed the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, we would be meeting our Kyoto targets now,” he said. “Our commitment to Canadians to turn the corner and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions 20 per cent by 2020 is a solid commitment. … The Liberals can play political games at home with a private member’s bill. What they do not realize is the world has passed them by and that Canada under a Conservative government is helping to lead the world on fighting climate change.”
The regulatory plan, which Mr. Baird said would balance the economy with the environment, aims to reduce greenhouse gases through intensity targets and remove smog and other pollutants from the air.
A process for establishing the government’s air quality and emissions targets were set out in a notice of intent for governor-in-council regulations published in the Canada Gazette last October. The targets would force industry to cut its greenhouse gases by 18 per cent by 2010. After 2010, companies would have to cut their emissions another two per cent every year.
Other aspects of the regulations include developing new car efficiency requirements, putting new efficiency standards on household appliances, and creating an oversight program to ensure clean indoor air when new buildings are constructed. The overall effect would mean that greenhouse gases would be reduced by 20 per cent below 2006 emissions levels by 2020, a clear departure from the Kyoto Protocol, which calls for an average of six per cent reduction from 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012.
Prof. Paterson said although the first set of intensity-based targets of 18 per cent reduction by 2010 are “pretty good” and “ambitious,” the two per cent reductions after that are not effective because that’s what industry is already doing. “Industry has about two per cent energy efficiency per year so that’s not a target, that’s just a statement of what’s happening already, presented as a challenge, which is a scam.”
For any serious climate change strategy to work, Prof. Paterson said, the government must deal with three key issues, one of which the Conservatives are already jumping on. “Where I think the Conservatives have more credibility than the Liberals had or where the NDP would as well is that do seem to have more of a sense that climate policy if well designed can become an economic opportunity,” he said, pointing to the fact that the Tories have been investing in new technologies for energy production, such as wind, solar, fuel cells and energy efficient cars. “That becomes part of the economic strategy from the government to try to promote those industries. …
I don’t think it’s fully developed yet, but I think that’s where they need put more effort and really think it through.”
The other two issues were urban sprawl and the price of energy. Prof. Paterson said cities are too spread out in Canada and inaccessible to people.
There is no point in having fuel efficient cars when everyone is driving further and more often to reach their destinations, he said. “It’s much more important whether people drive to work or not than how efficient their car is. If you’re walking to work or biking or taking the bus, well, your emissions are 75 per cent reduced, not 10 per cent from getting a more fuel- efficient car.”
This leads to the issue of energy prices in Canada, which is one of the lowest in the world, Prof. Paterson said. “Kyoto is just the first step. The long term strategy is to reduce emissions by 90 per cent. If you’re not thinking about the price of energy, then you’re wasting your time,” he said, pointing out that tripling energy prices in the next 10 to 15 years would force Canadians to rethink their energy use and would shift incentives around to invest in new technologies including how to build cities to make it easier for people to choose to be energy efficient.
Mr. Freeman agreed with Mr. McGuinty, however, saying that an amended Bill C- 30 has aggressive enough targets to meet the Kyoto targets. He said that Canadians want to do their part to fulfill the environmental obligations and not only would it be embarrassing for Canada internationally if the government does not comply with C-288 and in turn the Kyoto Protocol, it could open itself up to legal actions. “The courts won’t do it on their own, but they’ll enforce the law if they have to. Someone would have to bring an action against the government and I don’t think there would be any shortage of parties willing to do that,” he said.
The Hill Times
Timeline for Bill C-288, the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Bill
June 22 – Received Royal Assent
August 21 – Last day for government to create plan and refer it to the National Round Table on the Environment and Economy that will meet Canada’s Kyoto Protocol commitments, to reduce greenhouse gases to six per cent below 1990 levels
August 23 – Plan must be published in Canada Gazette stating that the public can make their comments and concerns known within a 30-day window
September 19 – Plan must be tabled in Parliament within three days of the plan being created. Since Parliament is not sitting, the government must table it in the first three days of when it does sit
September 22 – Last day for public consultation on plan
October 20 – Last day to receive advice from the National Round Table on the Environment and Economy on plan; last day for environment minister to prepare statement on final plan
October 23 – Last day to table statement in Parliament and publish advice received from the NRTEE on plan
October 30 – Last day to publish government statement on final plan; last day to publish notice in Canada Gazette on how advice from NRTEE on plan was published and how the public can obtain a copy of it
November 29 – Last day to receive advice from NRTEE on statement
December 2 – Last day to publish advice received from NRTEE on statement on final plan and table it in Parliament
December 9 – Last day to publish notice in Canada Gazette of how advice from NRTEE on statement of final plan was published and how the public can obtain a copy of it
December 19 – Last day on which a plan can be implemented to “ensure that Canada fully meets its obligations under Article 3, paragraph 1 of the Kyoto Protocol,” which states that Canada must reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to six per cent below 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012
May 31, 2008 – Last day to create an updated climate change plan, showing the measures to meet Canada’s Kyoto targets and how much progress has been made in the previous year
June 22, 2009 – Environment commissioner to publish report of analysis of the climate change plan and any progress made from the first plan
– Compiled by Bea Vongdouangchanh