“Canada’s premiers reached a deal on a Canadian Energy Strategy, hailing it as a “monumental” document that recognizes the importance of the country’s energy industry to the economy but does so in an environmentally sustainable way.
“However, the strategy waters down commitments to fight climate change, as the strongest climate pledge – a promise that all provinces would adopt absolute cuts to greenhouse gas emissions – has been stripped out from an earlier draft version.
“Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, who with Quebec’s Philippe Couillard had pressed for stronger environmental protections, told The Globe and Mail that “is the language everybody could live with.”
“She focused, instead, on the fact that until this document was signed there was no shared goal on energy and climate change among the 13 provincial and territorial leaders.
”“This is an issue of a strong economy and strong environmental protection, and those two things are not mutually exclusive,” she said. “They must be complementary.”
“However, this leaves the global warming language in the plan little more than a series of vague aspirations for a “lower carbon economy.”
“The strategy was revealed Friday in St. John’s at the conclusion of the premiers’ annual summer conference. The fact that a deal was even achieved is an accomplishment – two days ago, when the meeting began, it was not clear if a way could be found to finalize the document that was first proposed in 2012 and has been worked on ever since.
“Former Alberta premier Alison Redford initiated the strategy as a plan for the rest of the country to help get oil pipelines built, to ship oil from Alberta and Saskatchewan to refineries and ports for overseas export. The idea was to open new markets for the provinces, which rely on the United States as their customer.
“At last year’s premiers’ meeting in Charlottetown, Ms. Wynne and Mr. Couillard, however, insisted the strategy must contain action on climate change.
“But Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall pushed back this week, arguing the draft version he read downplayed the pride Canadians should take in an energy industry that provides jobs and equalization payments for the entire country.
“He repeatedly said oil is not a “four-letter word.” He took shots at Ontario and Quebec’s position – and he criticized Alberta’s newly elected NDP premier, Rachel Notley, for her recent statement that Quebec is right to want meaningful action on climate change before endorsing an east-west pipeline. He suggested it means she would give a veto to other provinces if they don’t like her energy policies.
“She called his statements “ridiculous” – insiders say his views were not supported around the table.
“In the end, however, he supported the strategy. Mr. Wall said Friday that one of the sections was improved and now “speaks to the issue of energy self-sufficiency.”
“The strategy is heavy on environmental rhetoric, but there are no firm promises. One section, for example, says the provinces and territories will “review and explore market-based mechanisms” for cutting emissions – such as cap-and-trade – but there is no guarantee any more provinces and territories will adopt these policies.
“The strongest environmental language in a draft version of the strategy obtained by The Globe earlier this week committed the provinces to “actively pursue absolute GHG emissions reductions.” But the term “absolute” was later cut from the strategy.
“The distinction is important: Absolute emissions reductions are the international standard, but Alberta instead uses a different method for setting emissions targets that allows emissions to continue growing. Federal data show Alberta’s emissions have grown 53 per cent since 1990.
“The weak climate language is a defeat for Ontario and Quebec, which have been cutting greenhouse gas emissions and pushing for stronger national action on global warming.
“It was not well received by environmental groups: “The energy strategy was weak and disappointing on commitments on climate change and clean energy,” said Dale Marshall, of Environmental Defence. “The only way to salvage it is for provinces to take steps to strengthen it by committing to significant climate action, focusing on increasing electricity trade in clean, renewable power and collaborating on a strong energy efficiency program.”
“The new strategy confirms the need for more oil pipelines, commits the provinces and territories to cutting regulatory red tape to get projects approved faster and promises to ramp up overseas exports.
”“As energy production expands to meet growing domestic and international energy demands, our country must have the necessary pipelines, electricity systems and other energy infrastructure in place to move energy products, so as to increase Canadian value-added opportunities and to facilitate national energy self-sufficiency and independence,” reads section seven of the strategy.