Canadian climate stance: our way or the highway?

By Kaleigh McGregor-Bales

It seems as though Canada is still feeling the effects of the Olympic drive for gold, left over from the Vancouver Winter Games. Instead of medals, the government has been raking in Fossil of the Day awards, given to the worst climate perpetrators as the government was again forced to try to defend its inadequate emissions mitigation efforts at the UNFCCC inter-sessional meeting in Bonn, Germany.

These meetings are held between the more prominent Conferences of the Parties (COP), and are meant to allow members to discuss positions, progress, and problems in working groups that address key issue-areas.

Our government’s thread-bare and loosely organized mitigation plan was formally presented to other Annex I (i.e. developed) countries at a mitigation workshop, in which countries were asked to clarify how their emissions reductions are measured.

At this workshop, Canadian representative Michael Keenan spent much of his presentation giving excuses for Canada’s high greenhouse gas emissions, patting our economy on the back for decoupling GHG emissions from economic activity (per capita GDP), and placing the burden of responsibility on the provinces.

Keenan went on to describe how the Canadian government’s plan will include investing in Carbon Capture and Storage projects, regulating emission intensive sectors (ie. oil sands, cement production, etc.), implementing standards in the transportation and building sectors, and doling out $400 million in new funding for a one year reboot of the ecoENERGY Retrofit program.

All in all, Keenan’s presentation reiterated a lot of what we already knew. For example, Canada’s targets are in line with U.S. targets – despite the fact that this harmonization marks an increase on the previous target, and is nowhere near targets that climate scientists indicate to prevent catastrophic global effects. However, look closer at the federal government’s mitigation efforts and how these efforts are presented internationally, and you will discover a lot more going on behind the scenes.

Reading between the lines

A critical eye is necessary when examining the way the Canadian government talks about their climate change and emissions mitigation policies. On the surface, these plans are presented as feasible and reasonable, and the government continuously reiterates that they are working hard to meet their 2020 target (17% of 2005 emissions levels). When you dig a little deeper, however, there are some major concerns.

Michael Keenan’s presentation came a week after Environment Canada released their Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act Plan, which revealed that 70% of the emissions reductions programs implemented by the Canadian government will not continue beyond 2012. This includes ecoENERGY programs for Renewable Power, Industry and Buildings and Homes that collectively accounted for 4.2 Mt in energy reductions in 2009.

The federal government has also made official its decision to not take up a hard emissions reduction target, assuming a second period of the Kyoto Protocol is undertaken worldwide. This news follows the trend of the past few years, which have seen Canada back away from attempts to reach its initial 2012 reduction targets, while refusing to back out of the accord itself, a move that has been denounced by governments around the world.

Global cooperation is very important when addressing climate change and Canada’s rogue behaviour is quite concerning. If Canada comes up with its own accounting system instead of following the globally developed procedures it will be easier for them to be unaccountable and exclude ‘inconvenient’ emissions (ie. land degradation during oil sand expansion).

Accounting for Canada’s carbon emissions

Land-Use, Land-Use Change, and Forestry (LULUCF) is the accounting system for developed countries to calculate carbon emissions and sequestration from land. It is used to calculate compliance with emissions reductions targets under Kyoto and was discussed during the Mitigation Workshop.

Currently, there are loopholes in LULUCF that allow signatories to include carbon-reducing initiatives while omitting other activities that release carbon, so that actual emissions are higher than reported. For example, forest fires and beetle outbreaks in Canada’s boreal forests release a significant amount of carbon, but are completely omitted from the accounting process.

Despite these gaps, however, LULUCF standards represent a uniform mechanism for holding countries accountable for emissions resulting from deforestation and land-degradation. While significant improvements are necessary, Canada’s intention to work outside of this international framework is even more worrisome – especially given that the government has refused to provide an absolute target for this type of emissions.

Canada’s failure to outline a tangible plan for addressing almost 75% of total annual emissions presents serious concerns regarding the government’s ability to actually meet its 2020 reduction target. In Bonn last week, Michael Keenan did little to alleviate these fears.

In failing to definitively state that Canada will meet its targets, and indicating Canada’s intention to side-step globally agreed-upon accounting mechanisms, our government is increasingly shifting towards a regressive, irresponsible, and untenable position.

As one of the highest per-capita carbon emitters on earth, Canada has a global responsibility to take meaningful and effective action towards reducing its carbon footprint. Developing and implementing tangible plans and adopting effective and internationally-sanctioned mechanisms to monitor emissions reductions are both critical steps in this process. If the Bonn meetings are any indication, the Canadian government fully intends to ignore both science and common sense by taking a firm “do nothing” approach, to the detriment of Canadians and people across the globe.

Crossposted from the CYCC website. Kaleigh is a policy researcher with the CYCC and a member of the Canadian Youth Delegation to Durban. She lives in Halifax.

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