Nobody Knows What’s Happening

About a year ago, the Canadian Conservative government announced that it had a plan to cut Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions 20% from 2006 levels by 2020. The new regulations were scheduled to come into force on January 1, 2010. I was pretty happy – skeptical of Stephen Harper’s ability to carry this out, and wishing it was an even greater reduction – but still happy that progress was being made.

A few months ago, there was one article buried deep in my local newspaper that announced that the Harper government was giving up on this plan. They didn’t want to hurt the economy, or trade with the States, or something like that, so they were going to wait until the Waxman-Markey legislation was fully implemented. That meant they wouldn’t do anything on the issue until 2012, and even then it would take until 2016 for the laws they’d agreed on to come into force. I recall one interviewee in the newspaper saying that it was pretty ridiculous for a prime minister these days to expect to take no action on climate change for his first 6 years in office – and expect to get away with it.

These sort of political decisions usually make their way through the Globe and Mail, CBC, Rick Mercer, and Maclean’s pretty quickly. But this time, I only read the one, half-hidden article, and despite an extensive search, couldn’t find any other mention of it. I was amazed.

As I mention Canada’s (in)action on climate change in a (hopefully soon to come) video I’m working on, I wanted to make sure I had my facts straight. So I went through the Environment Canada website, which, believe me, is not an easy task. Every time I clicked on a link that said “action” or “Canada’s action plan” it lead me to a page that said “Copenhagen is coming!”

Eventually I found the page that described the 20% by 2020 plan – “Turning the Corner”. It hadn’t been updated in over a year – the last announcement was from August 9, 2008. There was no mention if the plan had been abandoned or postponed. And yet it still said,

“Proposed greenhouse gas regulations are expected to be published in the Canada Gazette later this year, and the regulations finalized in 2009 to come into force as planned on January 1, 2010.”

So they hadn’t done anything on this plan for a year, but were still claiming that it would come into force in four months, all the while making no admission of its abandonment and hoping nobody would notice.

I asked a coworker, who had been just as confused as I was. We called the help number at the bottom of  the page, which, unfortunately, was the central information line for all of the Government of Canada. The employee who answered seemed to know even less than we did regarding Canada’s climate change plans.

“I can’t find anything,” he said. “What’s the name of the report?”

“Turning the Corner,” we replied.

“Okay. Just hang on while I type that into Google.”

Eventually we were sent to another federal website (which is so hidden that I can’t even find it again) which apparently dealt with greenhouse gases. It turns out that all they did was measure Canada’s emissions, and require any industrial plants that surpassed a certain amount to report this to the government – but not have to reduce them. Nowhere was there mention of Turning the Corner or any other kinds of regulations.

The environment section of Harper’s website was even worse. Words like “emissions intensity”, “clean air”, “home energy efficiency”, and “environmental leadership” were tossed around, assuming that nobody would read between the lines to discover how little Harper was actually doing about climate change.

The government employee on the line also gave us the number of the Environment Canada deparment. We called them and were given the number of the secretariat for greenhouse gas management. We called that number and got the answering machine. It was 2:00 PM on a Monday. We’ve never heard back.

Does anybody in Canada actually know what’s going on with climate change? Why isn’t anyone demanding answers? Is our country really so apathetic one way or the other?

At least in the States there’s a major opposition to cap-and-trade, so the government can’t pull the wool over your eyes too easily. At least it’s a controversy which is visible to the public

If any Canadian readers actually know what’s happening, or have any more information, please leave comments – this is far too important to ignore.

Bookmark and Share


12 thoughts on “Nobody Knows What’s Happening

  1. Why isn’t anyone demanding answers?

    Everyone is. It’s just that they’re demanding answers to questions like, “Did Harper pocket the communion wafer?”, “Where’s Iggy?”, and “Will the NDP change the name of their party?”

    You might as well face it. We’re boned. Just add some shorts and Hawaiian shirts to your winter wardrobe.

  2. I don’t have much to offer, but during the last election I was very loosely involved in Linda Duncan’s campaign (NDP, current Edmonton-Strathcona MP, displacing the Conservative Rahim Jaffer); she’s an environmental lawyer and the NDP’s climate critic. She’s sent us a lot of correspondence about what she’s been arguing about at Parliament – unsurprisingly, she’s extremely well-informed and tenacious about swatting down denial, but as a minority member (not even the Opposition), there’s little actual power there.

    However, I do recall at one candidate forum, I attended dressed business-casual and left my class material at the lab – one of the interesting things about Alberta is that it often takes nothing more than that to get people to assume you’re a Conservative. With a bit of creative acting, I engaged the Conservative Party campaigners present, asking about their environmental policy. They passed me a booklet that looked like it was written in response to Captain Planet.

    …You think I’m kidding. I am dead serious. A 2008 environmental policy booklet prominently mentioning “toxic waste” (actual terms; the image was of an 80s-style chemical plant dumping in a river) and strangely lacking any mention of the words “carbon”, “climate”, “warming”, or “atmosphere”. It mentioned nuclear power, but only in the context of waste storage (ignoring not only any current political reason to support or oppose nukes, but also specifically Canadian nuclear issues).

    I kept up the facade for as long as I could; I don’t think they suspected I was a social democrat. It was rather revealing in that they appeared to think that putting a fence around a forest and rerouting dump sites near it would count as “environmental stewardship” and was “sustainable development”.

    What’s clear is that the Conservative government doesn’t have a position on this, probably because it doesn’t see it as a problem at all. A really interesting angle, I think, would be to look at each Conservative MP (particularly backbenchers, since Harper’s cabinet is likely very close to his own views) and see if any of them acknowledge the crisis we’re in as anything but economic. If they do, they’re the ones to contact.

    Sadly, as a member of the only Orange riding in ALBERTA, my voice is likely to be marginalized by absolutely everyone who isn’t representing me. That won’t stop me from trying to find out.

    • Wow – you’re from the lone NDP riding in Alberta? That’s fantastic. I was just reading about Linda Duncan earlier this week actually, and was very impressed. Just what Alberta needs more of – because she’s embracing climate policy, not because she’s NDP. It is within Alberta’s rights to be as conservative as they’d like…..but not to completely ignore a problem which has consequences for the entire world. Especially when they’re the biggest polluting province. If only it was somewhere like PEI that decided to ignore climate change….that would make it a lot less of a problem….

  3. Another example of the Press dropping the ball on an issue which is clearly within their area of reponsibility and concern. This is not history. It is news, not olds. Why am I not shocked?

  4. Hmm. Something occurred to me over lunch when a friend of mine and I were discussing arctic ice trends.

    There is one area Harper has made his opinions clear and appears to be making policy on — arctic sovereignty.

    The reason this is an issue in Canada is because the Arctic Ocean is becoming transportable due to shrinking ice.

    Can someone who has better knowledge of Canada’s policy systems (i.e. what you’d need to look up policy history) look at arctic sovereignty movements? I suspect we’ll see definitive “adapt, not mitigate” evidence there, to confirm what we’re all suspecting.

  5. Kate:

    I’ve been writing about Canadian policies for sometime… most are just looking at the climate news of the day, which I follow in my day job.

    It seems as if the Harper government is constantly going to bat for the Alberta Tar Sands, and seeking exemptions and delays. And the 20% reduction by 2020 doesn’t look so good as a 2.7% reduction by 2020 — if you use 1990 figures. And my understanding is that there’s no way we can meet that.

    I like the Pembina Institute for more about Canadian policy.

  6. The Harper line is that a delay is necessary to ensure compatibility with Waxman-Markey. But that has already passed the House, so it’s not as if the government doesn’t know what’s in it.

    Richard is on the right track here – it’s all about the tar sands. The Canadian government plan had been based on “intensity” targets, not hard caps, with some further loopholes for energy producers, if I recall correctly.

    This is not going to be compatible with the U.S. system as it stands, and so the focus has shifted to try and sell tar sands oil as a necessary component of U.S. “energy security”.

    I’ve seen a couple of announcements in the Canada Gazette, e.g. proposed regulations on vehicles and offset program for small emitters and individuals, but nothing concrete on regulation of large emitters.

  7. In the southwest United States, they have an opportunity to increasingly use solar thermal energy.

    In the central and coastal united States, they can use renewable wind energy.

    In Canada, there are very few consistently sunny areas, and few major population centres nearby to take advantage of that power. This is unlike the US.

    In Canada, while we could use wind energy in a few areas, many areas are far from population centres, treed, and infrastructureless. This is unlike many dry, windy areas in the United States. Wind works best when there is already power infrastructure and populations nearby to use it: that’s a lot of the US, but very little of Canada. Wind energy in Canada may be good for some number of remote, small communities. But it’s pretty odd to think that large cities, like Vancouver or Toronto, could ever be served by a high proportion of wind power (or any renewable power). In the United States, I would say the opposite however.

    In the United States, over the medium term, its level of industrialisation and settlement would permit it to support huge grids bringing (for example) wind energy and solar energy from the central interior to its coasts or its industrialized north. In the Canada, I cannot see this occurring.

    Quite honestly, the opportunity to use renewable energy on a very large scale is possible in the US. It is not advisable, if possible, in Canada (except for some increase in hydro). In my opinion, nuclear energy built close to population centers, and a few large hydro energy projects are the only method of getting canadian green house gasses significantly reduced.

    So why would a Canadian ghg reduction bill look anything like the US?

    • I don’t expect that a Canadian bill would look the same as an American one – I just wish we had one!!

      In terms of electricity – the only area that still gets most of its electricity from coal is the Maritimes (PEI, Nova Scotia, etc). Coastal areas tend to have a lot of wind, and they can also use tidal power. Hydro provides most of Canada’s electricity, so they can always import hydro from inland if they need it.

      I don’t think we even really need to increase our use of hydro. We could just become far more efficient (Joe Romm’s strategy of efficiency and cogeneration is brilliant, read about it in his book Hell and High Water) and that would offset decreases in coal electricity and potentially power electric cars instead of using gasoline from the tar sands.

  8. Nova Scotia, all by its lonesome, could generate enough wind power for all of Atlantic Canada, and most of New England. The UK is planning to bring 25 GW of offshore wind power online by 2020; the potential in Nova Scotia is at least that great, and when you combine all of Atlanic Canada, we could be the, ummm, the Mount Everest of Wind Power.

    Yet the last Conservative budget ioriginally ncluded more than $1 billion for renewable power, but our PM and Industry Minister Environment Minister grabbed that money for carbon capture projects in Alberta. According to Lisa Raitt’s now infamous tapes.

    Finally, a huge chunk of Albert’a electricity comes from burning coal.

  9. I don’t totally agree with crf regarding Canadian potential for domestic renewables, but in either case, we are almost certainly have to move to something like a North-American-region-wide energy system with smarter grids and HVDC, like the Desertec proposals. Which just reinforces the need to – egads! – cooperate with the US.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.