Kyoto and Beyond
Effective at combating climate change?
Last Updated September 28, 2006
"Our future is at stake," federal environment commissioner Johanne Gélinas warned in her September 2006 report examining Ottawa efforts to address climate change. The arguments and talking points that accompany the climate change debate often veer into the political, scientific and philosophical arenas.
But, as Gélinas notes, the government has subscribed to the belief that it will play a role in reducing greenhouse gases and other pollutants. So as the government is set to launch its "Made-in-Canada" replacement for the Liberal-era green plan, Gélinas has provided a micro view of how effective - or ineffective - Ottawa has been in implementing its climate change policies.
One of the areas she chose to focus on was Natural Resources Canada, which is responsible for some 30 projects designed to reduce greenhouse gases with a budget of $1.5 billion from 1997.
Her report found one program that was a much-heralded form of renewable energy didn't have an up-to-date strategy to reflect changing technology. Another well-known home retrofit program never established real targets for emissions reductions, something she said hinders public accountability. And of the efforts to get the massive oil and gas industry to reduce greenhouse gases, she found "minimal reductions" in greenhouse emissions.
"On the whole, the government's response to climate change is not a good story," she writes.
Here is a look at some of those programs outlined in her chapter on reducing greenhouse gases.
Oil and gas: Controlling emissions
According to the commissioner, Canada's energy sector, focused in oil-rich Alberta, contributes $27.4 billion to the gross domestic product, and dumps $18 billion into government coffers. The sector is not likely to slow, but will skyrocket as production ramps up from the oilsands, which will almost triple in production in the next decade, she writes. Put another way, 28 per cent of the increase in Canada's gas emission was attributed to exports of oil and gas.
The commissioner looked at three programs run by Natural Resources aimed at reducing emissions and measured their effectiveness. Her conclusion: "Federal initiatives aimed at this sector have achieved minimal reductions to date and have not yet contributed as expected to federal climate change objectives."
Energy conservation: The voluntary Canadian Industry Program for Energy Conservation aims to get all industries to be energy efficient, yet as of March 2006, Natural Resources found that the companies that participated saved a total of 0.04 million tonnes of emissions. (To get an idea of the scope of that reduction, Canada would have to cut about 270 megatonnes a year to fulfil Kyoto.)
Capturing carbon emissions: Since 2001, the government has tried to encourage development of technology that could take carbon dioxide and store it in the ground. About $25 million was put into this initiative through research and pilot projects. In 2006, the test program saved a total of 3.5 million tonnes, while five other projects have reduced emissions by 0.08 million tonnes. The commissioner notes that the industry, the province of Alberta and Ottawa are working on the technology but have yet to put the money into it.
Working with industry : Environment Canada now heads up a program, the Large Final Emitter System, that aims to secure reductions from the industries, including oil and gas. The commissioner's report details a lot of goal setting and half-starts, but no real progress in terms of cutting pollution. Industry concerns led to lowering the emissions target by 10 million tonnes to 45 million tonnes - and the oil and gas sector would be responsible for a 20 million tonne cut. Yet projections show that this system would not lower emissions below what they were in 1990 and, at best, only "slow the rate" at which the emissions would grow.
The Gélinas report describes the efforts to cut emissions in the oil and gas industry as "future oriented" and noted that federal regulations aren't set to take place until 2008. "We found that these activities have not yet established targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and minimal reductions have been achieved," the report said. The commissioner said the emissions reductions should be real, measurable and verifiable. Meanwhile, the Harper government said its new Green Plan, set to be introduced this fall, would be to reduce pollution with "integrated and effective measures."
In the end, the report recommends that Natural Resources Canada should make clear its plans on how Canada will reduce emissions.
Renewable wind energy: Since 2002, the government has doled out money toward developing wind power through industry incentives. The initial program targeted developing enough energy to power 260,000 households. In 2005, the Liberal budget pledged to give funding of $1.18 billion, up from the start-up money of $260 million, although most of the new money was not yet approved by the current government.
The commissioner notes that the wind power landscape has shifted since 2002 and that the strategy does not reflect these changes, nor does it establish what role governments will play in developing wind power in the long run.
Housing: The government had housing EnerGuide programs, for existing and new homes, aim to make family dwellings more energy efficient by reducing heat and energy use. During the life of the program, which was shut down this year, the government funded it to the tune of $100 million. The program targeted annual emission savings of 2.2 million megatonnes and the commissioner noted some 49,000 existing homes alone got retrofits. As a result, energy consumption in those homes dropped an average of 27 per cent. Its criticism of the program is levied at the lack of information about how these programs are faring compared with targets. "It is important to do so to help Canadians understand the contribution that programs are making to the federal government's climate change objectives," the report says. The audit revealed five Treasury Board decisions that gave money to the programs without saying what exactly was expected for the money.
Says the report: "Natural Resources Canada should ensure that clear and concrete greenhouse gas reduction targets are established for each of its programs funded for this purpose. The Department should provide clear and detailed information to Parliament about the performance of its programs compared with greenhouse gas emission targets, and the costs incurred."
Meeting ethanol targets: Acknowledging that vehicles contribute about 25 per cent of greenhouses gases, the government has turned to blending in ethanol into its gasoline supply, which would reduce emissions by four per cent. In 2002, Ottawa said it wanted 35 per cent of the gas supply to be made up of a 10 per cent ethanol mix, and it had pledged $118 million to 11 projects from its Ethanol Expansion Program. The commissioner said the government program never set targets for ethanol production volume and greenhouse gas emission reductions. It did, however, say gas emissions would be reduced by 1.7 million tonnes if the projects were successful.
The report notes: "It is our view that not setting clear targets for this program hinders accountability and the public's ability to conclude whether the program will contribute as expected to climate change plans."
- Main page: Kyoto protocol FAQs
- Asia-Pacific Partnership
- Capturing carbon
- Carbon Trading
- The Montreal Climate Change Conference
- Ottawa: Effective at combating climate change?
- The carbon tax
- Making change happen
- 2005's record weather
- Facts and figures
- Canada-Kyoto timeline
- A British example
- A British report
- Ewe, too, can cut greenhouse gases
- CBC stories
- Kyoto cost
- The Clean Air Act
- The difference between Kyoto and the new U.S.-led climate pact
- The Kyoto protocol vs. The new kid in town
- CBC Radio's Quirks & Quarks: On the way to a warmer world (Dec. 3, 2005)
- Clean Air Online
- Climate change information from Environment Canada
- Text of the proposed clean air act
- Greenhouse gas information from Environment Canada
- "What You Can Do" from Environment Canada
- The Science of Climate Change (from Environment Canada)
- Ecological Footprint Quiz
- Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (PDF format)
- U.S. government’s 2002 “Clean Skies” initiative
- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
- Sierra Club of Canada’s 2004 Kyoto report card
- Full text of the Kyoto Protocol
- Emission Trading Scheme (EU ETS)
- International Emissions Trading Association (IETA)
- UNFCCC: Emissions trading
- European Climate Exchange
- Sierra Club: Global warming and energy
- The Greenhouse Emissions Management Consortium
- Chicago Climate Exchange
- Montreal Climate Exchange
- Canadian Climate Exchange
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