Canada

Suzuki confronts environment minister over green plan

John Baird defended his government's green plan Friday, which included fending off a public confrontation with environmentalist David Suzuki.

Environment Minister John Baird defended his government's climate change plan Friday, which included fending off a public confrontation with Canada's best known environmentalist.

Environment Minister John Baird defends his government's climate change plan at the Green Living show in Toronto Friday. ((Peter Hadzipetros/CBC))
Baird had just kicked off Toronto's consumer Green Living Show when he was approached by David Suzuki, who let the minister know what he thought of the government's plan.

"It's a disappointment, John," Suzuki said as he beat a path to the minister.

"You know what you promised was a long way from what you delivered."

Baird countered that "this is more action than any government in Canadian history has ever taken."

But Suzuki was not impressed, saying that it's not enough.

"He promised all kinds of great things and it's been a big disappointment to see what it is. It's all smoke and mirrors and what he's going to do is allow industry to continue to increase their emissions."

Environmentalist David Suzuki, right, talks to Environment Minister John Baird about the Conservative government's environmental plan. ((CBC))
Suzukilater told CBC News the Conservatives' new plan isanembarrassment because it falls short of what is needed and what Canadians want.

"What the government is trying to do is give the illusion of movement by talking about reducing the intensity, and hard targets," he said.

"The reality is it's reallya cover for allowing industry to increase its pollution, so it's not seriously addressing the emissions problem."

But Baird said the Conservatives' path to curbing greenhouse gas emissions is a "balanced" approach.

The plan, entitled Turning the Corner, calls on Canada to reduce its current greenhouse gas emissions by 150 million tonnes by 2020 and will require most industries in Canada to reduce greenhouse gases by 18 per cent by 2010.

Baird says he's ready for election on plan's merits

"We think we struck the right balance," Baird told CBC News on Friday. "This is a strong, balanced, and fair plan."

Bairdsaid he was ready to go to an election onthe plan'smerits, but addedit wasn't up tothe government to decide.

"If the Liberals or the NDP want to take it to the people, that will be their call, not mine," he said.

Some industrial leadershave grudgingly accepted the plan, while opposition parties and environmental groups are slamming it.

The plan sees Canada reaching its Kyoto Protocol emissions targets between 2020 and 2025, instead of 2012 as laid out in the international plan to curb climate change.

Industry isn't facing hard caps on greenhouse gas emissions, butis asked to meet "intensity-based" targets, based on units of production.

This means companies must reduce the amount of emissions used to produce their individual products, but they don't have to reduce emissions overall. If a company ramps up its production, its total emissions can rise.

'Time to move forward'

Baird acknowledged environmentalists' demands Friday.

"In Canada, environmentalists have demanded perfection, yet nothing has happened," Baird said.

"It's time to move forward; our plan does that."

Baird again took aim at Stéphane Dion and the previous Liberal government for the delay in reaching its Kyoto targets, noting the Liberals allowed greenhouse gases to go up by 27 per cent while they were in power.

"I can't turn the hands of the clock back," he said. "I can't take responsibility for 13 years of inaction …but our government can take responsibility for taking action now."

Technology the 'real answer': Baird

Baird also saidsignificant environmental and economic benefits would emerge through developing technologies such as carbon capturing.

"I think technology is going to be the real answer," he said.

The Conservatives estimate the plan will cost the Canadian economy between $7 billion and $8 billion a year at most, but not many jobs will be lost.

"Some in industry say it goes too far," Baird acknowledged.

The government says there will be benefits to implementing the plan. By 2015, it expects to save $6.4 billion in health-care costs because fewer people will be suffering from pollution-related illnesses.

The plan touches on emissions from cars, trucks and household appliances, but primarily the plan takes aim at industry, which accounts for nearly 50 per cent of Canada's total emissions.

Canada's industrial sector will be responsible for 40 per cent — or 60 million tonnes — of Canada's total 150-million-tonne greenhouse gas reduction.

Companies that were set up before 2004 will be required to increase their energy efficiency by 18 per cent by 2010. After that, they have to improve efficiency by two per cent a year.

Corrections

  • Companies that were set up before 2004 will be required to increase their energy efficiency by 18 per cent by 2010, not cut their greenhouse gas emissions by that amount, as originally reported.
    May 10, 2007 4:20 PM ET

With files from the Canadian Press