Canada lags on greenhouse gas targets, critics charge

Canada has yet to submit its targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, missing a deadline set in advance of a United Nations climate conference scheduled for December.

NDP asks why Ottawa is out of step with Mexico and other countries

Canada is among those nations that have not revealed the level of commitment they are willing to make as part of the treaty. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

The federal government is being accused of dragging its heels on a key component of an international climate agreement.

The United Nations has asked countries around the world to submit plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions beyond 2020 in advance of an international climate summit scheduled for December in Paris. The Council of Parties Conference is aimed at reaching a new global agreement on climate change.

The UN set the end of March as an unofficial deadline for developed nations to submit their reduction targets. The European Union, Switzerland and Norway have all produced their plans. Mexico submitted targets on Friday while the United States is expected to submit its targets soon. Canada, however, says it won’t announce any targets until later this year.

[Ottawa] can’t simply publish an inventory of what the provinces are doing.… We need leadership.— Glen Murray, Ontario environment minister

That delay incurred the wrath of the opposition in question period Monday, with New Democrats demanding to know when the government would deliver a plan.

"The only thing the Conservatives are on target to meet is complete failure," said NDP environment critic Megan Leslie.

"Mexico has announced its plan. The U.S. is moving forward. When will we stop being international laggards on climate change?"

Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq responded that Canada would submit its emission targets "well in advance" of the Paris summit, while offering no firm date.

Waiting on the provinces

Aglukkaq said the government wants to hear from the provinces before finalizing its plan. Provincial and territorial governments are tackling greenhouse gas emissions in different ways. The federal government says it needs to get a complete picture of how all those plans are working before it can settle on a national strategy.

But some provinces say the federal government has shown little interest in working with them to come up with any plan to fight climate change.

Quebec Environment Minister David Heurtel said he met with Aglukkaq at last year’s UN climate summit in Lima, Peru, the precursor to this year's meeting in Paris. Heurtel said he wrote to the minister seeking a dialogue on developing a national strategy on cutting greenhouse gases, but has heard nothing back.

"We just want to work with Ottawa, and we haven’t had any real response to our demands of just working together," Heurtel said.

Ontario Environment Minister Glen Murray said his province is equally frustrated. 

"We need the federal government to play a leadership role in the federation. They’ve got to work with particularly Quebec, Ontario, British Columbia, and we need to see what they can put on the table to enable [greenhouse gas] reductions," Murray said.

"They’ve got to be part of it. They can’t simply publish an inventory of what the provinces are doing and then making that Canada’s contribution. We need leadership here."

Canada is not the only developed country that has yet to produce a plan. But environmentalists say the delay won't do anything to improve Canada's international reputation on environmental issues.

"It's disappointing, as usual," said Dale Marshall, national program manager at Environmental Defence. 

"This is a really important issue that other people are being affected by. And Canada needs to show both respect for the science and responsibility in terms of taking action."

Marshall doesn't buy the government's argument that it needs more time to study the provinces' plans to reduce greenhouse gases before coming up with national targets.

"Most of the province's plans are out there. Their targets are there. They have been since the Conservatives formed a majority. So, there's really no reason why this consultation could not have happened already," he said. 

Marshall said the only conclusion he can draw from the government's delay is that it does not take its responsibility on climate change seriously.


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