Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has no balls - only one.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has called global warming “perhaps the biggest threat to confront the future of humanity today.” Yet his government has delivered little meaningful action to address this threat.
It’s hard to imagine Canada’s international reputation on global warming and the environment getting worse, but our loss of credibility on these issues didn’t happen overnight. It’s partly the result of ongoing neglect of environmental science at the federal level, but it also stems from a long history of broken promises, both to Canadians and to our global peers.
Understanding how we got here requires a look into the recent past. The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997 as a first step toward preventing significant climate disruptions. Developed countries agreed to collectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 5.2 per cent below 1990 levels by 2008-2012.
Canada’s target was a 6 per cent reduction. But by 2009, instead of declining, emissions had risen to 17 per cent above 1990 levels.
Meanwhile, the U.K. had managed to cut emissions by 27 per cent, and Germany’s emissions had declined by 26 per cent. As a group, developed countries will almost certainly meet their 5.2 per cent targeted reduction by the end of 2012 — but Canada can take no credit for that success.
Canada was the only country to announce that it would not try to meet its ratified target. Instead, in 2007 the government proposed the “made-in-Canada” solution to reduce emissions to 3 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020.
But that plan was never implemented, and just three years later Canada changed its tune again. Canada promised to match the 17 per cent emissions reduction in the year 2020 relative to 2005 proposed by the U.S. as part of the Copenhagen Accord. This translates into a 2.5 per cent increase in emissions from 1990 levels.
With changing targets and broken promises, is it any wonder that Canada has so little international credibility on the climate portfolio? We’re now less than 10 years away from the new 2020 deadline, but we still lack the federal initiatives that could make meeting our latest — and weakest — target even remotely possible.
Upcoming federal regulations for greenhouse gas emissions from coal, which are expected to require coal-fired electricity producers to meet the same emissions intensity as less-polluting natural gas, could be a significant tool to reduce greenhouse gas pollution. The test is whether these regulations will be designed as if they’re responding to “perhaps the biggest threat” to face humanity, or simply going through the motions.
It’s an easy question to answer based on the government’s response so far to a new coal-fired power plant that just won a rushed approval from the Alberta Utilities Commission, which opted not to hold public hearings into the project. A legal letter from Maxim Power Corp., the company behind the project, indicates it was rushed through in an attempt to beat the impending federal regulations on greenhouse gas emissions.
This approval makes no sense. At a time when many other jurisdictions are moving to phase out coal because of concerns about air quality and global warming, this plant would add 1.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere over its projected 45-year lifespan.
The federal government has the power to prevent this pollution, and doing so would have an effect equivalent to taking 300,000 new vehicles off the road. The crucial test of Ottawa’s interest in improving Canada’s record on global warming will be whether it uses the tools in its power to prevent companies from rushing projects ahead to avoid the new regulations.
Similarly, continuing and accelerating expansion of the oilsands has single-handedly thrown a monkey wrench into Canada’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. According to Environment Canada, oilsands emissions are projected to continue rising dramatically, tripling from 30 million tonnes in 2005 to 92 million tonnes in 2020.
Just as our government is failing to take serious action on global warming, the recent cuts to staffing at Environment Canada indicate the Harper government is also undermining Canada’s ability to understand and respond to other environmental concerns.
The official line was that the cuts would be handled by attrition and increases in efficiency, but we cannot see how this is possible.
Industrial activities and urban areas have grown, increasing the need for the services that Environment Canada and other federal science departments provide. Some of the people retiring are world class scientists who will not be replaced. Others are key field personnel. For industrial and urban development to be done responsibly, capacity to assess and mitigate environmental damage must keep pace with development.
The government’s defence of its environmental record seems to be the constant repetition of its mantra it has a policy to cut emissions by 2020.
But a policy is more than a slogan. The longer we wait to take decisive action and prevent dangerous climate change, the more difficult and costly it will be to address the pressing economic and social issues related to environmental degradation.
It is time for the federal government to deliver the clear and decisive action that Canadians are demanding, and deserve.
David W. Schindler is Killam Memorial Chair and a professor of ecology at the University of Alberta. John P. Smol is Canada Research Chair in Environmental Change and professor of biology at Queen’s University. Andrew J. Weaver is Canada Research Chair in Climate Modelling and Analysis and professor of earth and ocean sciences at the University of Victoria.