Canada reluctant to act before Washington
By Brian Beary in Washington | Monday 07 December 2009
With Canada’s dominant trade partner by far and away the United States, Ottawa is taking its cue from Washington in the climate talks. This is causing irritation among environmentalists who feel that for too long Canada has been a bad pupil. While the EU raged at US President George Bush for rejecting the Kyoto Protocol, few were paying attention to how Canada had signed and ratified Kyoto, but then let its greenhouse gas emissions increase at an even faster rate than the US. Canada was obliged by Kyoto to cut its emissions by 6% by 2012. Everyone agrees it will not meet this obligation – in fact it will probably massively overshoot the target given that its emissions in 2007 were 26% above 1990 levels.
This summer, Ottawa announced that it would aim for a 20% reduction by 2020 on 2006 emission levels, which translates to 3% below 1990 levels, the EU’s preferred baseline year. A Canadian government spokesperson told Europolitics this was “realistic yet ambitious considering that Canada has a growing population and an energy-intensive industrial sector”. The spokesperson noted that Canada was the world’s seventh largest emitter, responsible for 2% of global emissions. Canada’s long-term emission reduction goal is 60% to 70% below 2006 levels by 2050.
Canada’s 2020 target is similar – both in the percentage reduction and baseline year chosen – to what the US is likely to adopt if the US Congress enacts climate legislation (see separate article). In recent weeks, Canada postponed, for the third time in three years, implementing a comprehensive domestic programme to tighten the screws on large polluters. A spokesperson said the government “will devise a ‘cap and trade’ for specific Canadian industrial sectors” that could be linked to a future US ‘cap and trade’ system, and potentially to the EU’s too. Ottawa has been waiting to see what happens in Washington before acting. Though the strategy has been galling for many environmentalists, one climate policy analyst said it was understandable given how economically dependent Canada is on the US.
PROVINCES FORGE AHEAD
Canada is a mirror image of the US in that many individual Canadian provinces, just like many US states, are implementing more ambitious climate policies than the federal government. Quebec, for example, aims to reduce its emissions to 20% below 1990 levels by 2020 (Ottawa’s target is 3%). British Colombia, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec have joined with seven US states to form the Western Climate Initiative. This aims to put in place a regional ‘cap and trade’ scheme in 2012 – a move the government in Ottawa does not oppose.
Looking at how Canada plans to cut its emissions, the government in 2008 announced it aimed to have 90% of the country’s electricity produced from non-emission sources by 2020. Under its current energy mix, 76.4% comes from non-emission sources: 59.2% hydropower, 15.6% nuclear, and 1.6% renewables. A big problem for Canada is the rapid growth in its oil sands industry in Alberta and Saskatchewan provinces, which account for 4.9% of total emissions. The government, led by Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, hopes to counteract this growth by developing carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology that prevents emissions going into the atmosphere.
The government is not so keen on meeting its emission reduction targets by subsidising clean energy or forestry conservation projects in developing countries – so-called international offsets. A spokesperson said it advocated “new market-based mechanisms that expand the scale and scope of carbon markets beyond current project-based approaches” and that are “economically efficient and environmentally sound”. In the United Nations negotiations, Canada is one of the many developed countries demanding the new climate agreement be legally binding, for developing countries as well.
Canada is responsible for 2% of the world’s emissions