Canada slashes emissions targets

Canada slashes emissions targets
Published: 31 March 2005

The Canadaian federal government has slashed its emissions-cutting targets for large industrial polluters by more than a third from the goal set out in Canada’s original climate change plan, The Canadian Press has learned. But the whole effort to regulate greenhouse emissions from large facilities could crumble amid the current furor over Ottawa’s attempt to include Kyoto-related measures in the budget implementation bill, sources say. The prime minister’s office is furious with environmental groups who publicly opposed the government’s approach in hope of convincing Ottawa to take a harder line against big polluters. Some of Prime Minister Paul Martin’s most senior officials are telling environmentalists they may have destroyed the best plan they could hope for.

Under the latest federal proposal, big emitters would be required to cut greenhouse gases by 39 megatonnes rather than the 55 megatonnes specified in the 2002 Kyoto plan, according to sources who spoke on condition of anonymity. In addition, polluters would have the option of purchasing an additional nine megatonnes of credits by investing in a government research and development fund, bringing the actual emissions-reduction target to 30 megatonnes.

That target would be further softened in a number of ways. Facilities that emit greenhouse gases as a byproduct of manufacturing products such as cement or ammonia would not have to cut emissions, since such "process emissions" are very difficult to reduce. Polluters that produce greenhouse emissions through burning fossil fuels would be required to achieve cuts of 10 to 15 per cent, with the average not to exceed 12 per cent. These emitters would have the option of purchasing emissions credits from other large emitters in Canada or abroad, or by investing in emissions-cutting projects abroad.

Despite the concessions, large emitters are holding out for a purely voluntary system, and the current storm over "back-door amendments" to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act may result in them getting their wish. Senior political strategists are said to be on the point of abandoning any attempt to regulate greenhouse emissions in the short term, because they see no support for amending the environment act, nor any quick alternative route to get the same result.

Cabinet members feared that an attempt to regulate carbon dioxide would be mocked because it is not directly toxic, but several environmental groups say Ottawa should list it for regulation under the environment act anyway. "We see no reason to amend that act in order to control greenhouse gases," said John Bennett of the Sierra Club. "We don’t see a legal reason and we haven’t heard a good political reason either."

Louise Comeau, a veteran activist who has advised the government on climate change, blasted eight environmental groups who last week attacked the government’s plan to amend the environment act. She said representatives of the groups were consulted about the government’s approach weeks ago and did not object to it at the time. "The government thought they were all OK with it. Everybody was trying to make it happen. It’s time for the environmental groups to take responsibility for their actions. "What they’ve done is undermine a completely honest and credible attempt by the government of Canada to regulate the large final emitters."