Thursday, the Conservative government released its Clean Air Act, promising to cut national greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent — over the next 40 years.
And so, the legislation confirmed the worst-case scenarios of Canadian environmental groups.
The proposed law sets no short-term targets for emission reductions.
Instead, by 2050 Canada will reduce emissions between 45 and 65 per cent of what they were in 2003.
“These targets would exceed those proposed by the previous government and will produce real environmental progress here in Canada,” said federal Environment Minister Rona Ambrose in a release.
If passed, the act would set national targets for smog and ozone levels by 2025, and develop new regulations for vehicle fuel consumption by 2011.
Vehicle emission standards in Canada would be harmonized with the US for one year.
“We listened to Canadians,” said Ambrose.
“They told us they were concerned about worsening air quality and increasing emissions of greenhouse gases.”
But the legislation does little to address global warming, said environmental lobbyists across the country.
The act is nothing more than “smoke and mirrors,” representatives of Friends of the Earth, the Sierra Club and Greenpeace told the Globe and Mail.
“I’m extremely disappointed,” said Michael Westlake, executive director of the Northern Climate Exchange at Yukon College.
“The federal government had an incredible opportunity to set strong, realistic targets and timelines, specifically greenhouse gas emissions,” Westlake said in an interview Thursday.
“Instead, what they have done is delayed and shifted the burden to future governments and, worse yet, to future generations.
“It’s incredibly frustrating.
“They’ve set up a process in which they don’t really have to act in their first term of government.”
Westlake and many others criticized the government’s planned approach of “intensity-based” emission targets to be established over the next three years.
An intensity-based target focuses on reducing emissions involved in the production of a single consumer good, rather than setting a target for major emitters.
“It’s a very dangerous approach because it leaves us open for an increase in our actual greenhouse gas emissions,” said Westlake.
“It puts a cap on one barrel of oil, rather than a cap on industry as a whole.
“What we need, in order to make progress and actually address climate change, is a cap on, for example, the oil sands development.
“We need to put a cap on that, a cap that is a restriction of the amount of greenhouse gas that they can actually emit.”
Ottawa is running the risk of crippling Canada’s international competitiveness by not fostering technological advances in industry, he said.
“This is a Conservative government whose number one priority is oil sands development and economic progress, and they view drastic (emission) cuts and regulations on industry as ways of cutting economic progress.
“Climate change also brings economic opportunities, incredible economic opportunities. We just have to search them out.
“By delaying progress, we could ruin our economic competitiveness with other international entities.
“Our biggest trading partner is the United States. The United States is taking action on climate change. They are changing technologies.
“If we want to remain economically competitive, if we don’t want to kill our economies, it’s important that we make changes immediately.”
Ottawa is adopting a “balanced approach,” said Pierre Alvarez, president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.
“In our industry, energy is our biggest input cost, so anyone who thinks that we’re not already working hard to reduce our input cost, and thereby emissions, simply doesn’t understand the business cycles,” said Alvarez.
“When you look at some of the things we’re doing in terms of flaring and venting, oil sands, pipeline efficiency, etcetera, you’ll notice there are tremendous improvements that have been made over time, because it simply makes good sense.”
Industry doesn’t need regulation to improve the technology it uses, he said.
“Meaningful, actual reductions are not going to happen without a change in technology and reduction of consumption in Canada, and that’s every one of us, from your car to your house to my business. Everybody has got to participate.
“But 90 per cent of the emissions in this country deal with end-use consumption, whether it’s industrial end-use or other end-use. That’s where the real challenge is.
“(Regulation) is part of the solution and it’s part of the plan.
“This plan talks about regulating consumer products, about regulating the automobile industry.
“All that is new, and wasn’t contained in the previous government’s plan.”
The Yukon Conservation Society and the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition criticized the Clean Air Act for excluding the elimination of subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, renewable resource strategies and deep emission reductions to meet international obligations.
The Kyoto Protocol is not mentioned in the act.
Canada is still a signatory to the international Kyoto agreement on greenhouse gas emissions, but the Conservatives have made no attempt to honour Canada’s Kyoto commitment to reduce greenhouse gases by six per cent of 1990 levels.
“Ultimately, we’ve got to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we must reduce them. It’s imperative,” said John Streicker, former executive director of the Northern Climate Exchange.
“(Climate change) is a global phenomenon. In order for this to work, we’ve got to work together as an entire planet, and the only package in place out there to work all the way around is Kyoto.
“It was designed to bring on the industrialized nations first.
“America was the hold-out. Now if Canada pulls the plug — and this feels like Canada pulling the plug — we end up weakening and possibly killing Kyoto.
“That will be huge trouble.
“Ultimately, because the North is so affected by climate change, this makes the North one of the losers.”