A proposed Clean Air Act from the Conservative government in Ottawa is a “remarkable piece of legislation,” according to Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Jim Prentice.
Released Thursday, the legislation proposes reducing Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions by between 45 and 65 per cent of 2003 levels, but not until the year 2050.
If passed, the act would set targets for smog and ozone levels by 2025, and introduce “intensity-based” emission targets for large polluters by 2010.
Vehicle-emission standards would be imposed by 2011.
“(The act) involves moving forward as quickly as is practical,” Prentice said in an interview from his Calgary office on Friday.
“We have set long-term targets for 2050, and they set the direction of where we’re headed.
“We also will define short-term and medium-term targets.
“They’ll be defined over the next six months, and they’ll be emission-intensity based.
“And they will result in real and improved environmental outcomes for Canadians.”
The Conservative plan was criticized this week by environmental lobbyists who claimed that intensity-based emission reductions would not limit an industrial sector’s overall output of greenhouse gas.
“When we talk emissions intensity we’re simply saying that the rate at which we’re producing carbon dioxide will be reduced,” said Prentice.
“But, of course, the Canadian economy is continuing to grow, so in an absolute sense we continue to create more carbon dioxide, even though we’re being more efficient.
“We can only get to the point where we can create less carbon dioxide, in an absolute sense, through technology.
“It’s impossible to do it any other way, short of shutting down the Canadian economy.”
The proposed act is unique among industrialized nations because it legislates both greenhouse gases and toxic pollutants, and involves a penalization fund, he said.
“It does three things. It regulates; it then insists upon compliance by industry.
“If industry doesn’t comply, it involves the payment of compliance funds into what’s called the technology fund.
“That’s one of the options that has been put forward.
“That technology fund will then be re-invested into the industry or the sector from which it came, in environmental technologies in Canada, in Canadian research.”
There’s no way to know what the technology fund might be worth because limits and fines for industry haven’t been set yet.
“We want to take the extra six months here through to the spring to consult with industry, with government, with other stakeholders to define those short-term targets, because they are the targets that are the most challenging and they require the most balance,” said Prentice.
The Kyoto Protocol is not mentioned in the Clean Air Act.
Prentice would not confirm or deny Canada’s intention to withdraw from Kyoto, but said the Clean Air Act does far more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions than Canada committed to under the international agreement.
“The former government was talking about a policy that involved buying hot air credits overseas as the solution,” he said.
“So people would be allowed to pollute in Canada or create greenhouse gas emissions in Canada, and the solution to that was they would buy a foreign credit in a country somewhere that no one has ever been to.
“That was the Liberal approach.
“What we’re talking about is very specific.
“There will be regulations, standards. Government will insist upon compliance.
“If industry doesn’t comply, they will pay into a technology fund.
“The compliance, the fund and the targets or standards all tie together.”