By Alicia DuBois
Climate change is a contentious topic in Canada, largely due to the nation’s long-standing ties to the fossil fuel industry. At the forefront of Canadian discourse on this topic is the Province of Alberta’s famous “dirty” tar sands oil production. This is followed closely by the coal-fired electricity industry that is the primary source of power in the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia, each of which derive more than 70% of their electricity from coal. From a high-level perspective, these two well-established, carbon-intensive industries, combined with the provincial and federal governments’ reluctance to limit their emissions in a meaningful way, form the basis upon which Canada has historically failed to engage in climate change discussions and continues to fail to significantly address climate change.
The two primary mechanisms the provincial and federal governments are now considering in an effort to combat climate change are carbon capture and storage (CCS) and a cap and trade programme. Any momentum and related success these mechanisms generate in Canada in the short-term will be largely a result of pressure exerted by President Obama by way of trade policy between Canada and the US.
To date, the Canadian government’s local and global response to climate change has been so poor that well-established and regarded Canadian environmental groups have taken up writing to President Obama and his designates for the purpose of identifying flaws in the Canadian provincial and federal climate change plans prior to Obama meeting with Canadian politicians. The aim of this correspondence has been to appeal to Obama’s greater sense of environmental and economic leadership and to encourage him to create protectionist policies that will force Canada to move forward both in the interest of the environment in general and to realise Canada’s particular economic and technological growth potential in alternative energy solutions.
In recent interviews, Canada’s environment minister has confirmed that such pressure from the US would result in the federal government aligning its emerging greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction framework with that of American. In the grand scheme of things, this is promising news for Canada on both the local and global stage because, up until the Obama administration took office, both the federal and Alberta governments refused to engage in any meaningful discussion on the environment, locally or globally. Needless to say, it is disconcerting and embarrassing that we need to have another world leader force us to be engaged global citizens.
At the end of April, Canada’s environment minister announced that the government of Canada will release new climate change regulations that will impact Canada’s electricity sector. The release is scheduled for later in 2009, just in time for the minister to attend the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. As it stands, the electricity industry contributes to about 18% of Canada’s overall GHG emissions. However, the aim of the forthcoming federal regulation is to have a 90% emission-free electricity sector by 2025. This will require a successful CCS program and additional energy contributions in the form of nuclear and hydro power, in addition to other renewable sources, such as wind.
The difficulty with political announcements such as this is that they do not provide Canadians with a full picture. They typically fail to mention that emissions from other industries are increasing and other regulations and standards, which are under development, aim to permit more intensive carbon emissions and the release of hazardous air pollutants in other energy sectors. In addition, these snippets fail to inform citizens that their own government perpetuates the climate change confusion and is not forthright in its public communications about the true impacts of Canadian industry. For example, most citizens in the Province of Alberta would be surprised to know that, despite the recession and cutbacks on essential social policy programs, $25 million of their tax dollars have been directed toward the funding of a marketing initiative that is aimed at managing the recent damage done to the image of the oil sands. Ultimately, this is a ploy by the government to manipulate and further confuse citizens, so that fewer questions are asked, the wealthy can continue to make money and the environment continues silently to be damaged in the wake of short-sighted economic prosperity.
Alicia DuBois is a lawyer for an Alberta-based energy company and lives in the city of Calgary. She received her Bachelor of Science with Distinction from the University of Lethbridge in Alberta and then continued her academic studies in the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto. Alicia focused on the study of environmental law while at this university and, prior to her current position, obtained the bulk of her legal experience as a prosecutor and barrister and solicitor with Alberta Justice.
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