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article imageDirty Energy Prevents Canada's Chance of Climate Deal

By Sean O'Flynn-Magee     Dec 7, 2009 in Politics
Although popular opinion sometimes suggests otherwise, Canada's environmental record is dismal. Any genuine deal at the Copenhagen Summit will be impossible without addressing Canada's biggest climate issue, Alberta's tar sands.
While most of the attention at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, which begins today in Copenhagen, Denmark, will be focused on major economies like the United States, China and India, Canada will be at the center of the debate over economics and ecology.
As well as boasting one of the world's highest standards of living, Canada is one of the world's worst polluters and shows little sign of improvement. Recently, the World Development Movement, the Polaris Institute in Canada and Greenpeace have called for Canada to be suspended from the Commonwealth over its climate change policies. The main obstacle is Canada's energy policy which, according to Al Gore, is inconsistent with combating climate change.
Historically, Canada has placed economic interests well above environmental ones. Consequently, the country's record at international environmental meetings is abysmal. Despite signing and ratifying the Kyoto Protocol in 2005, and agreeing to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 5.6% from 1990 levels, Canada's emissions have increased by close to 30%. Under Conservative leadership especially, Canada has been reluctant to agree to international climate regulation, blocking numerous consensus-building efforts and choosing to focus less comprehensive regional schemes such as the Asia-Pacific Partnership.
The current government's position on Copenhagen is not heartening. Although spokeperson Sujata Raisinghani said, in an email, that Environment Canada is committed to "tackling climate change through sustained action to build a low-carbon economy that includes reaching a global agreement", the department head, Environment Minister Jim Prentice, has said publicly that a treaty at Copenhagen is unlikely. Prime Minister Stephan Harper was not even planning on attending the summit until the announcement that high-profile figures such as Barack Obama, China's Wen Jiabao and India's Manmohan Singh would be present.
The government has pledged 20% reductions by 2020 but based on statistics from 2006, what Environment Canada called "a realistic, yet ambitious target which recognizes Canada’s growing population and our energy-intensive industrial sector." This keeps it in line with the United States' goal of 17% but falls well short of the 50% now required under Kyoto, and lags sorely behind other countries goals. The European Union, on the backs of huge investments in wind and solar power in Germany and Spain, respectively, is aiming to cut emissions by 20% from 1990 levels. And even China has undertaken to reduce emissions by 40-45% by 2020, especially through the use of renewable energy sources.
Canada's reluctance to commit to meaningful energy reductions stems from a penchant for traditional energy sources like natural gas and petroleum. At the heart of the matter is the Athabasca Tar Sands, Canada's fastest-growing GHG emitter and, according to Greenpeace, the largest industrial project in the history of the planet. The large deposits of heavy-crude oil in north-eastern Alberta provide huge economic incentives but make any strenuous GHG reductions unlikely. The Tar Sands are the world's eighth largest GHG emitter and have been targeted by various environmental groups looking to shift Canada's climate policy.
Most notably, Greenpeace made the Tar Sands were the centerpiece its campaigns leading up to Copenhagen. The group staged several protests on Alberta oil patches in September following a successful campaign publicizing the Tar Sands in Europe over the summer. In an email, Greenpeace Canada coordinator, Joya Perrick called for reducing emissions by at least 25 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020..."[w]hile implementing an effective national plan to reach this target, we should also help developing countries to reduce their emissions and adapt to climate change."
Responding to the issue of the Tar Sands, Environment Canada would only say that "The Canadian government, along with provincial governments, and industry, is committed to managing the oil [tar] sands - a key strategic resource - in an environmentally responsible way…We remain dedicated to reaching our GHG emission reduction targets, while encouraging the growth of one of Canada’s most important natural resources."
The tar sands, which emit nearly 5% of Canada's GHGs, are the country's biggest obstacle to achieving reductions. And with production expected to rise 700% over the next two decades, it is unlikely that Copenhagen, or any other political meeting, is going to change that.
More about Copengahen, Canada, Climate change, Tar sands
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