The Globe and Mail
By Shawn McCarthy
The Harper government faced a grilling from global climate officials Thursday, as countries’ representatives questioned Canada’s policies and commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Canada’s chief negotiator Louise Metivier presented Ottawa’s plan at a UN climate conference in Bonn, Germany, where governments are aiming to make progress towards an international agreement to be concluded in Paris in December.
Ms. Metivier said Canada has made an “ambitious” commitment to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 30 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030, and is working with the provinces to meet that goal. It has also committed to a 17 per cent reduction from 2005 levels by 2020.
But representatives from other countries noted that Canada is not on track to meet its 2020 target, and raised questions about the effectiveness of measures that Ottawa recently announced to rein in emissions.
Canada was just one of several countries whose plans were subjected to review and questioning by other participants at the Bonn conference. Environmental groups have been highly critical of Canada’s performance, particularly its failure to introduce measures to reduce emissions from the oil sands, the fastest growing source of GHGs in the country.
Germany’s ambassador to Ottawa, Werner Wnendt, recently said Canada needs to “confront” the growing emissions from the oil sands, though supporters note the sector represents a tiny fraction of global GHGs.
The South African climate representative noted Canada’s 2020 goal would leave its GHG levels higher than they were in 1990. The United Nations has set 1990 as a base year, but both Canada and the U.S. use 2005, making it difficult to compare relative progress.
The South African representative asked whether Canada would revise the target to increase its level of ambition; Ms. Metivier said Ottawa had no intention of making such a revision.
In a written question, Sweden also pointed to Canada’s failure to reduce emissions from the oil sands, noting that while Ottawa has adopted regulations in other sector, “the focus on the oil sands extraction is low.”
Ottawa replied that it will make “climate-related investments in innovative technologies” to improve environmental performance in the oil sands, a pledge Ms. Metivier reiterated Thursday. Ms. Metivier said many of the regulations imposed by the federal government “were designed with a long-term view in mind” – with the most significant GHG reductions coming after the 2020 target date.
She also noted that Alberta has a new government – Premier Rachel Notley’s New Democratic Party – which will soon announce its plan to renew existing GFHG regulations, which impose a $15 a tonne levy on oil sand emissions that exceed a regulated limit.
The Harper government had proposed regulations in the oil sands as recently as two years ago, but now says it will only act when the U.S. adopts similar regulations for its oil and gas sector.
Ottawa recently announced plans to regulate methane emissions in the oil and gas sector – which largely occur outside the oil sands – as well as natural-gas fired power plants and chemical and fertilizer manufacturing. But Ms. Metivier could not say what impact those measures would have, saying that won’t be known until the regulations are finalized.
Climate activist Louise Comeau said other governments are clearly concerned that Canada will resort to “creative accounting using untransparent approaches” as it attempts to meet its targets.
“It is not believable that [Ottawa] has no idea as to the impact of so many existing or proposed measures,” said Ms. Comeau, executive director of Climate Action Network Canada. She monitored the UN session by webcast. “Government must have some idea before making international commitments. Canada’s performance [Thursday] was consistent but remains unacceptable.”
Check out footage of UN climate officials questioning Canada on its climate targets here