Canada's actions on climate sharply diverge from government promises

Many of us have experienced the frustration of someone making a promise that is later broken.  But when the world’s tenth-largest carbon polluter makes and breaks promises to deliver on major national policies and international climate agreements, it is a different matter.  Today, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Joe Oliver (who has come under attack in the past for being a climate denier) is in Washington DC promoting the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.   Minister Oliver has previously come to Washington promoting its tars sands industry but there is a new scrutiny on Canada’s climate record given recent reports it is seeking approval of Keystone XL in exchange for a promise to make climate agreements.  When the truth of Canada’s real climate actions are exposed, it is clear Canada has a climate credibility problem.

Here are a few key facts to keep in mind as Minister Oliver makes claims about Canada’s climate commitments:

  • Broken promise:  Prime Minister Harper promised that all tar sands projects built after 2012 would use carbon capture and sequestration technology to address their carbon emissions.  Prime Minister Harper told a London audience at the time that “…after 2012… new oilsands operations will only be permitted if they can massively reduce their emissions.” The Harper government never adopted this policy.
  • Broken promise:  In 2008, the Harper administration released its “Turning the Corner” plan promising to reduce Canadian emissions to 580 million metric tons by 2020.  In 2009 in Copenhagen, the Harper government moved its goal posts, agreeing to reduce its emission to 626 million metric tons by 2020.  Instead, by 2020 and despite international climate commitments, Canada will instead exceed its climate target by a wide margin. How wide? 
  1. More than the current emissions from Canada’s entire electricity sector
  2. More than the combined carbon pollution of every passenger car, truck, bus, train and plane in the country
  • Broken Promise: In 1997, Canada adopts the Kyoto protocol. In 2011, under the conservative Harper government and after several years of inaction on meeting its climate targets, Canada formally withdraws from the Kyoto protocol, breaking its international climate commitment.
  • Broken Promise:  Several times over the past six years, the Canadian government has promised to deliver new regulations that would regulate carbon pollution from its tar sands industry.  These regulations have not been introduced.  But even if Canada moves ahead with these long overdue regulations, none of the regulatory proposals reportedly under consideration are strong enough to close the gap.  Minister Oliver has also previously stated that “Once the federal regulations are in place, Canada will be one of a very few oil producers in the world with national binding regulations on its oil and gas sector.”  Other jurisdictions that have already adopted much more aggressive policies on climate  to tackle emissions.  Canada’s climate to promise to reduce emissions from its oil and gas sector should not mislead that it is a leader in this respect.
  • Broken Promise:  The Candian federal government promised new and stringent regulations for its coal fired power plant sector in 2010 that would make it a "clean energy super power."  Following their initial announcement in June 2010, the coal regulations were progressively weakened. By the time they were finalized in September 2012, more than two years later, their impact was cut in half. The regulations will not be fully implemented until 2062 and over their first thirty years, they will reduce total emissions a third less than originally proposed.

Canada has stated it doesn’t need to do anything to improve its climate policies.  Both Minster Oliver and Canadian Ambassador Gary Doer have stated Canada does not need to change its environmental policies to approve Keystone XL. "I don't see the need for us to do things differently than we're currently doing….We can stand tall on our record,"  he said in April of this year. Oliver said Wednesday during a conference call from Washington. Of course, this differs from the undisclosed letter sent from Prime Minister Harper to President Obama reported recently indicating the Canadian government was open to changes.

But not all of Canada’s federal representatives agree.  "In the U.S., people know how to read," Canada’s official opposition leader Tom Mulcair said. "They know that Canada is the only country that has withdrawn from Kyoto. They know that the Conservatives can't possibly meet their Copenhagen targets (on greenhouse gas emissions) precisely because of the oil sands."

Any credible plan to address Canada’s climate emissions will limit tar sands expansion. Dr. Mark Jaccard, Professor of Environmental Economics at Simon Frasier University and former chair of British Columbia Utilities Commission said, “Mitigation of Canada’s increasing carbon pollution is incompatible with the Harper government’s policy of unchecked oil sands expansion, which is driving their push for Keystone XL. The Canadian government has failed to reign in the skyrocketing emissions from this carbon intensive industry and we are now at a point where the only acceptable alternatives for the U.S. government to reject Keystone XL.”  It is time to reject Keystone XL and push for a cap on tar sands production.