Little Black Lie: Canada is “Doing Its Part”

It’s difficult to know where to start when asked to write a regular column on the little black lies that plague the debate over energy and climate policy in Canada, but for the sake of convenience and timeliness, let’s begin with one that’s close at hand: Environment Minister Peter Kent’s characterization of our attempt to turn back the tide on climate change at the 2012 UN Climate Change Conference that just concluded today in Doha, Qatar.

“I am proud to be here representing Canada in these important negotiations towards a new, more effective, international climate change agreement,” Kent said as he launched into his Dec. 5 speech at Doha. “As an Arctic nation, we profoundly understand the impacts of climate change…. The Government of Canada is committed to working with our partners to find global solutions to the global climate change problem. In fact, Canada is taking action on all fronts—domestic, continental and international—to address the challenges of climate change.”

The next day, as Kent began feeling the heat about Canada’s inadequate action on climate change, he bragged in a press release from Doha that Canada's GHG emissions were "historically low." Data, he said, show that Canada’s “GHG emissions decreased between [2005 and 2010] by 6.5% despite an economic growth of 6.3%. These numbers demonstrate that the Canadian economy can grow without increasing GHG emissions levels.”

“We are doing our part,” he said, after boasting that Canada was halfway to meeting its United Nations commitments under the Copenhagen Accord — a 17 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from 2005 levels by 2020 (which is a far cry from Canada’s original commitments under the Kyoto Protocol – six per cent below 1990 levels.)

It would be churlish to quibble; still, let’s.

Let’s start with an assessment of global climate change performance released just in time to provide the appropriate context for the Doha conference. This analysis by the environmental umbrella group Climate Action Network compared the climate protection performance of 58 countries that are, together, responsible for more than 90 percent of global energy-related CO2 emissions. The results indicate, to our lasting shame, that Canada has the worst climate change policy of all wealthy nations, and the fourth-worst among all nations (only Kazakhstan, Iran and Saudi Arabia are worse).

In Canada, it’s common knowledge that it will be all but impossible for Canada to meet the commitments it made in Copenhagen in 2009. Environment Canada’s 2012 assessment of GHG trends in Canada estimated that current government policies would leave us just three per cent below 2005 levels by 2020, a far cry from the 17 per cent required to meet our obligations. (As for the Kyoto targets, forget about it: Canada’s total GHG emissions have increased approximately 25 per cent since 1990.)

This is consistent with Scott Vaughn’s assessment ten months earlier. Vaughn is Canada’s stalwart commissioner of the environment and sustainable development, and he released a report in 2011 that made it clear Canada wouldn’t be able to meet its climate change plans under the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act. Now it’s clear we won’t meet our Copenhagen targets either.

"I think it's next to impossible that Canada is going to be able to reach its Kyoto target, that's a given. The gap is so wide now, but I think what we've said as well is the basic problems that we've seen now, and the overall federal-wide co-ordinaton of these climate change programs really needs to get its act together," Vaughan said at an October 2011 news conference in Ottawa. "And if they don't, then we have some doubts on whether or not they are going to be able to meet any target."

Vaughn also expressed concern that the Harper government has lowered its GHG emission targets since 2007, 282 million tonnes in its first plan to 28 million tonnes in its most recent one, a drop of about 90 per cent.

If there is any truth in Kent’s bombastic remarks, it is that Canada is only halfway to meeting its 2020 GHG reduction goal, and with only eight years left to staunch the flow, and no interest in regulating climate pollution from the country’s fastest growing source of GHGs – tar sands development – it is pretty clear that Kent’s claims of responsible climate policy are simply rubbish.

Given that Kent pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol when it was clear Canada couldn’t meet its GHG targets, one wonders whether Canada will eventually pull out of Copenhagen Accord, too, and eventually drop the façade of being a good climate citizen altogether.

This is the first in a weekly series by Jeff Gailus on the little black lies that are preventing an open and honest debate about climate and energy policy in Canada. Gailus’ book, Little Black Lies: Corporate and Political Spin in the Global War for Oil, was published by Rocky Mountain Books in October 2012.

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