“No Overall Vision:” Scathing New Audit from Environment Commissioner Exposes Canada’s Utter Climate Failure

Canada will almost certainly not meet its international greenhouse gas emission reduction target by 2020 and doesn’t even have a plan showing how the nation might achieve its climate change goals, according to a blistering new report released Tuesday.

Julie Gelfand, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, said a climate change audit found current federal measures will have little effect on emissions by 2020, the year Canada committed under the Copenhagen Accord to reduce domestic greenhouse gas emissions 17 per cent below 2005 levels.

Gelfand said in her report that the government has introduced regulations in the transportation and electricity generation sectors.

She noted, however, that regulations in the oil and gas sector — where emissions are growing the fastest — are still not in place eight years after the government first indicated it would regulate this area.

“There is strong evidence that Canada will not meet its international 2020 greenhouse-gas-emission reduction target,” she said. “The federal government does not have an overall plan that maps out how Canada will achieve this target. Canadians have not been given the details about which regulations will be developed, when, nor what greenhouse gas reductions will be expected.”

"Canadians are being grossly misled if they think that this government has even the remotest intention of ever trying to achieve any greenhouse gas targets, let alone join the realm of civilized nations," Liberal environment critic John McKay said in response to the audit.

As DeSmog Canada has previously reported, Canada’s total lack of national climate legislation became international news after a major report highlighted its absence.

Gelfand added the federal government has also not provided the necessary coordination so that all levels of government, working together, can achieve the national target in six years’ time.

The report plays into the growing impression that Canada, often seen as a pariah internationally for its lack of climate change leadership, is too-heavily invested in the fossil fuel industry, especially in Alberta.

The Harper Government, which currently came under fire after Prime Minister Stephen Harper declined to attend the UN Climate Summit in New York City, recently released a public document to highlight Canada’s climate achievements. Critics called the document “Orwellian” for suggesting Canada had made climate progress.

Another audit found that joint Canada-Alberta monitoring projects looking at air, water and biodiversity need to be better integrated to understand the long-term environmental effects of oilsands development, including cumulative impacts.

“Among other questions, the government does not know what Environment Canada’s role will be in oil sands monitoring beyond March 2015,” Gelfand said.

“It has not made clear the rationale for what projects will be subject to environmental assessments, and I am concerned that some significant projects may not be assessed.”

Gelfand’s comments are in line with concerns raised by First Nations in the oilsands’ region, many of which are currently embroiled in legal battles against government and industry for permitting new projects without addressing cumulative impacts that negatively affect treaty rights.

A third audit of the Canadian Arctic revealed that many higher-risk areas are inadequately surveyed and charted with some maps and charts over 40 years old.

“I am concerned that there seems to be no overall vision of what the federal government intends to provide in this vast new frontier, in terms of modern charts, aids to navigation and icebreaker services, given the anticipated increase in vessel traffic.”

Gelfand added this year’s audits show that, despite some initiatives and progress in certain areas, there remain many unanswered questions.

“In many key areas that we looked at, it is not clear how the government intends to address the significant environmental challenges that future growth and development will likely bring about.”

In conclusion, she said Canadians expect the government to prepare for the future and that the difficulty of addressing climate change will only increase as the nation delays.

The environmental footprint of oilsands development is steadily increasing, Gelfand concluded, adding that increased Arctic shipping routes due to melting sea ice will create higher environmental risks.

NDP environment critic Megan Leslie said the results of the audit are “disappointing,” especially given the resource push in the north.

"We have delicate ecosystems in the Arctic. Further to that, there is a really small window right now of when we could actually do that cleanup. We've seen a lot of discussion about drilling in the Arctic and that's one of the major concerns is that if something were to happen, the ice comes pretty quickly,” she said.

“Is there enough time to even clean up the damage that could be done?"

Gelfand also noted an absence of preparatory knowledge. “In each case it is likely that a lack of action today will translate into higher costs tomorrow,” she stated.

Image Credit: Prime Minister Photo Gallery.

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