Sunday, April 01, 2007

Clean Air and Climate Change Act - Good, but is it enough?

The amended Bill C-30 (the "Clean Air Act", now renamed the "Clean Air and Climate Change Act") has achieved widespread approval from environmentalists and opposition politicians. It has been panned by the Conservatives and the Globe & Mail - which, in itself, makes me think that it's probably a good idea. However, will the targets laid out in the amended Bill be tough enough to save us from disastrous climate change? Or are they only a good first step?

While Minister Baird seems to think that the new Bill is "weaker", environmental groups are giving the revised Bill a big "thumbs up":

“This is a moment of truth for government. We now have a bill that puts us on the right path to honouring our Kyoto obligations, with stronger targets for heavy industry, energy efficiency and long-term greenhouse gas reductions for Canada,” said John Bennett, Executive Director of the Climate Action Network/Réseau action climat Canada.
The Globe and Mail has dumped on the new act, labeling it the Clean Red Tape Act, and calling it "a revenue grab, pure and simple". Since the revenue from the emissions penalties will go back into emission-reducing projects, I can't see where they are coming from. They end by saying "To tackle the real problem of emissions, we need new ideas, not more bureaucracies." Well, if you don't like these ideas, let's hear some others... please!

The Toronto Star says, that "overall it is a much better bill", hints that Harper will re-introduce his own amended version when parliament re-opens in two weeks, and suggests their own list of ways to reduce GHG emissions, including:
  • financial rewards for creating clean power and fuels and for cleaner extraction techniques, while imposing fines or so-called "carbon taxes" on all dirty energy production
  • fuel efficiencies must be increased, more people must stop using their cars to get to work and more goods must be hauled by trains instead of trucks
  • breaks for commuters using public transit and more fuel-efficient vehicles [presumably, they mean better ones than what Harper has already introduced]
  • higher fuel taxes and penalties on gas guzzlers or parking lots
The amended version seems to include most of the changes proposed by the Climate Action Network, many of which were introduced by the NDP, plus changes suggested by Stephane Dion's Liberals. The Green Party of Canada also supports the amended legislation.

Highlights of the new Bill include:
  • implementing the Kyoto targets (6% reduction from 1990 levels by 2012)
  • a carbon budget of 20% below 1990 levels by 2020, 35% by 2035, and 60-80% by 2050
  • a price on carbon emissions for Large Industrial Emitters (starting at $20/ton in 2008 and increasing to $30/ton by 2011, and higher after that)
  • removal of the sections which were widely agreed to have weakened the Canadian Environmental Protection Act
  • creation of "an independent agency to be known as the Green Investment Bank of Canada, which is to be responsible for monitoring and regulating the greenhouse gas emissions of large industrial emitters"
  • provision for a greenhouse gas emissions trading system (cap and trade)
  • a requirement for the government to produce a yearly Climate Change Plan
  • setting ambient air quality standards, with emissions managed on a "zone by zone" basis to achieve the standards
  • energy efficiency standards for all energy-using products the use of which has a significant or an increasing impact on energy consumption in Canada
  • a fuel consumption standard that meets or exceeds international best practices for any prescribed class of motor vehicle for any year
  • a fuel efficiency labeling scheme for motor vehicles
While the goal of 60-80% reduction by 2050 sounds ambitious (and it is!), it's possible that even the targets listed in the new Bill do not go far enough. For example, the target of 35% by 2035 would be seen as far too little, too late by people who agree with George Monbiot:

If we’re to have a high chance of preventing global temperatures from rising by 2C above pre-industrial levels, we need, in the rich nations, a 90% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. The greater part of the cut has to be made at the beginning of this period.

See also Monbiot's book Heat.

If Monbiot is right, then we're in deep trouble even with the new targets. But, we've got to start somewhere. Every journey starts with a single step, etcetera...

Perhaps the yearly Climate Change Plan required in the Bill should be vetted regularly by a panel of independent scientists, to ensure that our plans and targets are still in line with the latest science. That way, we would have some feedback on whether our planned targets still make sense, and would help to ensure that we are not lulled into false complacency. And, of course, we may end up changing our emissions targets anyway if a new post-Kyoto international agreement is made.

The Fourth Assessment Report of IPCC Working Group III (Mitigation), to be approved in early May 2007, will likely have some useful things to say about emission targets. It will be interesting to compare that report with this new Bill.

Also, we'll need to have some sort of plan for adapting to the climate change that is already in progress, and will not be stopped by the reductions targeted in this Bill.

So overall, I think that it is wonderful to see so much political consensus on this topic. These amendments are miles ahead of where we were before. If we had proportional representation, we may already have this plan in place and be well on our way to serious GHG reductions. Harper could show true leadership (and potentially neutralize this issue for the next election) by accepting the amended Bill and making it unanimous. I think that many Canadians would cheer this result.

Some people are speculating that Harper may use the amended Bill as an excuse to call an election. If, as the Star suggests, Baird introduces another version when parliament resumes, it may indeed play out that way. I can't see the opposition voting for something that doesn't include their own amendments. However, given Harper's record on the environment, I can't believe that the Tories really want an election over Kyoto and climate change. What they'll do next, is anyone's guess.

For anyone interested in reading the actual amendments, legislation, and proposals involved (a LARGE cup of Organic, Fair Trade and Shade Grown coffee might help :-) -- here are the relevant links:

1 comment:

ydzabelishensky said...

The Bloc Québécois has not posted a Press Release on their media page as of yet about the amended Bill C-30. In fact, if you want to find anything on their entire site about C-30 -- you get:

"Mots clés : c-30
"Aucun résultat"

["Key words: c-30
"No results"; my translation]

Here's a link to run the search yourself -- bonne chance!

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Bloc talks a good line about "saving Kyoto". But the Bloc also lets this Conservative Government stand by supporting their latest Budget -- despite the Budget ignoring Kyoto completely. Will the Bloc eventually have a brochure on their site saying "Save Bill C-30", like it does for Kyoto -- but still support the Government in the end, if C-30 is presented as a Confidence Matter? Stay tuned.