News  Canadian emissions targets tied to US

Quebec premier slammed by federal environment minister for independent stance

On January 31, environment minister Jim Prentice announced Canada’s new emissions targets of 17 per cent below the 2005 level. This announcement, which brings Canada completely in line with the newly announced targets of the U.S. The second time in the last four years that Canada has lowered its emissions targets.

Given that Canada’s previous target, adopted in 2006 under the “Turning the Corner” plan, was a 20 per cent reduction in emissions by 2020, the latest target of 17 per cent below 2005 levels is actually a weakening of Canada’s climate position. It promises a reduction equal to 2.5 per cent below the 1990 levels. The 2010 commitment is 20 per cent less than its 2006 counterpart.

In a speech a few weeks ago in Calgary, Prentice restated that the latest reduction target would be accomplished within the next 10 years – while adding that development of the tar sands will continue with a consideration for environmental concerns.

Plans are also in the works between the Harper and Obama administrations to create North American emissions targets for the transportation industry. However, Prentice affirmed that no action would be taken toward the energy sector until the U.S. has declared their position.

But Canadian environmental groups are worried that with Obama’s climate change legislation tangled up in Congress, a policy of synchronizing climate strategies with the U.S. will likely result in nothing but inaction for an extended period of time.

The environment minister maintains otherwise. In an Environment Canada press release, Prentice said, “It is absolutely counterproductive and utterly pointless for Canada and Canadian businesses to strike out on their own, to set and to pursue targets that will ultimately create barriers to trade and put us at a competitive disadvantage.”

Quebec premier Jean Charest has publicly denounced the federal government’s policy of mimicking the U.S. plan. Charest told the Globe and Mail, “The only federal plan is to align with the United States. However, I never in my life thought that aligning our policies with the United States was good enough for Canada.”

Quebec’s most recent commitment is a drastically steeper reductions target of 20 per cent below 1990 levels. The province has also applied a carbon tax on all fossil fuels.

Amid the plans to have a North American standard regarding transportation emissions by 2011, Quebec has gone ahead with its own strategy to implement strict regulations on both vehicle emissions and the energy industry.

A federal official told the Globe and Mail that this move places Quebec dangerously outside of the North American norm. It is a move that prompted Prentice to warn Quebec “of the folly of attempting to go it alone in an integrated North American economy.”

Charest’s decision to retain Quebec’s standards independently from the federal plan continues to raise tensions between Harper and Charest. As Prentice rails Charest for placing Quebec outside of the North American climate norms, recent polls showed a drop in Conservative popularity in Quebec.

The strained relationship between Harper and Charest on the climate regulation issue may account for why Quebec was denied a request for a role at last month’s international conference on Haiti, though it was held in Montreal. Charest and Harper clashed again at the economic forum in Switzerland last week when Harper spoke in favour of a national securities regulator. Charest stood in strong opposition of the plan.

When asked about the official federal position in regard to Quebec’s independent targets, a spokesperson from Environment Canada replied, “The government of Canada has consistently encouraged all provinces and territories to take action on greenhouse gas emissions. Effectively addressing climate change will require action by all levels of government in Canada.”