Canada’s provincial premiers, after three years of talks, agreed a national energy strategy on Friday, which seeks to promote the use of market-based mechanisms to cut greenhouse gas emissions but contains mainly vague goals rather than firm pledges.
The plan, published at the end of the premiers’ annual summer meeting, recognises Canada’s “abundance of diverse energy sources”, their importance to the national economy and the need to develop them in a more coordinated yet environmentally sustainable way.
It calls for Canada’s 13 provinces and territories to “review and explore the potential to expand the use of market-based mechanisms across Canada and identify elements and opportunities to promote collaboration to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of programs.”
It also pushes for the development of complementary carbon management mechanisms across the country, for provinces to actively pursue GHG reduction targets that are based on “sound science”, and for premiers to work towards establishing pan-Canadian and North American approaches to cutting CO2 emissions.
“Any such approach should be built on initiatives introduced by governments and aimed to enhance jurisdictions’ ability to flexibly implement ambitious measures for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The approach should also take into account possible impacts on competitiveness.”
However, the energy strategy is aspirational rather than binding, and stops short of calling on all provinces to set “absolute” emissions reduction goals, something that was reportedly stripped out of an earlier draft of the strategy at the request of several premiers.
According to local media, Ontario and Quebec, both of which are pursuing cap-and-trade programmes to curb their own CO2 emissions, had lobbied for all premiers commit to cutting their carbon output.
BIG STEP BACKWARDS
Green group Environmental Defence labelled the strategy a “big step backwards”, adding “at least one provincial premier was able to remove stronger targets on climate change and include more references to oil.”
“This shows that we need a strong federal partner to fight climate change because this provincial agreement panders to the lowest common denominator,” it said.
Climate Action Network Canada said the plan took a non-discriminatory approach to Canada’s energy that failed to “strongly steer” the country towards a low-carbon future.
The strategy, which provinces and territories had been negotiating since 2012, also calls for them to work with the federal government in coordinating their participation in international negotiations including UN-sponsored climate talks, while establishing a stronger, more predictable and active role in such negotiations.
Many provinces are pursuing their own plans to tackle climate change in the absence of leadership from Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s federal Conservative government.
They originally proposed the national energy strategy as a way to further develop the country’s oil and gas sector and advance the development of pipelines, but Ontario and Quebec insisted that combating climate change be included amongst its objectives.
The plan also confirms the need for more oil and gas pipelines and urges provinces to push for the export of more fossil fuels, uranium and biomass to international buyers while cutting the red tape that is obstructing new domestic energy sector projects.
Its publication came two days after a major spill at one of oil-rich Alberta’s bitumen pipelines.
“It’s absurd that while Alberta is dealing with one of the largest spills in Canadian history that Canada’s premiers would try to help pave the way for more tarsands pipelines,” said Mike Hudema of Greenpeace Canada’s climate and energy team.
Canada is one of the world’s top energy producers, but its environmental record has been marred in the past few years due to the unrestrained growth of its CO2-intensive tarsands and its decision to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol.
The country’s energy sector comprises 10% of its GDP and directly employs more than 280,000 Canadians.
Amongst the strategy’s other goals, it calls for provinces and territories to:
- Promote energy efficiency and conservation, including the encouragement of market transformation through targeted energy efficiency targets and conservation policies and regulation;
- Accelerate the development and deployment of energy research and technologies that advance more efficient production, transmission and use of clean and conventional energy sources.
- Facilitate the development of renewable, green and/or cleaner energy sources to meet future demand and contribute to environmental goals and priorities.
- Develop and enhance a modern, reliable, environmentally safe, and efficient series of transmission and transportation networks for domestic and export/import sources of energy.
- Improve the timeliness and certainty of regulatory approval decision-making processes while maintaining rigorous protection of the environment and public interest.
- Promote market diversification, including attracting investment and opening new international and domestic markets.
Provincial energy ministers are now tasked with drawing up new policies based on the shared strategy before they report back to the premiers next year.
By Mike Szabo – firstname.lastname@example.org