Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has no specific plan to meet its greenhouse gas emission reduction target, and remains on pace to fall well short of the Canadian goal, an audit from a federal watchdog has found.
The sweeping report, released Tuesday by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, took aim at the federal government’s record on climate change, oil sands monitoring, Arctic marine safety and environmental assessments of major industrial projects.
Its revelations included that the federal government has completed draft emissions regulations for the booming oil and gas sector, promised since 2006, but not released them publicly; that the federal government has no firm plans to monitor the oil sands beyond next year; that federal emissions-reduction plans touted by the Conservative government will have “little effect” leading up to the Copenhagen 2020 target; and that Ottawa hasn’t come up with a plan, or worked sufficiently with provinces, to meet that target.
The report left Mr. Harper under fire in the House of Commons, with NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair at one point saying: “He does nothing. How can he face his children and his grandchildren?” Mr. Harper largely brushed aside questions about the report and pledged no new actions. “We have lowered greenhouse gas emissions and, at the same time, been able to grow the economy. That is why we will continue on track,” Mr. Harper said.
Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq declined to speak to the press about the report. Her department’s written responses to the report avoided specific pledges, instead reciting what the department already does.
The report was the first from Commissioner Julie Gelfand, a former mining industry executive and land conservation advocate appointed this year to the watchdog role. The biggest takeaway is the lack of an emissions-reduction plan, she said.
“I think that when you make a commitment, you need to keep it,” Ms. Gelfand said at a news conference in Ottawa on Tuesday. “… Canada is not working with the provinces. There’s no overall plan, national plan, for how we’re going to achieve our target. And climate change is affecting all Canadians.”
Tuesday’s report included several audits. The first focused on mitigating climate change and reducing emissions. The commissioner last looked at the subject two years ago, and found this time that little had changed. Canada remains on pace to fall well short of its Copenhagen goal, which was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020. The target is 612 megatonnes, and Canada is on pace to emit 734 megatonnes in that year.
A second audit looked at the Canada-Alberta Joint Oil Sands Monitoring program, announced in 2012. The audit found that some monitoring projects have had delays and that industry is only paying about three-quarters of the federal costs, leaving Ottawa on the hook for about $6.5-million in monitoring. It also found Ottawa had failed to included aboriginal traditional knowledge in its work, and that the federal government’s role in oil sands monitoring is “unclear” beyond 2015. In a written response that was included in the report, the department said it will work “to develop options” on what monitoring will look like after 2015, “including the extent and nature of Environment Canada’s future involvement.”
Alberta Auditor-General Merwan Saher also examined the joint Canada-Alberta plan for monitoring the oil sands in its annual report for 2012-2013, which was delivered 15 months after the end of the period covered in the review. Mr. Saher joined his federal counterpart in slamming the results of this project.
“The [monitoring] report lacked clarity and key information and contained inaccuracies,” his report said.
A third focused on Arctic marine safety, and found Ottawa has failed to adequately map northern waters as shipping traffic continues to grow. The report called on Fisheries and Oceans Canada to identify areas of the Arctic that need to be surveyed and charted and make them a priority, as well as to add more navigation aids, such as a beacons, where needed.
A fourth audit looked at implementation of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, and found that it’s “unclear” when such assessments are required. Ms. Gelfand said she was concerned “significant projects” may end up not being assessed. A fifth found that ministers may not always receive full briefings on environmental impacts of projects or sustainable development strategies.