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Politics Ottawa finalizes emissions standards for post-2016 vehicles

Traffic slows on Highway 1 eastbound near Kensington Ave. during the afternoon rush hour in Burnaby, B.C., on Monday June 2, 2014. Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced Ottawa has finalized emissions standards for post-2016 automobiles that will reduce by half the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by a new car in 2025 compared to a 2008 model.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

On the eve of this week's UN climate summit, Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced Ottawa has finalized emissions standards for post-2016 automobiles that will reduce by half the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by a new car in 2025 compared to a 2008 model.

The federal government released draft regulations a year ago, and is months behind Washington in finalizing the rules. Ms. Aglukkaq made the announcement – including plans to introduce new standards for heavy-duty trucks – on Monday during an automotive technology roundtable before the United Nations' climate summit being convened by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

"Today's announcement further demonstrates our government's commitment to address climate change and provide cleaner air for Canadians," the minister said in a release. "These initiatives, which will protect the environment and provide health benefits, will be aligned with the United States, given the integrated nature of the North American economy."

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Sierra Club Canada Foundation executive director John Bennett scorned the minister's announcement, saying Ottawa is expending minimal effort on climate change. "Copycat regs that don't kick in for a decade is just more bafflegab from a do-nothing government," Mr. Bennett said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is travelling to New York for the opening of the United Nations General Assembly this week, but will not attend the one-day climate summit except for a dinner hosted on Tuesday night by the Secretary-General. In Ottawa on Monday, Mr. Harper said the world body faces a number of challenges, from the threats of the Islamic State to the crisis in Ukraine to the Ebola outbreak in Western Africa to an under-performing global economy.

"Canada will be very well represented at the climate summit," he said in reference to Ms. Aglukkaq's role. To date, Canada has insisted that any UN climate agreement must contain binding commitments from all major emitters with little distinction between the developed countries and newly industrializing ones such as China and India.

During a pre-summit meeting on Monday, the UN Secretary-General declared that climate change "is the defining issue of our time" – despite the other pressing issues Mr. Harper cited – and that countries need to take aggressive action to mitigate its effects. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who is leading the charge for U.S. leadership on climate, said it will cost more to delay efforts to reduce emissions than to act now.

The United States and Canada had previously adopted stricter emission rules for model years from 2011 to 2016, but the new standards, which the Obama administration finalized earlier this year, will cover cars and light-duty trucks made between 2018 and 2025. Ottawa is also working with the Environmental Protection Agency on standards for heavy-duty vehicles and will soon issue draft regulations for post-2017 model years.

The transportation sector accounts for about 25 per cent of Canada's annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and the new North American rules will drive significant improvements, said Bob Oliver, chief executive officer of Toronto-based Pollution Probe, who was in New York for the automotive session. "We're going to be seeing dramatic reductions over an extended period of time in fuel consumption and GHG emission levels in light-duty vehicles and eventually heavy-duty vehicles on a scale we haven't seen in decades," he said.

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