This article is signed by Tzeporah Berman, an environmental author and co-founder of ForestEthics; Sarah Winterton, acting Executive Director of Evironmental Defence; Steven Guilbeault, deputy director of Equiterre, and Ben West, oil-sands campaign director of ForestEthics Advocacy.
U.S. President Barack Obama, through his ambassador to Canada, has every right to ask our federal government to do more to fight climate change. The United States is on track to meet its climate targets. Sunday in Washington, more than 30,000 people took part in the largest climate rally in U.S. history. Mr. Obama has committed more than $90-billion for clean energy. He recently made fighting climate change a major priority for his second term.
What's happening in Canada? After U.S. Ambassador David Jacobson delivered the president's message, the federal government issued a press statement headed, "Harper government continues to make concrete progress in environmental sustainability." Nothing could be further from the truth. And Environment Minister Peter Kent's response that "we are now well into and very close to finalizing regulations for the oil and gas sector" makes him the fourth Canadian minister in seven years to have made that exact same promise. Seven years and nothing.
The government's own analysis finds we'll only get halfway to Canada's weakened 2020 goal. Yet there is not one federal regulation on climate pollution from the oil sands. Meanwhile oil-sands emissions continue to soar.
Unfortunately this is just the start. To expedite pipeline approvals, the federal government used its 2012 federal budget bill to force through sweeping changes to environmental laws that could have stood in the way of rapid pipeline approval. The government has also cut support for climate research.
The fact is that the government and industry plan to triple oil sands production in the next seven years. The resulting emissions will cancel out every other effort in Canada to reduce climate pollution. Emissions related to the Keystone XL pipeline alone would add pollution equivalent to 4.6 million cars. (And that's only counting Canadian emissions, not downstream emissions from refining and burning the oil).
People in the United States and Europe know that if the oil sands are not managed and regulated, and if there is no cap on production, there can be no meaningful action on climate in this country.
No one is targeting us unfairly. Time and again, Canada is being sent a message, the latest delivered through the U.S. ambassador: it is time for Canada to step up and do its fair share when it comes to reducing greenhouse-gas pollution. It's not just Mr. Obama who wants Canada to do better. Many Canadians want this too.
The good news is there are steps industry, the Alberta and federal governments can take to rebuild Canada's credibility when it comes to environmental protection and climate change. These include:
- Slowing the reckless expansion of the oil sands. Canada cannot meet any meaningful climate target while allowing this industry to expand as projected.
- Introducing long-promised oil and gas regulations, with assurance from credible experts that these regulations will achieve a meaningful hard limit on oil sands emissions, and could be easily integrated into a future carbon pricing mechanism.
- Developing a credible plan for a clean-energy transition, starting with restoration of meaningful federal support for clean-energy and efficiency programs. To rely solely on the oil sands is to risk further damage to our manufacturing sector as the impacts of the petrodollar worsen. We need policies and laws that support jobs and investment in other sectors across the country.
No amount of expensive public relations and empty promises can bring our climate pollution down. The United States understands this. Shouldn't we?