Printer Friendly

A work in progress: Canada agreed to join the Kyoto Protocol process in December 1997; to meet its targets Ottawa promised to cut greenhouse gas emissions to six percent below 1990's level by 2012.

Canada has a plan--well, several plans really, though translating them into action is another story. In any event, here's the agenda:

* October 2000: Ottawa announces its "Action Plan 2000 on Climate Change." Half a billion dollars is pledged to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions (GHGs);

* November 2002: The federal government releases its "Climate Change Plan for Canada." This plan stressed that meeting the goal of cutting emissions by 240 megatonnes would be painless: "Personal disposable income would not be affected;"

* March 2004: The "One Tonne Challenge" is launched; by riding transit, buying smaller cars, composting, cutting home heating and cooling, and other strategies, Canadians are asked to slash their GHG emissions by one tonne, per person, per year;

* February 2005: The big one--in the federal budget Ottawa promises $5 billion in spending through to 2012 to reduce GHG emissions. Now, the target is to cut 270 megatonnes by 2012;

* March 2005: Ottawa and car manufacturers agree on a plan; by 2010, new vehicles will produce 5.3 megatonnes less in GHGs; and,

* April 2005: Moving Forward on Climate Change: A Plan for Honouring Our Kyoto Commitment is released for public comment.

With all those plans, how are we doing so far?

We are now nearly eight years down the road since joining the Kyoto Protocol process. That's more than halfway, in time, towards the target date of 2012. Progress has been slow. Actually, it's been worse than slow: it's been backwards.

In 1990, Canada produced 596 megatonnes of greenhouse gases. Under the country's Kyoto pledge emissions should be down to 560 megatonnes by 2012 at the latest. In March 2005, Environment Canada released the emissions figures for 2003. Our vehicles, furnaces, factories, and mines belched out 740 megatonnes of greenhouse gases. That's a three percent increase (21 megatonnes) over 2002. And, 2002's emissions were 2.1% higher than 2001's.

Instead of getting closer to the target of six percent below 1990's levels, we are getting further away. In 2003, GHG emissions were 24 percent higher than the 1990 figure. There's little to suggest the 2004 and 2005 numbers will be much better when they're released.

To reach the Kyoto Protocol target Canada has two options--the carrot or the stick. People and businesses might be encouraged to adopt more energy-efficient ways through tax incentives and persuasion (the carrot). On the other hand, people and businesses that cling to energy-wasteful technologies might be punished through higher energy taxes (the stick). Ottawa has chosen the carrot, but many suspect it's holding a stick behind its back.

The stick has been ruled out because of the fear of public reaction at the ballot box. Public opinion polls show Canadians strongly support the Kyoto process. That said, those same Canadians would almost certainly kick out any government that brought in new energy taxes to discourage the use of gas-guzzling vehicles.

Canada also has to be mindful of President George W. Bush's Kyoto-free United States. Energy taxes in Canada would put our businesses at a disadvantage in competing with America. Jobs would be lost; voters would get steamed.

So, for now, the carrot it is. And, it's laid out in Project Green.

The published plan has plenty of happy talk: "Climate change is a challenge but also an opportunity." "Fighting climate change helps build a competitive and sustainable Canadian economy." "We have already taken important steps to build on."

However, Project Green is a little vague on details.

The government will target some of its efforts on the biggest polluters. These are known in the trade as Large Final Emitters (LFEs). Ottawa has identified about 700 of them--coal-fired power stations, mining and forest companies, large manufacturers, and oil and gas producers. Between 80 and 90 of these companies and utilities account for about 85 percent of GHG emissions coming from LFEs. These outfits will get the most attention. However, all 700 will be regulated, inspected, and required to meet emission-cut targets. If they don't meet their targets they will be able to buy credits its from companies that exceed their targets.

Ottawa says it will make available a small amount of money to help the LFEs buy new technology, but mostly they'll have to foot the bill themselves. The LFEs are supposed to deliver cuts of 36 megatonnes.

Other industries, municipalities, and the general public face no mandatory cuts. Apart from the 700 or so LFEs all other greenhouse-gas reductions will be voluntary.

There will be incentives to nudge people into action. Companies that install new technologies or develop energy-efficient processes can expect a cheque from Ottawa. The same help will be available for citizens who upgrade home insulation or buy a hybrid car.

The renewable energy sector will get a boost. There's a government program called the Wind Power Production Incentive (WPPI). Ottawa helps with the cost of building and operating a wind farm. Under Project Green funding for the WPPI has been quadrupled to $200 million over five years. The aim is to take highly polluting coal-fired power stations off line and replace them with emissions-free wind turbines.

But, wind power will only be a small part of the solution. The WPPI says its program will put 4,000 megawatts of electricity into the system. That's the same amount of electricity generated by one of Canada's worst sources of greenhouse gases, the Nanticoke Generating Station in Ontario.

Ottawa says it will put almost $100 million into other renew able energy projects such as biomass, tidal, and small-scale hydro. But, this will only nibble at the edges of the problem by adding 1,500 megawatts to the national electricity supply.

In total, renewable energy is supposed to kick 15 megatonnes (Mt) of reductions into the mix. Add in the contributions from LFEs (36 Mt), the car industry (5.3 Mt), and the One-Tonne Challenge (5 Mt), and we're still a long way short of 270 megatonnes.

Another 40 megatonnes of cuts is supposed to come from what is rather loosely termed "Programs." This includes:

* Better energy conservation and efficiency;

* EnerGuide, which helps retrofit homes and commercial buildings to make better use of heating and cooling; and,

* The use of cleaner fuels, such as ethanol, in transportation.

The Partnership Fund is forecast to produce GHG emission cuts of 55 to 85 megatonnes. Ottawa plans to put up to $3 billion into the fund over the next decade to encourage provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to set up green projects. This will cover such things as:

* Capturing methane gas vented from landfills to use in electricity generation or heating;

* Improving public transit and converting buses to natural gas or hydrogen fuel cells;

* Changing building codes to make new construction more energy efficient;

* Developing new technologies to make coal burning more Earth friendly; and,

* Building east-west electricity transmission grids.

Do the math and so far we've described GHG reductions of 186 megatonnes; and, that's assuming the best-case scenario. So, we're still 84 megatonnes short of our Kyoto commitment. This is where The Climate Fund plugs in.

The biggest single source of cuts will come from this Climate Fund. Unfortunately, this is the part of the plan where details are most scarce. As Ottawa puts it itself: "In a timely fashion, the government will consult with Canadians on the specifics of how the Climate Fund may best achieve its mandate."

Here's what we know so far. "The purpose of the Climate Fund is to create a permanent institution for the purchase of emissions reduction and removal credits on behalf of the government of Canada, which will be one of the primary tools for Canada's approach to climate change." What that means is we're going to be buying someone else's greenhouse-gas emission cuts.

When buying emission reduction credits Ottawa says it will give preference to Canadian initiatives. However, purchases could include emission reduction projects in developing countries. To qualify, a foreign project would have to apply Canadian technology, improve Canada's international competitiveness, or "otherwise advance our national interest."

There are other dements to the Climate Fund.

Federal Environment Minister Stephane Dion says the fund will be available to all sectors of the economy. He says that this will include developers who build renewable energy dements into their plans, for example, as well as municipalities that capture landfill gas for reuse, businesses that cut emissions through recycling or energy efficiency, and courier companies that retrofit their fleets.

Sharp-eyed observers have noticed a fair amount of overlap in some of these plans. Projects might qualify for funding under both the Partnership Fund and the Climate Fund. That means civil servants will have to watch out for double-dipping into public money and double-counting of emissions cuts. More bureaucracy means added costs.

That's the plan, as available in the fall of 2005. There are still some Ts to cross and Is to dot, and a whole whack of criticism to overcome.

Opposition leader Stephen Harper says Canada has no hope of meeting its Kyoto target and we should never have ratified the agreement. Mr. Harper is not alone.

Most business leaders oppose the plan. The premiers of Alberta and British Columbia, Ralph Klein and Gordon Campbell respectively, don't like it. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, The Canadian Council of Chief Executives, The Fraser Institute, The Alliance of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, and many other business groups and economic think tanks are strongly against it.

The opponents say that what is needed is a made-in-Canada plan. They say Canada's target of cutting 270 megatonnes of GHG emissions by 2012 is impossibly ambitious. We're eight years into the process and still largely at the discussion phase. If we are going to meet our goals we should have had actual programs in place years ago.

If we fail to hit the target, we'll be forced to buy expensive credits on the open market.

One place where credits are available is Russia (formerly part of the Soviet Union). When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, so did the country's economy. Industrial output tanked so badly that Russian greenhouse-gas emissions have fallen below where they were in 1990. So, Canada looks set to start pumping dollars into Russia: what critics are calling "Buying Russian hot air."

The federal government plans to buy foreign credits worth $150 million in 2005-06. This is planned to rise to $300 million by 2009-10. In total, $1.4 billion is budgeted for buying credits to offset the shortfall in Kyoto targets. Critics say there are so many unknowns that nobody can calculate with accuracy how much the program will cost.

There is already enough confusion in Ottawa to suggest to critics that the government is making this thing up as it goes along.

In February 2005, Finance Minister Ralph Goodale gave Parliament a budget that set aside $5 billion over five years for Kyoto. Within a month, a cabinet committee was told by bureaucrats from the Environment and Natural Resources departments that the bill could be $10 billion.

Uncertainties such as this are why critics want a made-in-Canada plan. They want control of the process from start to finish, with modest, achievable targets. They are concerned that failure to reach the Kyoto cuts we're committed to will prompt the government to bring out the big stick.

Soaring gas prices in September 2005 got the attention of a lot of people. Sales of the biggest sports utility vehicles plummeted by 50 percent following gasoline price hikes that were triggered by hurricane damage to the oil supply, Don't think government officials haven't noticed this. Sticking a big tax on energy supplies would certainly force Canadians to use less and that would cut their greenhouse-gas emissions.


1. Heavy industry in Canada is responsible for almost 50 percent of the country's greenhouse-gas emissions. However, Ottawa's Kyoto plan calls on this sector to produce only 13 percent of the nation's total GHG cuts. Through discussion, advance reasons why heavy industry is asked to make a disproportionately small reduction. Why wouldn't the biggest emitters be required to make the biggest cuts?

2. As a class project have members take the One-Tonne Challenge. It can be done on-line at--http://www. onetonne/ english/ index.asp


Canadian Coalition for Responsible Environmental Solutions--http:/www. index_english.asp

Greenhouse gas Exchange--

Greenhouse Gas Inventory-- ghg/ghg_home_e.cfm

International Emissions Trading Association--http:// pages/index.php


A megatonne (Mt) is one million tonnes. The world's biggest passenger ship, Queen Mary II, weighs 15 percent of a megatonne.


According to the federal budget of 2005, Ottawa will put $225 million over five years into its EnerGuide program to quadruple the number of homes to 500,000 that are retrofitted for greater energy efficiency.


Between September 2002 and March 2003 Ottawa spent $17 million on advertising aimed at getting Canadians to cut their greenhouse-gas emissions. Comedian Rick Mercer was the pitch man for the ads in English Canada.

Each Canadian, on average, is responsible for about five tonnes of greenhouse-gas emissions a year; Ottawa's "One-Tonne Challenge" is aimed at getting each of us to reduce our GHG emissions by 20 percent (one tonne). If we all pass the test, we'll reduce emissions by 32 megatonnes a year. But, the government knows we're not all going to be good environmentalists; it has set a goal of five megatonnes of savings for the One-Tonne Challenge. Yes, that's way short of the 270 megatonne target, but it's a start.

So, how do we do it? On average, half our personal GHG emissions come from vehicles; about a quarter from home heating and cooling; another 10 percent from water heating; and, 7.5% from appliances.

An obvious place to save is where we spend the most energy--vehicles. But, we don't seem to begetting the message. Micro-cars and hybrids are vastly outnumbered on our roads by sport utility vehicles.

We don't seem to have been listening in other areas either. A government report in January 2005 describes the results of the advertising and brochure as "terribly disappointing."

So far, we're flunking the One-Tonne Challenge.


Sequestering is a ten-dollar word for storing. It's a also a word that pops up in the Kyoto Protocol context. Forests, soil, peat, permafrost, and ocean water all absorb and store carbon dioxide--they sequester it.

The process of photosynthesis in plants draws carbon dioxide (C[O.sub.2]) from the atmosphere. The carbon is held in the plant as a building block of plant fibre and the oxygen is released back into the atmosphere. Therefore, long-lived, high-biomass plants, such as trees represent effective carbon sinks as long about 50 percent carbon by weight.

All trees, if not cut to make forest products, die and rot. That process slowly' releases most of the carbon back into the atmosphere. Harvested trees retain their carbon content longer; they are dried and turned into construction lumber or paper, for example. But, even the sturdy two by fours in our homes eventually decay and release their carbon. Burning a log releases the stored carbon in a few minutes.

Canada, of course, has a lot of trees; more than just about anybody else, And, Ottawa is planning to use our forests as a way of meeting Canada's Kyoto commitments. The federal government is hoping for the equivalent of as much as 20 megatonnes of greenhouse-gas reductions from our forests. This is supposed to come from better forest management and reforestration programs.

Soil also absorbs and stores enormous quantities of carbon, but less than it used to. Since the 1850s, a large proportion of the world's grassland's have been ploughed and converted to croplands. That has allowed the release of large quantities of soil organic carbon. By using low-till farming methods and increasing pasture the carbon-sequestering ability of soil is boosted.

Again, Canada is blessed with plenty of farmland. Ottawa expects changing agricultural methods will deliver carbon storage in the soil of an additional ten megatonnes.


One of the most controversial aspects of the Kyoto Protocol is carbon trading. This allows a country that fails to meet its GHG cut target to buy its way out of trouble, It does this by purchasing credits from countries that exceed their targets. The idea is that countries that can reduce their carbon dioxide emission cheaply will do so. Then, if they go above the cuts required of them they start to build up credits that can be sold.

Exchanges have already opened up for the buying and selling of carbon credits, but the details of how trading will be done are still being worked out. If a lot of countries decide to buy their way to meeting their Kyoto targets there will likely De a shortage of credits. That will have the effect of driving up their value. At some point, countries will get their calculators out and decide it's cheaper to cut emissions than buy expensive credits.
COPYRIGHT 2005 Canada & the World
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2005, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Publication:Canada and the World Backgrounder
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Oct 1, 2005
Previous Article:Swimming against the current: some skeptics think Kyoto is a scheme to either slow growth in the world's industrial democracies or to transfer wealth...
Next Article:The party's over: geophysicist M. King Hubbert predicted in 1956 that world oil production would peak in 2000. According to geologist Colin Campbell,...

Related Articles
After Kyoto: a climate treaty with no teeth?
Global warming culprit: greenhouse gases.
Compromise at Kyoto: the search for a worldwide treaty on greenhouse gas emissions goes on.
U.S. and Japan sink emissions reductions plans.
The Kyoto controversy and Senator Hill.
Growing opportunity in carbon.
Russia ratifies Kyoto Protocol.
Greenhouse gas reduction.
Hot vehicles.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters