Government’s greenhouse emissions regulations ‘shameful’, observers say, but Environment Canada disagrees

Oil sands operations in Fort McMurray. Photo by Eryn Rickard.

Canada is once again pinned for being near the bottom of the list in tackling greenhouse gas emissions as UN delegates entered into its second week of the Climate Change Conference in Warsaw, Poland.

According to a European study released in time for the conference, it ranked 55th out of 58 countries in reducing emissions, ahead of only Iran, Kazakhstan and Saudi Arabia.

Canadians expressed their disappointment with the record. “It's an embarrassing lack of foresight, a lack of leadership and a lack of creative thinking when trying to find sustainable solutions to the country's energy needs, said RJ Aquino, who advises Vancouver’s city council on planning and development issues.

 “We're running out of superlatives when describing each major climate event, Haiyan, Sandy, Katrina, etc., and there's no acknowledgement of culpability despite the readily available evidence that climate change is happening and will continue to instigate life-altering climate change events,” he added.

Dr. Robert Leman, a professor at Wilfred Laurier University who specializes in the human impact of climate change, also expressed concern over Canada’s lax regulations. Leman pointed out that the Conservative government signed a “Made in Canada” agreement in 2006. In doing so, it abandoned its obligations under the Kyoto Protocol, which is an international agreement for developed countries to reduce its greenhouse emissions.

“No meaningful strategy has been implemented to meet these flimsier targets, and so our emissions continue to climb. All talk and no action is the biggest problem we have had so far,” said Leman.

The federal government pulled out all together from Kyoto in 2011.

But Environment Canada said emissions have actually been declining. “Both emissions intensity (emissions per dollar of GDP), as well as emissions per capita (tonnes per person) have shown an average annual decline since 1990, a trend that is projected to continue through 2020,” said Mark Johnson, a spokesperson for the department.

However, its own report found that the emissions this year have increased, even though it has been a small percentage.

“The emissions growth since last year represents the second-smallest annual increase in emissions since 2003, behind only 2009 when global fossil fuel CO2 emissions fell due to the global recession,” it states in its report last month.

RJ Aquino, when he ran for city councilor, in 2011. Photo by David P. Ball.

Aquino, a Filipino Canadian, worries that pleas for donations for victims of climate change catastrophes will become routine. “It's especially appalling when we can now categorically call our fellow Filipinos that have been displaced by Haiyan as ‘climate refugees,’” he said.

Leman said there would continue to be an exodus of people migrating to safer lands, especially in Asia, if Canada does not reduce its greenhouse emissions.

“The biggest risks will be in the densely populated river deltas of Asia (i.e. the Yangtze, Mekong, Irrawaddy, Ganges, etc.), where tens of millions live within a meter or two of sea level and where tropical cyclones are common events. The Philippines will, unfortunately, also see the level of risk increase in coming decades.”

For Aquino, the risk is already a reality. “It's especially appalling when we can now categorically call our fellow Filipinos that have been displaced by Haiyan as "climate refugees.”

Leman insisted that the government implement real changes to prevent climate change. “Given our terrible track record on emissions, I would say Canada's obligation to lead now is even greater,” he said.

Immigration minister Chris Alexander announced last week it would fast-track the visa applications for up to a thousand Filipinos who have been affected by Haiyan.


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