March 13, 2006

Eastern Canadian, U.S. leaders introduce new proposals for regional GHG emission reduction

A discussion paper on the Climate Change Action Plan developed by the Conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers (NEG/ECP) reviews progress made to date in reducing regional greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and presents possible measures to be implemented over the next five years. The Conference's climate change steering committee is now seeking public input on how to achieve the Conference's 2010 target of reducing emissions to 1990 levels, focusing on those efforts that will yield the greatest emission reductions, particularly in the energy and transportation sectors.

A new, interactive NEG/ECP environmental programs Web site, developed to facilitate the consultation process, provides links to English and French versions of the discussion paper. Comments received by April 7, 2006 will feed into the development of a strategic plan outline to be presented in May at NEG/ECP's meeting in Newport, Rhode Island, where an update on implementation of the NEG/ECP Climate Change Action Plan will be presented.

Introduced in August 2001 by the Conference representing the five eastern Canadian provinces and the six New England states, the Climate Change Action Plan was the first regional GHG reduction initiative of its type in North America. In addition to setting a target of returning to 1990 emission levels by 2010, the Plan calls for a further 10% reduction by 2020, relative to 1990 levels, and a long-term reduction target of 75-80% from 2001 levels for the region.

Last December and the UN Climate Change Conference ((COP 11) in Montreal, the leadership demonstrated by the NEG/ECP was recognized with an Environmental Leaders award from Business Week magazine and the U.K.-based Climate Group.

The 2001 Action Plan listed nine initiatives jurisdictions could undertake to achieve the first target. These were divided into four main areas: sector-specific emissions reductions; data collection and storage; adaptation; and communications and outreach activities. The discussion paper's proposals for continued efforts adhere to these area divisions.

As energy and transportation account for over 80% of the region's GHG emissions, the steering committee resolved that these sectors should be the primary focal points for emission reduction activities over the next five years.

The paper notes that although the provinces and states have made good progress in laying the foundation for achieving real reductions or preventing emissions (e.g. by developing a regional cap on CO2 emissions from the power sector), regional emissions have continued to rise-10.5% between 1990 and 2000. This is mainly due to overall growth in energy demand and increased fuel use in the transportation sector.

Promoting renewable energy sources, using lower-carbon fuels and increasing the efficiency of electricity generation and transmission systems were among the main strategies recommended in the 2001 Plan for reducing GHG emissions from the electricity sector. The paper says these efforts should continue over the next five years, aimed at making further progress in encouraging more renewable energy use and promoting residential production of renewable energy.

Other areas for future focus include promoting the hydrogen economy, along with lower-carbon fuels and more fuel-efficient generation; adopting energy efficiency standards for selected projects; and continuing to seek out options for reducing electricity sector GHG emissions.

Another goal of the Action Plan was to reduce total energy demand by 20% by 2025, through programs to encourage energy efficiency and conservation in the industrial, commercial, institutional and residential sectors. Jurisdictions have pursued a variety of initiatives in this area, and the Conference has singled out others for future focus, such as reducing electricity demand and introducing appliance efficiency standards

The paper outlines other possible activities, such as encouraging college and university partnerships in emissions reductions and setting energy efficiency targets. Further initiatives may involve more efficient power generation and heating options.

Since 2001, jurisdictions in the region have implemented a wide range of measures to control or reduce transportation-related GHG emissions. Some of these include low vehicle emission standards and GHG regulations; annual inspection and maintenance programs for trucks; tax refunds, credits or exemptions on hybrid vehicle purchases; promotion of sustainable transportation options; anti-idling campaigns; and the adoption of biofuel for transit bus fleets.

Efforts in these areas should continue, says the paper, and the steering committee has recommended several other areas for future focus. Among these are evaluating and increasing low-emission vehicle procurement; development of the hydrogen economy; further development of programs and strategies for reducing vehicle emissions; and examining issues and opportunities related to biofuels.

Over the next five years, actions for addressing transportation-related GHG emissions will concentrate on promoting a shift to higher-efficiency vehicles and lower-carbon fuels and additives through the use of policy advocacy and incentives. Specific measures could include adopting California's low-emission vehicle standards; public sector procurement policies specifying hybrid, electric or low-emissions vehicles; shifting freight transport from road to boat and rail; and requiring mandatory inspections of vehicles more than ten years old.

With regard to data collection, emissions registries and trading mechanisms, the paper emphasizes the importance of a regional, standardized GHG emissions inventory for evaluating progress achieved. Such an inventory has been produced for the New England region, while Canada's counterpart is a national version that includes data for individual provinces and territories.

Over the next five years, says the paper, action in this area will focus on further work on regional inventories. There will also be a need to determine where specific action is needed in each jurisdiction to improve the inventory and better forecast regional emissions.

Another Action Plan goal is the establishment of a regional emissions registry, a starting point for emissions trading. Progress in this area has included work by nine northeastern and mid-Atlantic states to develop a cap-and-trade program known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), with an intended start date of 2009, and Canada's cap-and-trade system for large final emitters. Opportunities for future cross-border trading will be monitored and evaluated, notes the paper.

Within the adaptation and communications/outreach sections of the Action Plan, the paper cites the need for co-operative work to produce summaries on how climate change is affecting the region. Future action, it says, will concentrate on raising awareness of the need for adaptation, including the need to take vulnerability assessments into account when evaluating proposed jurisdictional policies and operations.

Promotion of the new NEG/ECP environmental programs Web site will be assigned priority over the next five years, as it will provide a regional clearinghouse of "best practices" for the sustainable operation and management of facilities and for facilitating collaboration among jurisdictions on joint climate change projects.

The discussion paper, available on the NEG/ECP environmental programs Web site, www.neg-ecp-environment.org/page.asp?pg=78, is an interactive document. In addition to outlining the principal targets of the Plan and options for future action, it includes eight consultation questions.

By clicking on one of the questions the respondent will be taken to a response sheet. Although space on this questionnaire allows only summary responses, submitters are invited to reference other Web sites or to cite documents that further detail their responses.

The questionnaire also contains a section for respondent information (optional) and another that allows respondents to quantify - if applicable - the GHG reduction potential of proposed programs.

This is the first of a number of outreach initiatives by the NEG/ECP climate change steering committee soliciting public input on plan implementation; there will be other opportunities for stakeholders to participate in the regional process as well. Interested parties are encouraged to visit the site, review the discussion paper, and provide their comments directly online. All submissions will be carefully reviewed by the steering committee, and given full consideration.

Efficiency awareness campaign

In related activities, Atlantic Canada's energy ministers have launched SAVE, a Shared Atlantic Vision for Energy Efficiency, a campaign aimed at helping residents of the region reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, along with their power bills. The focus of the awareness campaign is to make the public understand that while energy costs are influenced by many factors outside their control, individuals do have the power to reduce their costs through energy efficiency and conservation.

The initial phase of the SAVE campaign, which is sponsored by the Council of Atlantic Premiers with additional assistance from Efficiency NB/Efficacité NB and Maritime Electric, Prince Edward Island's electric utility, will see a series of energy efficiency hints promoted in radio, newspaper and cable television over the next few weeks. Later stages of the campaign will provide greater depth of information through a variety of activities involving a range of partners.

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