October 2, 2006

Ottawa doing too little too slowly on climate change, says federal Commissioner

The federal government has done too little and acted too slowly on Canada's commitments to address the challenge of climate change, says Johanne Gélinas, Canada's Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development. This is largely because the government is not organized to manage its climate change initiatives effectively, it lacks mechanisms to co-ordinate activities across departments and to track spending and results for reporting to Canadians, and is not making enough of an effort to deal with the booming growth in the oil and gas sector.

In her annual report, tabled September 28 in the House of Commons, the Commissioner said it is increasingly clear that Canada will not meet its international commitments to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and she calls on the government to produce a clear, credible and realistic plan with short- and long-term emission reduction goals.

A prominent part of such at plan, she added, should address adaptation to climate change, a long-neglected element in climate change strategy. "For too long, adaptation has been the 'poor relation' in the federal government's climate change plans. Taking steps now to adapt to a changing climate will protect Canadians and reduce the potential economic, social, and environmental costs," said Gélinas.

In its discussion of the federal government's track record on dealing with climate change, the report says that not only are Canada 's greenhouse gas emissions not declining, they are actually continuing to grow. "Based on the audit evidence we have gathered over the past 18 months, it is increasingly clear that Canada will not be able to achieve the target for greenhouse gas reductions that it committed to under the Kyoto Protocol-and it has no targets beyond 2012," said Gélinas.

The report notes that the transportation and industry sectors account for more than three-quarters of Canada's GHG emissions. However, the audit found that even if key measures announced and proposed for these sectors were implemented, they would likely succeed only in slowing the rate of emission growth. In view of Canada's strong economic growth, especially in energy production, meeting our Kyoto target would arguably have been a challenge even if bolder action had been taken earlier, says the report.

The audit further concluded that the proposed system for trading domestic emissions has potentially serious financial implications for Canadian taxpayers. Certain features of the system, notes the report, particularly the $15 per tonne price cap promised to industry, could pose financial risks ranging as high as $1 billion.

"The government has struggled to put in place an approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by large industries, but many elements critical to its success are still unresolved," Gélinas said. For example, the federal government has been discussing, with industry and other stakeholders, the design of the pivotal Large Final Emitter (LFE) system since 2002.

The report stresses the need for the government to apply the basics of good management, namely governance and accountability, as hallmarks of its leadership on climate change. Those involved need to clearly understand, agree to, and fulfill their roles and responsibilities. However, the government has yet to create an effective governance structure for managing its climate change activities, and promised public reports have not been issued.

"It is disturbing that despite $6.3 billion in announced funding since 1997, there is still no government-wide consolidated monitoring and reporting of climate change performance and spending," GÈlinas observed. No comprehensive report has been made on climate change expenditures or results since 2003 and none is expected until 2008.

Three major climate change programs have been introduced since 2000: Action Plan 2000 (in October 2000), which targeted key sectors and was designed to take Canada one-third of the way to its Kyoto target; the Climate Change Plan for Canada (November 2002), which focused largely on energy efficiency and Canadian leadership in developing new, cleaner technologies; and Project Green (April 2005), whose elements built on those of the previous plans. The Commissioner observes that ever-shifting responsibilities among federal departments and ministers, turnover of key personnel and changes from plan to plan have caused delays and loss of momentum.

Another important factor is that the federal government does not, and can not, act alone on climate change. The issue demands action by, and collaboration among, all sectors, including all levels of government, industry and business groups, science, academia and the public at large. Some players, however, have been unwilling to come on side, says the report, and deep divisions and conflicts remain.

On a positive note, the Commissioner points out that there is a foundation in place for effective action on climate change: audits by her office found several positive programs and practices that have already reduced emissions or hold promise to do so. A base of knowledge and expertise, along with partnerships among various agencies, has been established and should be built upon. Last but not least, says the report, there are countless knowledgeable and creative public servants, including scientists, program managers and policy-makers, who are committed to success.

The report also comments favourably on Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC), the foundation established by the government in 2001 to foster the creation of sustainable development technologies in Canada. SDTC, it says, has taken reasonable steps to fulfill its climate change mandate.

Looking forward, the report says a massive scale-up of efforts is needed. Noting the forthcoming plan to be presented by the government, the Commissioner lists five crucial areas this plan should address, and on which future audits will be focused. Leadership is the first, and applies to the remaining four areas: energy and climate change; reducing GHG emissions; adaptation; and governance and accountability.

The transformational change needed to deal with the environmental, economic and social impacts of climate change cannot be driven from the bottom up; it requires unprecedented, decisive leadership from the highest levels of government, Parliament and the public service, states the report. As noted, however, the government does not and can not act alone, but must take the lead in establishing (or rebuilding) partnerships with other sectors.

The government must also display leadership in integrating energy (production, distribution and consumption) with climate change; the two issues are inextricably linked. The report cites two main tasks for the federal government in this area:

*indicating how it intends to reconcile the need to reduce GHG emissions with the continued, expected growth in the oil and gas sector; and

*defining how and to what extent it will support energy conservation and efficiency and alternative energy sources such as wind, solar, biomass, etc.

Commenting on a GHG emission reduction plan, the report says that the government, having acknowledged that Canada cannot realistically meet its Kyoto target, should set new targets to take its place. The focus should be on slowing the rate of growth in GHG emissions, ensuring that peak levels be reached as soon as possible so that substantial reductions in absolute levels of emissions can be achieved. The federal strategy should blend various tools and measures, including regulations, financial incentives, market-based emission trading mechanisms, technology development and deployment and public education. Above all, says the report, the climate change plan needs to fit into a broader federal plan for the environment and sustainable development.

Adaptation to climate change is about protecting Canadians' economic and social well-being by helping improve their ability to deal with its consequences. This, says the report, should be a prominent part of the government's climate change plan, not an afterthought. There is enough knowledge available to allow adaptation to proceed and, to this end, the government should: examine how climate change will affect individual federal programs and departments (and make the necessary modifications); develop an action plan that cuts across all departments; work with other levels of government to develop clear priorities; and find new ways to link researchers and decision-makers.

Finally, with regard to governance and accountability, the Commissioner points out that planning, management and performance go hand in hand; a good plan is important, but so are taking action and assuring results.

This is illustrated by an audit that examined in detail three NRCan programs, each of which received $100 million dollars or more in federal funding earmarked for climate change initiatives: the Wind Power Production Incentive, the Energuide for Existing Houses, and the Ethanol Expansion Program. While the programs yielded results, it was difficult to assess whether they reduced GHG emissions as planned because their emission reduction targets were unclear. In addition, there was limited reporting of the results the programs did achieve and the money spent.

Based on audit findings, the report says the government's approach to climate change should pay more attention to: setting out clear roles, responsibilities and authority for federal departments and agencies; designing and putting in place mechanisms for co-ordinating activities across departments and agencies; tracking expenditures and performance, based on agreed-upon targets, and reporting the results to Parliament and the public; and continually monitoring program performance to determine what works and to retain and improve those programs providing clear, cost-effective results.

The Commissioner notes that the government has accepted all the recommendations made in her report. Gélinas has indicated that in the forthcoming Green Plan 2, she will be expecting the government to describe how it has taken the report's recommendations into account and to communicate this to Parliament and the public.

The full report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development may be viewed on-line at www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/domino/cesd_cedd.nsf/html/06tdsep_e.html.

Table of Contents  | Top of Page


  Ecolog Network