Editorial: Canada needs environmental leadership role
Niagara Falls Review (ON)
Published March 15, 2008
Federal Environment Minister John Baird came out swinging earlier this week, presenting the Conservative government's most aggressive climate change plan to date.
But we must keep in mind that this is the Stephen Harper government's third attempt at a comprehensive environmental package to combat global warming, and it comes on the heels of a damning report from the federal environmental commissioner.
The Clean Air Act, a collection of soft caps on emissions introduced in late 2006, was a dud. It was widely panned as ineffective and played a role in costing Baird's predecessor, Rona Ambrose, her job. In his bombastic style, Baird introduced the Harper government's second attempt to look like it is acting on climate change shortly after he took over the environmental portfolio in January 2007.
But like the Clean Air Act it too was widely panned, this time for relying on intensity-based targets that actually allow emissions to increase.
The strength of the government's latest green plan is its emphasis on the Alberta tar sands and the country's coal-fired power plants to capture and store their greenhouse gas emissions by 2018.
The goal is an 18 per cent cut in emission intensity by 2010, with annual cuts of two per cent thereafter.
According to government figures, this will mean a 20 per cent reduction in greenhouse gases from 2006 levels by 2020.
This may be a far cry from what was required under the Kyoto Accord - which is a cut in emissions using 1990 as a base - but it is a start.
That this is the most aggressive attempt Canada has made at fighting climate change is, however, a sad commentary on our nation's recent environmental history.
Years of inaction have left us desperately trying to play catch up with most of the industrialized world, particularly Europe.
Enter into this fray the recent report by federal Environment Commissioner Ron Thompson.
Thompson's report card on our federal government's environmental performance is a stark reminder that there is much more to caring for the environment than addressing greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.
Rather, Thompson offers a systemic breakdown of all aspects of environmental protection in Canada, spanning several governments and crossing partisan divides.
He grades Canada as unsatisfactory in nine of 14 environmental categories, including protection of endangered species, Great Lakes cleanup, control of invasive species and protecting wildlife and habitat.
Canada lacks formal guidelines for adding animals to the endangered species list. Recovery strategies for 228 species at risk were supposed to ready last summer, but only 55 have been completed.
In the Great Lakes basin, only two of 17 identified trouble spots have been addressed in 20 years.
At this rate, it will be 170 years to clean them all up.
In keeping with this Conservative government's mantra, Baird laid blame for this lacklustre performance at the feet of previous Liberal governments.
That's not good enough. Baird and company have had more than two years to make progress, and have failed to do so.
No more excuses.
Time is well past to make Canada an environmental leader.