05 October 2011

Pembina comments on the federal environment commissioner's report

I intended to comment on the October Report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, offering as it did yet another disappointing, if not depressing, account of the federal government's climate change efforts. However, a press release by the Pembina Institute said it better and with more expertise than I could, so I decided to offer that instead.

Matt Horne, director of the Institute's climate change program, commented as follows on Chapter 1 of the report which dealt with the government's plans under the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act:

The federal government has repeatedly exaggerated the effectiveness of its policies to limit greenhouse gas pollution, and now admits its plan will be 90 per cent less effective than it first claimed. Further, the government has ignored the legal requirement to explain how it will make up for this gap.

Despite years of debate and discussion about federal action on climate change, the Commissioner found that the federal government still does not have a solid management structure in place to achieve its objectives, or properly measure the effectiveness of its policies or spending. This is a recipe for continued failure.

The Commissioner's findings are especially relevant when looking forward to Canada's 2020 commitments. Canada will fail to live up to those commitments unless it addresses the serious gaps in the ambition, implementation and monitoring of its climate change plans.
Nathan Lemphers, a senior Pembina policy analyst, commented on Chapter 2 which concerned the cumulative environmental effects of tar sands projects:
Today, Canada's environment commissioner concluded that the federal government is not able to adequately assess the cumulative environmental impacts of oil sands development due to gaps in monitoring data and baseline information. The implication of this is simple: the government can't claim to be effectively managing environmental impacts when it is not adequately assessing what those impacts are.

Doing a thorough job of assessing and understanding the environmental impacts is fundamental to making informed decisions about whether and how development should proceed. The government is failing on both counts.

This report is the latest in a series of reports that contradict the government's claims about protecting the environment in the oil sands region. Canadians have learned that their government does not have sufficient information to make informed decisions, and as a result is unable to properly assess the cumulative environmental impacts of oil sands development. The only thing diminishing faster than Canada's international credibility on these matters is the environmental assessment agency's budget, which will be cut in half over the next two years.

This report tells a different story than what the federal government has been saying in the U.S. and the EU, where it has downplayed environmental concerns in its effort to lobby for new pipeline approvals and shield the industry from environmental measures elsewhere.
Not an encouraging picture.

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