09 January 2014

The folly of aping U.S. emissions policy

Our federal government's policy on greenhouse gas emissions is simple: whatever the United States' policy on greenhouse gas emissions is. And that means a target of reducing emissions by 17 per cent from 2005 to 2020. But, as the Pembina Institute pointed out this week, there is a very large fly in that particular ointment. And the fly is that the two countries have very different emissions profiles.

The biggest challenge for the U.S. in meeting its goal is power emissions, particularly from coal-fired electricity. President Obama recognizes this and is committed to regulating new and existing facilities in that sector, and has directed the Environmental Protection Agency to do just that. Once Obama’s climate plan goes into effect, the U.S. should have a reasonable chance of achieving its 2020 goal.

But Canada's major challenge to meeting the goal is oil and gas sector emissions, particularly from tar sands production. So does our government have a plan to deal with oil and gas sector emissions? Not according to Prime Minister Harper. His government is—you guessed it—waiting on "our major trading partner." The problem is that the oil and gas sector being a much less important part of their emissions profile, the Americans are proceeding at a rather leisurely pace in imposing regulations. And of course they don't have a tar sands sector so they will never write emission regulations for bitumen production. Waiting to match the U.S. targets in this sector could mean a very long wait indeed.

In summary, the Americans are dealing with their biggest emissions problem and we are not. And then there is the further unfortunate fact that we are already way behind in meeting the 2020 target. We are lost, folks, we are lost.

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