Bureaucrats urged Kent to take global warming seriously

By Mike De Souza
Postmedia News
August 1, 2011

“Climate change is the most serious environmental issue facing the world today and carries with it significant impacts on human health and safety, the economy, natural resources, and ecosystems in Canada and throughout the world,” say the briefing notes, which were prepared for Environment Minister Peter Kent.

Peter Kent

OTTAWA — Global warming is the world’s greatest environmental challenge and Canada is falling behind the United States in reducing the pollution from industry that is causing the problem, say newly released briefing notes prepared for Environment Minister Peter Kent.

The warnings, submitted to Kent in January when he took over the environment portfolio in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government, say global warming will have significant social, political and economic implications, putting Canada on the hot seat over its own record and commitments.

“Climate change is the most serious environmental issue facing the world today and carries with it significant impacts on human health and safety, the economy, natural resources, and ecosystems in Canada and throughout the world,” say the briefing notes, which were released under access-to-information legislation.

“Going forward, Canada will face domestic and international pressure to demonstrate progress toward its Copenhagen target.”

The briefing notes included a chart that revealed existing measures introduced by federal, provincial and territorial governments would still leave Canada about 30 per cent above a new target level for emissions set by Harper to reduce annual greenhouse gases by 17 per cent below 2005 levels.

The federal government has said it set this target to align itself with the United States in the North American marketplace.

But the briefing notes told Kent the U.S. was moving forward on setting standards for new industrial facilities with a plan that was not being matched in Canada. The plan by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would require new industrial facilities and major renovation projects in industry to adopt the best available technologies for capping their pollution.

Information from the briefing notes coincides with a new report by a government advisory panel, the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, which suggested Environment Canada is overestimating the effectiveness of existing climate-change policies in the country.

Kent was not immediately available to answer questions about the briefing notes and has declined to give interviews to Postmedia News in recent months.

But he indicated earlier this year that the government planned to begin consultations in the coming months on a set of draft regulations to crack down on pollution from coal-fired electricity plants as well as from commercial industrial sectors such as the oilsands, which are seeing their emissions grow much faster than the rest of the economy.

“It’s not going to be easy,” Kent told Postmedia News in February. “Each of these sectors represents significant challenges, but given the fact that these other (regulations) are going to be introduced in a timely manner and a timely fashion, then you could say, by the end of 2012, most of our new (regulations) should be in place or out for consultation and discussion.”

The department says in its briefing notes that eventual regulations for coal plants, if introduced, could come into effect by 2015 with significant impacts.

“The gradual phase-out of old and dirty coal units is expected to significantly reduce emissions from the electricity generation sector and improve air quality for all Canadians,” say the briefing notes.

Clare Demerse, the director of climate-change policy at the Pembina Institute, an Alberta-based environmental research group, questioned whether Kent and his government had understood the warnings from the experts within the bureaucracy.

“This briefing note reads like a plea from Environment Canada’s officials to their new minister (to) make global warming a priority,” said Demerse. “Unfortunately, the Harper government’s track record since January, when these notes were written, gives us no evidence that the message got through.”

Environment Canada bureaucrats also told Kent that the government would need to take “concrete and practical actions” to succeed, which would also provide opportunities for emerging economic sectors.

“There are significant economic opportunities available to Canadian industry and workers through the transition to a clean energy economy,” say the briefing notes.

“The clean energy and environmental goods market is estimated at $6.5 trillion and is being contested by major and emerging economies, including the U.S., the European Union, China, and India.”

Kent was told that clean technology would become the world’s third largest industry within a decade, and that he could introduce policies to improve Canada’s position in the new economy.

“Canada’s environmental policies can be an important driver of innovation and resource efficiency that can lead to longer term improvements in productivity growth and competitiveness,” say the briefing notes.

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