Tag Archives: Environment Canada

Opposing lessons in crisis management

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If single-minded attention to a gathering emergency is the measure of leadership in government, then Stephen Harper’s Torytown manages to both pass and fail in spectacularly simultaneous fashion.

This week, a deeply ambivalent House of Commons issued its imprimatur for Canadian combat operations to commence in the treacherous reaches of northern Iraq, where the Islamic State (IS) currently wreaks havoc. The mission is modest (it includes nine airplanes and about 600 military personnel), but the purpose is definitive.

“We are undertaking a range of actions, and we are very fortunate to have men and women who are prepared to put their lives on the line to undertake those actions on our behalf,” the Prime Minister said on Tuesday. “What the world understands very clearly is that in the absence of any response, (the Islamic State) was growing like a cancer over the summer, over an entire region. This constitutes a threat and not just to the region, to the global community entirely and also to Canada.”

It’s the brand of tough talk and focussed reaction for which Mr. Harper has become justly famous. Posit a gun-toting enemy with sharp teeth and dastardly intentions, and you can count on Captain Canada to swoop into the fray, his six-shooters a-blazing.

Indeed, whether the evil-doers in our midst (or just over the horizon) are stalkers, cyber-bullies, pedophiles, or murderous jihadis, this prime minister has never let down his rhetorical guard whilst demonstrating his country’s determination to wipe out vicious hellions wherever he may find them.

Unfortunately, without an obvious, two-legged enemy at which he can shake his big stick, Mr. Harper – and, in fact, every one of his political lieutenants – appear, all too often, hopelessly distracted or, worse, mindfully disengaged from even greater threats than those IS now poses to the world’s well being.

“At the 2009 Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, the Government of Canada committed to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 17 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020,” writes Julie Gelfand, Canada’s Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development in her Fall 2014 report, her first since accepting the job last March.

Realistically, though, “Environment Canada’s latest projections show that Canada will not likely meet its commitment.” That’s because “the federal government has chosen to reduce GHG emissions by establishing regulations on a sector-by-sector basis.” In this fashion, “it has introduced several such regulations to date, notably in the transportation and the electricity generation sectors.” At the same time, “in 2006, the government first announced its intent to regulate GHG emissions from the oil and gas industry but has not yet done so even though emissions are growing fastest in this sector.”

The bottom line is straightforward and chilling:

“If Canada does not honour its climate-change commitments, it cannot expect other countries to honour theirs. If countries fail to reduce their emissions, the large environmental and economic liabilities we will leave our children and our grandchildren – such as more frequent extreme weather, reduced air quality, rising oceans, and the spread of insect-borne diseases – will likely outweigh any potentially positive effects, such as a longer growing season.”

None of which should come as any great surprise to those who have kept a watchful eye trained on this federal government’s policies concerning the environment. Agents provocateurs of the blue zone on Parliament Hill routinely pillory critics of big oil and gas, drubbing them for their allegedly anti-business, anti-prosperity, anti-technology agitations. Meanwhile, the bigger picture goes deliberately unappreciated, with nauseatingly predictable results.

“While the Government of Canada has recognized the need to urgently combat climate change, its planning has been ineffective and the action it has taken has been slow and not well coordinated,” Ms. Gelfand concludes.

“The sector-by-sector regulatory approach led by Environment Canada has made some gains, but the measures currently in place are expected to close the gap in greenhouse gas emissions by only 7 per cent by 2020, and the actual effects of these measures have not yet been assessed.”

And likely never will. Unless we somehow manage to transform global warming into a sword-brandishing terrorist on which Mr. Harper can draw a bead, this is one crisis that will continue to loom.

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Climate change is real. But do the feds care?

 

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Senior federal Tories no longer deny, as more than a few once did, encroaching climate change. Their thinking on the issue has evolved. Now, they accept it, almost willingly, as a cost of doing business in the 21st Century.

With all the bellicosity that this proposition implies, Prime Minister Stephen Harper thumbed his nose at U.S. President Barack Obama this week, suggesting that the latter’s effort to enforce new emission standards for power plants was disingenuous.

“No matter what they say, no country is going to take actions that are going to deliberately destroy jobs and growth in their country,” he said during a joint press conference with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott in Ottawa. “We are just a little more frank about that.”

Moreover, he added, “the measures outlined by President Obama, as important as they are, do not go nearly as far in the electricity sector as the actions Canada has already taken ahead of the United States in that particular sector.”

Finally, he said, “It’s not that we don’t seek to deal with climate change, but we seek to deal with it in a way that will protect and enhance our ability to create jobs and growth. . .Frankly, every single country in the world (feels the same way).”

Now, who’s being disingenuous?

Canada’s official government position on climate change is virtually non-existent. The feds do not maintain, let alone enforce, regulations governing greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and gas industry for a very good reason: They are terrified of angering their pals in Big Petrol. 

According to a report in the Globe and Mail last year, the World Resources Institute stated that in 2010 this country’s carbon footprint was the tenth-largest in the world. “On a per-capita basis, Canada is 17th; among the G20, Canada trails only Australia and the United States,” the item noted.

As for Canada’s putative lead over the United States in regulating the electricity sector, Simon Dyer of the Pembina Institute, an environmental think tank based in British Columbia, begs to differ. In a blog post on June 4, he wrote:

“While Canada did introduce federal coal regulations in 2012, the regulations have a long phase-in period that allows some of Canada’s coal plants to operate clear through the middle of the century, without any greenhouse gas controls whatsoever.”

Mr. Dyer observes that this “timid response” guarantees that meaningful drops in greenhouse gas emissions won’t appear until 2030. In this context, he writes, “The U.S. proposal is far more effective at reducing greenhouse gases from electricity generation in the short term, compared to business as usual. Analysis suggests the EPA rules would reduce power sector emissions by an estimated 23 per cent below business as usual by 2025, compared to five per cent from Canada’s federal regulations (according to Environment Canada’s own numbers).”

Apart from this, Pembina estimates that, between 2005 and 2020, tar sands expansion will have rendered preposterous Canada’s faint-hearted promise to the international community to cut its greenhouse gas production by 17 per cent.

“Environment Canada estimates that Canada will only be ‘halfway’ to meeting its 2020 target in 2020 – meaning that we’re on track to miss the 2020 target by 113 million tonnes, or double the current emissions of British Columbia,” wrote Clare Demerse, Pembina’s former director of federal policy, on the Institute’s website last year. “To date, the federal government has not published any plan or proposal to close that gap.”

Under the circumstances, how can any political leader in Ottawa claim with a straight face that the government has a plan for mitigating the effects of the nation’s increasingly rapacious fossil fuel industry?

Energy Minister Joe Oliver is practically apoplectic over the possibility that Alberta oil will forever languish where it does no one any good. In a recent speech, he described the black gold as “landlocked”, costing the national economy billions of dollars a year in lost revenue.

Meanwhile, Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq is ritually fond of stating that the federal government’s emissions policy demonstrates how she and her Conservative confederates are “standing up for Canadian jobs,” as if no clean, sustainable alternative is even worth considering.

Fair enough. But if certain federal Tories no longer deny the existence of climate change, neither should they deny the other truth: They couldn’t care less.

 

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Slow-dancing with shale gas in New Brunswick

 

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Government and industry types, desperate to envision a way out of New Brunswick’s straightened economic and fiscal circumstances, routinely point their fingers to the future and declare it full of shale gas. 

Now, a new report by a group of people that actually knows something about science, evidence and the perils of jumping to conclusions advises us to cool our jets. The future isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.    

The multidisciplinary (and excessively named) Expert Panel on Harnessing Science and Technology to Understand the Environmental Impacts of Shale Gas Extraction, convened by the Council of Canadian Academics at the behest of Environment Canada, warns that not only do we lack adequate information about the effects of tight-play, onshore petroleum production in Canada, most of us are even too ignorant to ask the right questions.

In essence, to paraphrase former U.S, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, we don’t know what we don’t know.

“Society’s understanding of the potential environmental impacts has not kept pace with development, resulting in gaps in scientific knowledge about these impacts,” the report says. “In most instances, shale gas extraction has proceeded without sufficient environmental baseline data being collected (e.g., nearby groundwater quality, 

critical wildlife habitat). This makes it difficult to identify and characterize environmental impacts that may be associated with or inappropriately blamed on this development.”

The solution, it appears, is to adopt a go-slow approach, the advantage of which “allow for additional data collection, to permit adaptation to the implications of new information, and to encourage integration of multidisciplinary expertise. . .There may also be some negative impacts of development that cannot be eliminated, and the scientific basis for identifying areas that are particularly vulnerable has not been established.”

None of which is especially good news for the likes of Premier David Alward or his energy czar, Minister Craig Leonard.

For at least three years, they, like most members of provincial cabinet, have been crowing as loudly as they can muster about the extraordinary economic benefits that will accrue from a safe, reliable, environmentally responsible shale gas industry. On this point, they have assembled, drafted, edited, amended and finally released what they claim are the toughest standards and guidelines for shale gas development anywhere in North America.

But, as the report points out, they’re getting woefully ahead of themselves.

Although the panel goes out of its way to acknowledge that the industry in Canada has cleaned up its act in recent years through “recycling (and) reducing land disruption by concentrating more wells at each drilling site, reducing the volumes of the toxic chemicals it uses, and reducing methane emissions during well completions,” it also stipulates that “other impacts, such as cumulative effects on land, fugitive GHG emissions, and groundwater contamination, are more problematic. 

“This is the case because available mitigation technologies are untested and may not be sufficient; scientific understanding is incomplete; and the design of an adequate regulatory framework is hampered by limited information.”

A proper rules system, the experts insist, “must be based on appropriate science-driven, outcome-based regulations with strong performance monitoring, inspection, and enforcement.”

For his part, Mr. Leonard is playing it cool. The report, he says, does nothing to dissuade him from pursuing the current course in the manner he has chosen. Slow down? But, of course, he declares. 

“When people say ‘Slow the process down,’ the fact is we haven’t done anything except for seismic testing over the last three years,” he noted last Thursday, following the report’s release.

“We aren’t going to have any new drilling taking place at least until next year and we probably won’t even have any actual hydraulically fracked wells being drilled in shale formations for a couple of years. So there is time to be building this information.”

And, perhaps, a better consensus across the province. 

Lack of information breeds systemic ignorance, which, in turn, fuels unproductive rancor and fear (as opposes to useful and constructive debate). 

The time this report suggests we purchase for ourselves should be spent educating ourselves about the true and likely impact of shale gas development in the specific geological and geographical conditions that are native to New Brunswick.

Only then will any of us possess the knowledge to accurately foresee the shape of things to come.

 

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