Green Plan Limited, PM Warns

Canada will be off Kyoto targets by 50 per cent in 2012, Harper says

Bill Curry From Monday's Globe and Mail

OTTAWA - Emissions of greenhouse gases are on track to rise dramatically over the next five years, Prime Minister Stephen Harper predicted yesterday.  The comment, coming just days after a cabinet shuffle saw the pugnacious John Baird take control of the key environment portfolio, left critics questioning the seriousness of a government pledge to do "a lot more" on the environment.

Statements from senior Conservatives, including former prime minister
Brian Mulroney, have made clear in recent weeks that environmental concerns have become a top issue for voters, but yesterday's comments appeared to critics to mean there will be little change in the months to come.

Describing climate change as a long-term problem, the Prime Minister indicated his government's approach will not include meeting Canada's international targets under the Kyoto Protocol.

"I think the preponderance of the evidence on [climate change] is clear, that it's a real long-term challenge, but what I've said is it can't be fixed overnight.  This country is headed to be 50 per cent above its Kyoto target in 2012," Stephen Harper said on CTV's Question Period.  "We can't tell the Canadian population to heat it's home one-third less of the time.  So we've got a major challenge and we're going to get on with it."

Harper spokeswoman Sandra Buckler said the Prime Minister was extrapolating from the rate of rising emissions under the Liberals.  She also wrote in an email that the government's position on Kyoto has not changed.

"The plain fact is the targets the Liberals set under Kyoto are anachievable," she wrote.  "It's taken quite a while to get to where we are.  The Prime Minister has said that there is no switch to instantly lower [greenhouse gases] and therefore, time will be needed to reverse the momentum that started under the Liberals and caused by their inaction."

The Prime Minister's estimate was the first time such a prediction has been made by the Conservative Government.

When Canada signed the Kyoto Protocal  in 1998, it pledged to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions to an average of 6 per cent below 1990 levels for the years 2008 - 2012.

Environment Commissioner Johanne Gelinas reported in September that 2004 figures show emissions were 34.6-per-cent above the target.  Her report said "it is difficult to say" whether the measures in the most recent Liberal government plan of 2005 would have been enough for Canada to comply with Kyoto, although she expressed doubts.

Mr. Harper's remarks were particularly savaged yesterday by NDP Leader Jack Layton.  The party's 29 MPs are being strongly courted by Conservatives now that they hold the balance of power in the House of Commons in the wake of last week's defection of Liberal MP Wajid Khan to the Tories.

Mr. Layton will be meeting with the caucus this week in Vancouver to discuss how to respond to the Conservatives' public appeals for co-operation to pass the government's Clean Air Act.

"This shows that Mr. Harper doesn't get it.  I'm deeply alarmed by such a commentary because it suggests he's accepting a kind of inevitability," Mr. Layton, who insists there is still time for Canada to comply with Kyoto, said.  "It's a little like saying: 'If we keep our feet on the gas and accelerating toward this cliff, we're going to go over it,'"

Liberal MP John Godfrey said Mr. Harper's comments raise questions as to why the Tories cancelled Liberal programs that were reducing emissions, such as the Energuide home retrofit program and funding to shut down Ontario coal plants.

"That just suggests complete passivity, that we aren't even trying." he said.

Mr. Godfrey said Mr. Harper's comments appear at odds with last week's pledge to do more on climate change.  "I don't understand how he reconciles the message that he gave out that 'we will do more on the environment.  We recognize that we haven't done enough [on] climate change.'  And then seems to move swiftly from denial, which was his previous stance over the first year of government, to despair, without an intervening period of action."

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May has been invited to meet with the new Environment Minister to discuss climate change.  Ms. May said the Kyoto targets are minimum for action and she wants the government to commit to further targets after 2012.

Ms. May said the Prime Minister's emissions prediction is "out of whack" with anything she has heard.

"I can't imagine that that just isn't based on being wrong." she said.  Ms May said her main fear is that the government is lowering expectations and will ultimately pull out of Kyoto when Canada's first opportunity to do so arrives in 2008.

"What I worry about is that John Baird is setting the standard as: 'We know we have to do better,' and Harper's saying, 'We know we have to do better,'" she said.  "The thing they have to do is Kyoto.  Doing better than what they've done is almost certainty ... because what they've done is been destructive."

Article from The Globe and Mail - January 8, 2007

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