Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Canada Reneges on its Promise to Follow US Climate Policy

Once again Canada is at odds with the United States on climate issues. After promising to adopt a climate policy that closely follows the US, the ruling federal Conservative government has been forced to concede that this is impossible. Under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the federal government has repeatedly stated that it will harmonize its climate policies with those of the United States. Now that the US has started to engage climate issues Canada is abandoning this approach.

This represents a radical departure for the federal Conservatives who have consistently said that they will align with US climate policy. As recently as last month the government of Canada said that it would match its federal climate policies with those of the US. This was the line put forth in a letter sent to the provinces by Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq in March.

Although it was widely understood by those who follow Canada's emissions trajectory, that the country could never equal President Obama's targets. Harper formally made the admission in response to a question he was asked about Canada's United Nations Climate Summit commitments.

In April the Canadian Prime Minister confided, "It's unlikely our targets will be exactly the same as the United States."

When President Obama was elected the Harper government declared that it wanted to explore an integrated continental approach to climate policy. This line continued for six years only to be abandoned less than eight months before COP 21 convenes and a hoped for climate agreement is signed.

In 2010, Peter Kent, the Environment Minister at the time said there was "no practical alternative" to a harmonized climate policy. When Obama began to work with China on climate issues in the spring of 2013 it became clear that Canada was the odd man out. In June 2013 it become unavoidably obvious that Harper was at odds with President Obama.

Canada has cynically used the US when it serves them using American reluctance to engage climate as an excuse to do the same. Now that President Obama is taking a more overtly ambitious approach alignment is being abandoned.

Former Environment minister John Baird justified abandoning national cap-and-trade because the US was not prepared to get on-board. Before him Jim Prentice weakened Canada's carbon reduction targets saying that they would be "aligned with the final economy-wide emissions targets of the United States."

This should come as no surprise given the Harper government's refusal to harmonize with the EPA carbon regulations (heavy industry and coal power). Canada finds itself under the political leadership of a government that is destined to be one of the very worst nations at the forthcoming climate talks in Paris.

The ruling Conservatives have ignored warnings from scientists against expanded exploitation of hydrocarbons and Canadians have indicated that they do not share the Harper government's obsession with fossil fuels. Nonetheless the Conservative love affair with oil shows no signs of abating.  As a consequence Canada is destined to be singled out as a climate laggard at the Paris climate talks in December.

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