Greenhouse gas emissions require federal strategy

Provincial strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are welcome but are no substitute for the type of effective federal strategy Canada needs, York Professor Mark Winfield concludes in a recent analysis published by the Canadian International Council (CIC). It was very clear at the United Nations climate change conference in Bali, Indonesia, in December that Canada does not have such a plan, says Winfield, a professor in the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York.

Left: Mark Winfield

“The reason Canadian climate change policy has failed so far is there’s a complete disconnect between climate and energy policy in this country,” says Winfield. “Canada has gone through a number of climate change policies over the last couple of decades, but there has been no formal energy policy since the demise of the 1980 National Energy Policy.”

Winfield’s article “Climate Change and Canadian Energy Policy: Policy Contradiction and Policy Failure” appears in the current issue of the CIC’s Behind the Headlines. In it, he points out that although Canada’s Kyoto Protocol target is a six per cent reduction, relative to 1990 levels, by 2008-2012, the 2006 report by the Commissioner for the Environment and Sustainable Development found that greenhouse gas emissions were 27 per cent higher in 2004 than in 1990. 

“Part of the explanation for this result is that the impact of the few initiatives that have actually been implemented under Canada’s various climate change strategies has been completely overwhelmed by the effects of the existing non-renewable energy development and export policy framework,” Winfield says. 

Although there has been no formal energy policy since the mid-1980s, a considerable policy framework for energy still exists at the federal level, strongly oriented to the development and export of conventional, non-renewable energy resources such as coal, oil, natural gas and uranium, he writes. Direct subsidies of energy projects are less common than in the past but the tax system still offers the industry tremendous support, he says, and acceleration of oil sands development in Alberta in the past decade has made the sector the single largest source of growth in greenhouse gas emissions.

At the recent meeting of provincial premiers and territorial leaders to discuss climate change, provincial leaders spoke about targets, says Winfield, but they did not articulate any real plans for meeting the targets. The most significant gap at the provincial level is in dealing with the issue of reducing emissions from large final emitters (LFEs) – major industrial sources ranging from coal-fired power plants to pulp and paper mills. However, these account for almost half of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, Winfield writes, and it will require a federal regulatory framework to reduce them.

Winfield’s research looks at institutional design and policy instrument choice in environmental and energy policy. His most recent work has been focused on energy efficiency and climate change policy, as well as smart regulation initiatives at the federal and provincial levels in Canada. His past environmental policy work has included the role of information technology and public access to information in environmental policy, institutional design for drinking water protection (for the Walkerton Inquiry), toxic substances pollution prevention, ecological fiscal reform, globalization, trade and the environment and the regulation of biotechnology.