by Anna Tilman
Whatever happened to the proposed federal Clean Air Act? After all, this minority government wanted a “made in Canada” solution to climate change and air pollution. And the Kyoto Protocol was going to be really bad for the Canadian economy! So, while the opposition brought in amendments to the proposed Clean Air Act, mainly trying to ensure reductions in Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions and Canada’s compliance with Kyoto, in April of this year the government came out with its Clean Air Regulatory Agenda (CARA), a plan shrouded in a blanket of secrecy and confidentiality – and essentially killed any possible passing of the amended Clean Air Act.
For far too long, Canada has relied on a host of non-regulatory measures to reduce air emissions from large industrial polluters, an approach which has yielded little, if any, improvement in air quality or GHG emissions. So while a regulatory framework is essential and long overdue, it is also essential that it is effective.
So what is the CARA all about? In terms of air pollution, it intends to provide a short-term set of targets (caps) to achieve “tangible health and environment benefits” and be supplemented by other measures. For example, it establishes national caps for large industrial sectors for Sulphur Dioxide (SOx) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) emissions and a few other pollutants. However, the proposed caps are not stringent and it is doubtful they will improve air quality in communities. Also, a national trading mechanism has been proposed for NOx and SOx, which is a highly contentious issue.
As for Greenhouse Gases (GHGs), the Regulatory Framework specifies short-term targets for specific industrial sectors that are intensity-based (per unit of production) rather than absolute, accompanied by an emissions trading system that would limit Canada’s ability to trade with Kyoto Parties.
Three of the greatest problems with the Agenda and its Framework are absolutely egregious.
No consideration of airshed factors
First, the “national targets” for air pollutants for individual large industrial sectors have been developed in isolation, with no consideration of regional or airshed factors, multiple sources of these pollutants, cumulative impacts, unique properties of a pollutant (e.g., mercury), or vulnerable communities and ecosystems. This provides no protection against unacceptable levels of emissions from all industrial sources taken together, or from very strong local sources.
Tar Sands allowed to increase pollution
The second problem relates to the proposed “cap” on emissions of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) from the oil sands sector. The cap represents a 60% increase in emissions of VOCs over the base year of 2006 by 2015 (or 2012, whatever year is selected for the “cap”). Far from limiting this very serious source of air pollution to give Canadians the protection they deserve, the Government is granting the industry license to increase pollution significantly.
Intensity-based “targets” allow more GHG
The third main problem relates to GHGs. Canada has one of the highest Kyoto target gaps among all Kyoto Annex 1 parties (developed countries). Its GHG emissions in 2004 were in the order of 760 million tonnes (Mt), a 26.6% increase over the internationally agreed 1990 baseline and 35% above its Kyoto target of 561 Mt by 2012. By setting GHG targets for industrial sectors that are intensity-based rather than absolute, Canada’s GHG emissions are projected to be about 44% above the Kyoto target by 2012. This is totally unacceptable and leaves Canada in breach of the Kyoto Protocol.
These examples typify the whole thrust of the Agenda and its Regulatory Framework. They are clearly intended to protect industrial growth and activity ahead of the health of Canadians and their natural environment. A properly designed program would drive the behavioral, economic, and technological changes that are needed to really “turn the corner,” and protect the health and the natural environment of Canadians.
The CARA misses the mark on all accounts.
Anna Tilman is an environmental activist, involved mainly in issues related to air pollution, toxics, and mercury in particular. For several years she has served as Chair of STORM Coalition (Save the Oak Ridges Moraine).