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Despite response to new U.S. carbon plan, Canada's rules still lag behind U.S. commitments


By Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist, theweathernetwork.com
@ScottWx_TWN
Tuesday, June 3, 2014, 7:20

It didn't take long for Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq to respond after her EPA counterpart detailed the agency's new Clean Energy Plan on Monday, as she issued a statement proclaiming Canada's actions on carbon emission so far, and calling upon the Obama administration to work with Canada on a combined effort towards our goals. However, can Canada really claim to be on a better path than the United States in this case?

For energy production, Canada fares quite well, with nearly 60 per cent of our total electricity generation coming from clean hydroelectric power plants, with the rest coming from nuclear, coal and natural gas plants, as well as solar, wind and even tidal energy sources. As we do produce some of our energy (roughly 13 per cent) from coal, our electricity production does contribute to global carbon dioxide emissions, to the tune of about 2 per cent of the total emitted each year around the world. This is compared to roughly 16 per cent by the U.S. (according to Minister Aglukkaq's statement), although it may be a little higher. So, the U.S. emits roughly eight times what Canada does, annually, and is considered to be one of the major emitters of greenhouse gases in the world (they rank 2nd, behind China). This is all pointed out quite clearly in Minister Aglukkaqu's statement. However, although the EPA's new plan may help to shake loose some of the reluctance for the global community to act on carbon emissions, the rest of the Minister's statement reads a bit like it's a response to being called out on our actions. 

Even Prime Minister Stephen Harper is quoted in the National Post as saying: "The NDP praises the action today of the Obama administration, acting two years after this government acted and taking actions that don't go near as far as this government went."


RELATED: New U.S. Clean Energy Plan may spur global action against climate change


However, can we really say that we're going further than the U.S. in this case?

Back in 2012, Environment Canada issued a new set of rules for carbon emissions for Canada's energy production, stating that any coal-fired plants that start up after July 1, 2015 would be required to meet strict standards for carbon capture. Power plants already in existence, on the other hand, that are still producing power on July 1, 2015, are able to wait a significant amount of time longer, until "they reach their end of useful life date," according to the rules. In general, a power plant reaches its end-of-useful-life date after 50 years, with some adjustments currently on the books to have any plant put into operation before 1975 to reach that date in 2019, and any starting up between 1975 and 1986 reaching that date in 2029. While these rules do represent some action on the Canadian government's part, and resistance from certain government sectors in the U.S. have kept similar EPA rules from being implemented on the same schedule, the new rules announced on Monday go significantly further. 


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Environment Canada is boasting an up to 46 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030, compared to the EPA's 30 per cent cut by the same year. While Canada's commitment certainly represents a larger proportion, it comes out a little different when you examine the totals. Using 2010 emission numbers, a 46 per cent reduction for Canada lowers our carbon emissions by around 230,000 metric tons per year, while a 30 per cent reduction for the United States lowers their carbon emissions by over 1.3 million metric tons per year. This is all based on the comparative amount each country emits, so let's not completely dismiss Canada's commitments here. However, at the same time, this new U.S. commitment is going to have a much larger impact on reducing global carbon dioxide emissions. This is especially true when, as CBC News points out, while the U.S. plan puts them on track to better meet their previous commitments to lower emissions by 2020, Canada's latest emission estimates are showing that we're going to miss our target, "by an even larger margin than previously believed." 

So, maybe this apparent attitude of 'been there, done that' from the federal government isn't exactly appropriate. 

Also, according to that same CBC News article, UBC political scientists Kathryn Harrison points out that the federal government still has yet to deliver on its promised regulations to the oil and gas industry. 

"The U.S. is going in the right direction," she said. "We're going in the wrong direction."

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