Canadian Government Falls Short on Climate Change Response

Action on sustainable development by the Canadian government is slower than it should be, according to an analysis by the Commissioner of the Environment & Sustainable Development.

OTTAWA, Ontario, CA, 2001-10-09 [] “I am concerned that some departments view their sustainable development activities as a paper exercise rather than truly trying to make their activities more sustainable,” says Johanne Gélinas in a report to the federal House of Commons. “The risks to Canadians and their environment are larger and more complex than ever. Federal departments cannot leave it to chance to achieve their goals.” Many federal departments do not have coherent systems in place to implement sustainable development strategies, and most provide Parliament with insufficient information about their progress toward sustainable development, according to the audit of 28 federal departments and agencies over the past three years. A 1995 amendment to the Auditor General Act requires that departments and agencies, including those not considered to have an impact on the environment, take into account environmental, economic and social considerations in their policies, programs and daily operations. Some departments are doing a better job than others, admits Gélinas, but half of the departments do not have adequate sustainable development management systems in place and three-quarters provide inadequate reports. Natural Resources Canada, the federal department responsible for energy and energy efficiency, “has made satisfactory progress” in addressing recommendations made by the Commissioner in 1997 on energy efficiency initiatives. There has been an increased effort to link changes in energy use to changes in greenhouse gas emissions, but the government’s progress in responding to climate change falls short of what is needed to achieve the commitments Canada made in the Kyoto protocol. Canada has pledged to reduce its GHG emissions to 6 percent below 1990 levels by 2012, but emissions continue to rise are were 15 percent higher in 1999 than in 1990. “The continued upward trend in Canada’s emissions demonstrates that the government has not transformed its promises into results,” says Gélinas. “The government is still in the early stages of setting national action in motion.” The government has increased funding for climate change measures, but it still needs to do a great deal of work, including development of a broader portfolio of measures to meet Canada’s climate change commitments. “Given the important health, economic, environmental, and social benefits of taking action, I believe Canada cannot afford to lose ground,” adds Gélinas. The consumption of fossil fuels cause most of Canada’s GHG emissions, explains the report. Using energy more efficiently will generally help reduce these emissions. “The federal government believes that addressing climate change is one of the greatest environmental and economic challenges ever undertaken by Canada and other countries,” continues the report. “Climate change also has significant implications for sustainable development.” A key component of Canada’s response is increasing energy efficiency. Using less energy can also provide certain secondary or co-benefits such as reducing pollutants that cause smog and acid rain. More than C$1 billion has been allocated under the federal budget and Climate Change Action Plan, which constitutes “a substantial federal investment,” and further measures are under development “since it is recognized that more will have to be done.” In its 1998 audit, the Commissioner said the failure to meet Canada’s climate change commitments had been mainly the result of poor planning and ineffective management, and suggested that it was time to rethink Canada’s implementation strategy. The position of Commissioner of the Environment & Sustainable Development was created by Parliament in 1995 as part of the Office of the Auditor General.