By Heather Scoffield, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA – Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be in New York today, pitching Canadian energy prospects to a leading U.S. think-tank.
At the same time, critics of Canada’s green record are taking to the Internet to warn that the Alberta oilsands are an environmental threat.
Speaking to the Council on Foreign Relations, Harper is expected to stress that Canada is halfway towards meeting its greenhouse gas emissions target. Many people in both countries, however, are wondering about the other half.
As the Obama administration ponders the TransCanada Corp. proposal to build the Keystone XL pipeline to link the oilsands to Gulf Coast refineries, Harper’s government is trumpeting the steps it has taken to ensure pipeline safety, cut emissions and monitor oilsands pollution.
This week, in advance of the prime minister’s Q-and-A with the council, the federal government took out ads in major U.S. publications and fired up a new website to promote its sector-by-sector regulatory approach to reducing emissions.
“With these and other means, Canada is honouring its United Nations commitment under the Copenhagen Accord to a 17-per-cent reduction in emissions from 2005 levels by 2020,” the website says.
“We estimate that as a result of our collective actions taken to date, Canada is already halfway toward closing the gap between what our emissions had originally been projected to be in 2020, and where we need to be to meet our Copenhagen target.”
But critics, including Environmental Defence Canada, Equiterre, Forest Ethics Advocacy, Greenpeace Canada and the U.S. Natural Resources Defence Council, have set up their own Internet soapbox.
They say TarSandsRealityCheck.com “presents peer-reviewed, easy to understand facts about the devastating impacts of the tar sands on climate, economy, human rights, land and species, air and water.”
The trouble with Harper’s “halfway” claim is that it lumps together all the measures both provincial and federal governments have taken and the cumulative effect they will have on emissions by 2020.
Numerous analyses suggest that closing the rest of the gap will take a near miracle, or some kind of national carbon pricing program.
The federal Conservatives reject carbon pricing, although many provinces have already headed in that direction, either on their own or to comply with federal regulations.
Something will have to give.
Oil and gas are the largest source of emissions growth. Federal, provincial and industry officials have been negotiating for months to produce a plan that would curb emissions at a cost that does not disadvantage the industry.
But none of the scenarios will take Canada anywhere near meeting its 2020 target, analysts say.
Environment Minister Peter Kent, meanwhile, is looking at the handful of sectors not yet regulated. Commercial and residential buildings are key, he said in a recent interview, adding that he’s also hoping for international action in the aviation sector.
Canada, he also noted, is now getting credit for reforestation efforts.
But none of those this will give Canada more than a few megatonnes of carbon reductions each by 2020, well short of the needed 100 megatonnes.
Canada could buy emissions credits from cash-short developing countries, but the government isn’t keen on that option.
The Conservatives have also rejected suggestions that they limit emissions by freezing oilsands development and pipeline construction.
This week, the International Energy Association said it expects oilsands production to increase by 1.3 million barrels a day by 2018, to a total of about 5 million a day.