Evidence of meeting #34 for Environment and Sustainable Development in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was sites.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Scott Vaughan  Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Office of the Auditor General of Canada
  • Kimberley Leach  Principal, Office of the Auditor General of Canada
  • Bruce Sloan  Principal, Sustainable Development Strategies, Audits and Studies, Office of the Auditor General of Canada
  • Trevor Shaw  Principal, Office of the Auditor General of Canada

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Mark Warawa

We'll call the meeting to order.

I want to welcome the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, under the Office of the Auditor General of Canada, to report to the standing committee.

This is our 34th meeting of the standing committee.

Commissioner, we welcome you and those with you. We look forward to your report and then to questions following your report.

If you would proceed, you have up to 10 minutes. Thank you.

3:30 p.m.

Scott Vaughan Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Office of the Auditor General of Canada

Mr. Chair, thank you very much, and thank you for having us here.

I'm pleased to appear before the committee to present my spring 2012 report, which was tabled, as you know, in the House of Commons earlier this morning.

With me are Bruce Sloan and Kimberley Leach, as well as Trevor Shaw.

This is my final report under the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act. The government announced last December its withdrawal from the Kyoto protocol. However, as of today, the act remains in effect, and I'm thus required by law to report on the government's 2011 climate change plan.

We found that the government did not comply with the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act, primarily because the measures included in the plans will not ensure that Canada meets its Kyoto obligations, which is the purpose of the act.

Let me now turn to the government's current approach in meeting its target for greenhouse gas emission reductions of 17% by the year 2020.

The government intends to achieve that target through a sector-by-sector regulatory approach to lower greenhouse gas emissions. To date, two federal regulations are in place, with a projected reduction of between 11 million to 13 million tonnes by the end of this decade. Canada will need to reduce its emissions by more than 10 times that amount to meet its 2020 target.

Environment Canada's own forecast shows that in 2020, Canada's emissions will be 7% above the 2005 level, not 17% below it. Given the time it takes to develop, finalize, and implement regulations, and then to actually realize emission reductions, we do not believe that there is enough time to achieve the 2020 target.

We also found that the government's regulatory approach was not supported by an overall implementation plan that, for example, gives a detailed analysis of how different regulations will work together to meet the 2020 target.

The government said it was withdrawing from the Kyoto protocol because remaining in it would be too costly to the Canadian economy. We therefore expected that the government would have estimated how much it will cost to meet its target and identified the least costly options. We found that this has not yet been done.

Turning to our report on federal contaminated sites and their impacts, we found that the government has made progress in identifying some 22,000 contaminated sites across the country for which it has responsibility and has put in place good systems to classify sites and steps to manage them. To date, the government reports that nearly half the contaminated sites are closed.

We expect that dealing with the remaining 13,000 sites will prove to be a major challenge. The capacity to assess the remaining sites has been reduced, while there is a shortfall of $500 million to deal with those sites that have already been assessed for possible remediation. Of the billions of dollars available for contaminated sites, the majority of funding is now focused on four large, high-risk sites. It's therefore unclear how the thousands of other sites will be managed.

The government has reported its combined environmental liabilities at $7.7 billion. Many of these sites are buried and out of the public eye, but they will impose human health risks and environmental and financial burdens for generations to come. The government needs to assess the full impact of all federal contaminated sites on the public purse. It is mid-way through the program, and time for the government to take stock of how it intends to manage and pay for the remaining sites across the country.

This report also offers my perspective on the “jobs versus the environment” debate 20 years since the first Earth Summit in Rio.

Two decades ago, some feared that controlling pollution or protecting forests would stifle economic growth, cripple productivity, and suffocate innovation. But businesses are finding innovative ways to lower costs while meeting environmental targets.

As more and more businesses are mainstreaming environmental protection, I hope we can learn lessons from the past. Contaminated sites are a testament to poor planning, inadequate environmental assessment, and weak environmental regulations. These sites are an expensive reminder that future generations must live with mistakes we make today.

In closing, Mr. Chair, this committee may wish to follow up with officials from Environment Canada or other ministries mentioned in this report on specific steps they will be taking to address the issues raised in the chapters tabled today.

Mr. Chair, that concludes my comments. We're happy to take your questions.

Thank you.

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Mark Warawa

Thank you, Commissioner.

We'll begin our seven-minute round with Ms. Rempel.

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Calgary Centre-North, AB

Thank you, Commissioner Vaughan.

It's my understanding that the analysis you conducted regarding GHG emissions was based on a 2009 GHG emissions report. Is this correct?

3:35 p.m.

Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Office of the Auditor General of Canada

Scott Vaughan

Thank you for the question. I'll ask my colleague, Kimberley Leach, to answer it.

3:35 p.m.

Kimberley Leach Principal, Office of the Auditor General of Canada

It was in part, but it was mostly based on the Canada's Emissions Trends document, which was released by Environment Canada just last July.

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Calgary Centre-North, AB

Right, so that's two-year-old data. This report that you've based your analysis on, given that it was based on two-year-old data, would not have taken into account any regulatory plans, as they had not been issued yet. Is that correct?

3:35 p.m.

Principal, Office of the Auditor General of Canada

Kimberley Leach

No, I'm sorry. The 2009 report you're referring to is Canada's National Inventory Report, I believe, and that was just published in April of this year for 2010 data.

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Calgary Centre-North, AB

The data period that the report was based on was for what period?

3:35 p.m.

Principal, Office of the Auditor General of Canada

Kimberley Leach

Our report or...?

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Calgary Centre-North, AB

The data that you based the report on.

3:35 p.m.

Principal, Office of the Auditor General of Canada

Kimberley Leach

Our audit report was based on a number of different pieces of information and primarily on the emissions trends report.

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Calgary Centre-North, AB

What was the period that the emissions trends report covered?

3:35 p.m.

Principal, Office of the Auditor General of Canada

Kimberley Leach

That would have to be directed to Environment Canada. It was partly based on the National Inventory Report and Environment Canada's own projections.

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Calgary Centre-North, AB

So you can't comment at this time on what the period was for the data you based your report on.