Evidence of meeting #24 for Environment and Sustainable Development in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was change.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Claude Villeneuve  Biologist, University of Quebec at Chicoutimi
John Stone  Adjunct Research Professor, Carleton University
Ian Rutherford  Executive Director, Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society, Partnership Group for Science and Engineering
Richard Paton  President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Chemical Producers' Association
Paul Kovacs  Founder and Executive Director, Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction
Gordon Lloyd  Vice-President, Technical Affairs, Canadian Chemical Producers' Association

9 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Bob Mills

I would like to call the meeting to order and start off by welcoming Mr. Scarpaleggia as a permanent member of the environment committee.

9 a.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear!

9 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Bob Mills

I'd certainly like to welcome our guests.

Mr. Villeneuve is on the telephone and will be broadcast. In fact, it will be in translation. He's in Chicoutimi, but he will be on the phone.

Welcome, Mr. Villeneuve.

November 7th, 2006 / 9 a.m.

Claude Villeneuve Biologist, University of Quebec at Chicoutimi


9 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Bob Mills

He's there. Welcome.

We will begin with Mr. John Stone, a professor at Carleton University.

9 a.m.

John Stone Adjunct Research Professor, Carleton University

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

Let me introduce myself. I was for thirty years of my life a public servant. I retired eighteen months ago and have been on the Bureau of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, first for Working Group I, which is on science, and now for Working Group II, which is on impacts and adaptation. I hang my hat part of the time at Carleton University and some of the time with the International Development Research Centre.

Thank you very much, sir, and thank you very much, members of the committee, for the opportunity to appear before you to tell you some of the science that underlies the threat of climate change.

I would like to make four points.

First, we have, mainly through the burning of fossil fuels, taken the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide--one of the main greenhouse gases--to levels that the earth has not experienced for almost a million years. We are in unknown territory.

Second, recent global temperatures are higher than we have been able to determine over the last millennium. We have in fact detected global warming.

Third, the only way we can satisfactorily understand this change is by invoking the known characteristics and physics of the influence of greenhouse gases on the climate.

Fourth, we are now seeing some impacts occurring at a faster rate than we had previously anticipated, and the longer we delay action, the greater will be the risks and the more expensive will be the costs. In my view, there is an urgent need for action.

We can explain the threat of climate change either in simple terms or in terms of extraordinary technical detail. The climate system itself is extremely complex, containing many interacting and mostly non-linear processes. Nevertheless, our understanding is sufficient to tell us that increasing the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, as we have been doing by our burning of fossil fuels, will affect the radiative balance and hence the climate. This is a fundamental fact, based on well-accepted physics, that we cannot avoid. It's the reason I used the term “threat”.

The scientific understanding is not new. As long ago as 1824, the French mathematician, Fourier, discussed the link between the climate and the atmospheric concentration of certain gases. These gases, collectively known as greenhouse gases, act like a blanket around the earth. They're responsible for making this planet of ours inhabitable. Without them the world would be 32 degrees cooler. This hypothesis was taken up some 70 years later by a Swedish chemist, Arrhenius, who did some back-of-the-envelope calculations of how the earth's temperature would change with the doubling of the concentration of these greenhouses gases, a situation we are rapidly approaching.

Scientists put this issue of climate change on the international political agenda in the mid-1980s precisely because of their concern with the observed increases in the atmosphere of concentrations of carbon dioxide that were measured very carefully on Mauna Loa by Dr. Charles Keeling. The scientific concern was such that it dominated the Conference on the Changing Atmosphere that was held in Toronto in 1988. It also led the United Nations to take the initiative to establish the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, to provide governments with authoritative policy-relevant--but not policy-prescripted--assessments of the current state of our knowledge of climate change.

Now to my first point. Recently, scientists have extracted a three-kilometre-long core from the ice in the Antarctic. The snow that falls there each year captures within its crystals samples of the ambient air at the time it was deposited. Layers have built up one year at a time. By examining the air trapped in each layer, the scientists have been able to determine a record of past temperatures and concentrations of key greenhouse gases. They have now been able to take the record back some 630,000 years, covering several ice ages. These ice ages occur every 120,000 years or so and are forced by the orbital variations of the earth around the sun. The concentration has varied over time. It's been lowest during an ice age and highest during an interglacial period.

The important point to register is that the atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide have stayed between two bounds, never going above 280 parts per million. This was even so up until the mid 18th century when the Industrial Revolution began. Today we are at 380 parts per million, a 30% increase over the past 150 years. Those concentrations are still increasing.

By looking at the isotopic ratios of the carbon dioxide, we were able to establish that most of it originates from the burning of fossil fuels. We are clearly taking the atmosphere into uncharted territory. We know from basic physics that this will affect the climate. I won't claim that I can tell you exactly how the climate will change, but I can assert with very little doubt that change it will.

Let's turn to what we've observed already has happened to the climate and focus on the temperature, since it's the easiest parameter to understand. For the most recent period, we use direct thermometer readings. There's been a considerable amount of work to make sure this temperature record is homogenous and devoid of spurious effects such as enhanced warming in the cities. For earlier periods, before we had the thermometer, we have to rely on carefully calibrated proxy data such as tree rings and ice cores. Several groups of scientists have used this data to reconstruct the temperature record of the past 1,000 years. The general characteristics of these several reconstructions are all similar. Although some have greater variability--for example, at century time scales--than others, these reconstructions clearly show that there has been significant warming over the last 50 to 100 years, and, more importantly, that this warming is outside the range of the variability over the past 1,000 years.

As the IPCC reports have concluded, it is very likely that the recent warming is outside of the natural variability of the climate. It is for this reason that we believe we have indeed detected climate change. Now, attributing climate change to human activities is quite different and requires not only the use of such data but also climate models and looking for fingerprints in the past climate.

Our understanding and ability to model the climate has improved significantly over the last 10 to 15 years. We also know what have been the changes in the concentrations of greenhouse gases and aerosols in the atmosphere over the last 100 years. We also know what have been the changes in natural forcing, such as the sun's output and volcanic activity. We can feed this information into climate models and compare the results with the observed record. If we take natural forcing alone, the fit for the first half of this century is not bad, but it begins to deviate afterwards.

If instead we use both natural forcing and that due to greenhouse gases and aerosols, the fit is remarkably good. Indeed, the only way to reproduce the observed temperature change of the last 150 years is by introducing greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels and from land use change.

9:10 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Bob Mills

Excuse me, Mr. Stone. You are over ten minutes. Could you try to wrap up as quickly as you can, please?

9:10 a.m.

Adjunct Research Professor, Carleton University

John Stone

Let me just say a few words about the urgency of addressing climate change.

Last year, in preparation for the chairmanship of the G-8, the United Kingdom government organized a conference on dangerous climate change. The reference to “dangerous” is from article 2 of the framework convention, what some refer to as the ultimate objective--that is, to avoid dangerous interference with the climate system. One of the conclusions of that conference was that we are experiencing some impacts at a faster rate than was anticipated. We can see it in some ecosystems, but perhaps the clearest evidence comes from the acceleration of coastal glaciers in Antarctica and Greenland. In part, this is because we don't fully understand glacier physics, but it does underline that surprises are possible, and some of these surprises may take us past the point where the changes are reversible.

The longer we delay in taking action, the greater becomes the risk to ecosystems, to humans, to our societies and economies. In addition, the costs are likely to be greater. One reason for this is that the longer we delay action, the higher will be the concentrations from which we will have to make the reductions. Some scientists are now arguing that we may have as little as a decade to get on the right track to reduce our emissions and avoid dangerous climate change.

I do not wish to be an alarmist, but I do believe it is a scientist's duty to warn.

Thank you, sir.

9:10 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Bob Mills

Thank you.

I would remind our witnesses, and of course members, that I do have this little grey box here that times you, so I do know how long you've gone.

I would like to introduce Mr. Ian Rutherford from the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society.

9:10 a.m.

Ian Rutherford Executive Director, Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society, Partnership Group for Science and Engineering

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you, members of the committee, for the opportunity to make a presentation to this group on what I think is a very important subject, certainly very important for our society.

The Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society is a major non-governmental organization and it is the national society of individuals and organizations dedicated to advancing atmospheric and oceanic sciences and the related environmental disciplines in this country. We serve the interests of meteorologists, climatologists, oceanographers, limnologists, hydrologists, and cryospheric scientists throughout Canada, and indeed we have members internationally as well. We represent Canadian scientists carrying out research on the atmosphere, the oceans, and related environmental issues, including, of course, climate change. We have more than 800 members from Canada's major research centres, universities, private corporations, and government institutes. We think we're uniquely positioned to provide expert advice on the issue of climate change science.

We had a major scientific conference in Toronto last year at the beginning of June, and as a result of that conference we issued a position statement on climate change. The points I'm going to make this morning are essentially based on that statement, with a few additional wrinkles added to deal with developments since then. I'm going to talk about the state of the climate and climate science, I'll talk a bit about the link to air pollution, and I'll talk about the urgency of dealing with the greenhouse gas issue.

Climate change is happening now, both in Canada and around the world. As you've just heard, most of this change is attributable to human activities that have released greenhouse gases, notably carbon dioxide, but there are others, into the atmosphere in increasing amounts since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The effect of these additional greenhouse gases on the global heat balance is well known, it's basic physics, and it's now clearly detectable on continental and global scales.

The removal processes for carbon dioxide are relatively slow, and it eventually becomes fairly evenly mixed throughout the atmosphere. The mean lifetime for carbon dioxide is measured in decades to centuries. Once you put it into the atmosphere, it doesn't go away. This means that it takes a long time for the atmospheric burden of excess carbon dioxide to respond to changes in emissions. It takes a long time to build up and a long time to decline. It also means that the effects of carbon dioxide emissions are not local, but inevitably they will be felt globally. So it's quite different from other forms of so-called air pollution.

Another characteristic of the climate system is that the ocean component, because the earth is roughly 70% ocean, dominates climate processes, and it's the time scale of the oceans that dominates the time scale of climate change. The ocean has a very long response time to changes in the energy balance, because of its enormous heat capacity. So the climate system takes even longer to respond to changes in emissions than the CO2 content of the atmosphere. There are lags and lags. The changes in global temperature that are apparent today are the result of the accumulating burden of anthropogenic carbon dioxide in the atmosphere over many previous decades. It's not the result of what we're doing today, it's the accumulated burden. That's why there's an urgency to do something about it.

I want to say a few words about the link to air pollution. Human activities that release carbon dioxide, mostly the combustion of fossil fuels, also release other substances such as oxides of nitrogen and sulphur that lead to air pollution, with both direct and indirect effects on the health of ecosystems and human beings and other animals. These substances have a much shorter lifetime in the atmosphere; you can measure it in hours to days. Their effects are mostly local and are quickly reversed if you reduce emissions. They're relatively easy to deal with on a short time scale. Carbon dioxide is not.

Measures to reduce the emissions of substances that lead to this kind of air pollution will not result in the reduction of emissions of carbon dioxide unless they involve reducing the combustion of fossil fuels. Carbon dioxide is the inevitable chemical product of the combustion of carbon-containing fuels. You can't get away from it. Unless you capture it before release to the atmosphere, such combustion inevitably leads to an increase in atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide. If emissions of carbon dioxide continue to increase, they will lead to an increasing rate of buildup of carbon dioxide levels in the global atmosphere.

Even if emissions were to stabilize at current levels, carbon dioxide would continue to increase in the atmosphere and it would result in an increasing effect on global climate. We can't just stabilize and say we're okay. The climate is going to continue to react with past emissions, and current emissions are sufficient to keep the content rising. So even if emissions were to suddenly decrease to pre-industrial levels, the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere, and hence the climate, would take decades to centuries to return to pre-industrial conditions. Again, there's a long time lag in these things. That's why we think we need to take immediate action to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, to mitigate future climate change, and we must prepare for adapting to the climate change that has already been set in place by past emissions.

As just a few words on the climate convention and Kyoto Protocol, we advocate a coordinated global response to climate change. We urge all governments to work together toward a single international agreement to address it, as was recognized in the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The convention's Kyoto Protocol is an important first step towards reducing the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. However, the scientific evidence dictates that in order to stabilize the climate, global reductions in greenhouse gas emissions need to go far beyond those mandated under the Kyoto Protocol. We recognize the challenge of implementing the current agreement. Nonetheless, we urge Canada to contribute effectively.

It is to be noted as well that Canada has other obligations under articles 4, 5, and 6 of the climate convention and article 10 of the Kyoto Protocol regarding research on climate and systematic observations related to the climate system. We're not holding up our end of that either.

Canada has no choice but to adapt to present and future climate change, and we need a national adaptation strategy in order to do that. Further research is critical for making more accurate predictions of future climate on seasonal, decadal, and century time scales, for defining our options, for reducing the effects of climate change, and for understanding and dealing with its impacts specifically on Canada. Although it is a global problem, it affects different parts of the world unequally. Canada, and Canada's north, is one of the areas of the globe most affected by climate change, and we need to understand that better. We need more research, we need more data, and we need to support those activities.

That ends my presentation, Mr. Chair.

9:20 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Bob Mills

Thank you very much--and under time, thank you.

From the Canadian Chemical Producers' Association, we have Richard Paton.

9:20 a.m.

Richard Paton President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Chemical Producers' Association

My name is Richard Paton and I'm the president of the Canadian Chemical Producers' Association. With me is Gordon Lloyd, our vice-president of technical affairs, who I understand seems to very often appear in front of your committee.

Thank you for the opportunity for CCPA to appear in front of the committee to review Bill C-288 on the important issue of climate change.

CCPA is not here to speak for the industry in general, but we will talk a little about the overall issues facing our sector, in particular, and focus on the challenges and experiences of the chemical sector, which is Canada's second largest value-added manufacturer. This will perhaps provide members of the committee with an insight into how industry is trying to deal with this issue.

Our association recognized the concerns about climate change after the Rio de Janeiro convention around 1992, and as a result, we started to report and monitor our emissions of greenhouse gases starting in 1992. In 1995 we also developed a policy on climate change to help our companies address this issue and to reduce emissions. We've been involved in this issue for a long time.

Because we take this issue seriously, we believe governments must develop policy approaches that are sound, realistic, and effective. This will require a significant change in how Canadians live and will require a significant economic intervention as well as provincial coordination.

Since our government agreed to the stabilization target in the mid-1990s, we have yet to see any program to meet this commitment that is either workable or effective at achieving the environmental priorities for Canadians. These programs all had the potential to create grave problems for the economy and, had they been implemented, probably would not have helped achieve environmental priorities either.

We thus have serious concerns about a bill that proposes that the federal government adopt the Kyoto targets without a clear idea of how this could be accomplished and the impact this would have on the Canadian economy or society.

On a note about our association, if our association was given credit for the early action we took as an association since 1992, we would meet the Kyoto targets for our sector. However, no proposed program has recognized this contribution.

As you can see from the charts that I believe you have, the top chart shows that Kyoto called for a 6% reduction in greenhouse gases from 1990 to 2010. On a CO2 equivalent basis, CCPA members will achieve a 56% reduction by 2010.

By 2000, CCPA members had already reduced GHG emissions by 43%. While CCPA members' GHG emissions will have declined 56% by 2010, our output will have increased 26% from 1992. We're creating a high-intensity improvement basis of around 65% improvement.

We've been reducing emissions for over a decade and will continue to make improvements. I think how we have done that is instructive for how you deal with this issue. It's been done gradually. We've been making improvements of about 1% to 1.3% a year in greenhouse gas performance. We've been making those improvements linked to our economic objectives, as well as reducing other pollutants linked to clean air. We've continued to make that kind of progress. These investments were aimed at reducing energy costs, which have economic benefits for companies and a return on investment.

We also had one huge technological breakthrough at DuPont that is limited to one plant and is a “once in a generation” kind of improvement. It illustrates that these can happen, but they happen very rarely.

Our environmental performance is not unusual for large manufacturers. As the third chart illustrates, you'll see a chart that was developed by the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters association showing general manufacturing progress on greenhouse gases.

I know in our parliamentary day, many parliamentarians were quite surprised to find that manufacturers are generally 7% below the 1990 levels, and large manufacturers as a whole, steel, aluminum, and others, will be 20% below the Kyoto targets by 2003.

There's a lesson to be learned here. The lesson is that capital investment is the key to reducing emission intensity in manufacturing and, in the longer run, the key to absolute emissions. Over a long period of time, investment works to reduce pollutants and greenhouse gases, it works to reduce energy costs, and it helps productivity. This has all been done without regulation and without targets.

Recognition of this fact is a critical foundation to build climate change policy. As you can see from the second chart in your package, also done by the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters association, there is a very strong link. The chart shows that as the investment goes up the top curve, the emissions intensity performance showed by the bars that go down improves substantially. On average, every billion dollars manufacturers invest in new technology and structures between 1990 and 2003 resulted in a 0.2% annual reduction in their emissions intensity.

Unfortunately, as you can see in this chart, something happened around 2000. Improvements in emissions intensity slowed as manufacturers cut back on capital spending, and this reflects the impact of the high-dollar energy costs and Asian competition, which reduced available capital for investments.

Targets for greenhouse gases can be set if they fit with the performance of our industry and with natural investment cycles. This is a win-win for industry and for the environment, but it takes time to make these technological changes and it takes money.

An important contribution this committee could make to Canadian climate change policy would be to recognize the link between new capital investment and improved environmental performance on greenhouse gases and other pollutants generally. It's extremely important to understand the realities and restraints on how companies invest capital and the technological realities of reducing greenhouse gases.

Why are we concerned about this bill if we've had all that great performance? At this point in time, no one can seriously believe that Canada can meet its Kyoto targets by reducing emissions. It's basically just too late. Potential for action that would meet these Kyoto targets by actual reduction is now long past. It's a long-term problem; it's going to take a longer-term solution. Ensuring that the Kyoto targets are met would require Canada to purchase credits abroad. To look back at the Liberal platform, that's the plan that was basically going to have to happen, at a cost of around $5 billion a year over the Kyoto commitment period of 2008 to 2012.

The math is very simple. According to the previous government's projections, Canada was about 270 million tonnes short of our target in 2005. That number is increasing as the economy grows. The Environment Commissioner used a $20 tonne as a base price for purchasing carbon. You just multiply 270 times $20 and you get $5.7 billion. Maybe we can do better than that; maybe we'll do worse. The number is going to be $4 billion or it's going to be $6 billion, but it's a big number, and we're going to have to deal with that number in order to be talking about meeting the Kyoto targets.

The industry committee's work has noted that the manufacturing sector is in trouble right now. We've seen that with pulp and paper plants closing, which I know many members have commented on in the House. The huge cost of buying foreign credits, even when our performance in the manufacturing area is remarkably good--in fact, it's probably going to be below Kyoto--would have significant impact economically and reduce our ability to attract further investment. It may also reduce our capacity to meet other environmental objectives relating to clean air and water.

I'm sure some of you will debate the economic impact in trying to meet the Kyoto targets. CCPA is not the group proposing this bill. The onus is on the proponents to demonstrate that it will not have serious consequences for the economy and on individual Canadians. As far as I know, no substantial analysis has been done that would give me any comfort that the bill has taken into account these potential consequences. In fact, I've not seen a legitimate and credible analysis by government to date of the potential impact of meeting Kyoto targets. Until that analysis has been completed, our association cannot support this approach or this bill.

My final point is that addressing climate change in a serious way, as is needed, means looking at what can be done realistically in the short, medium, and long term and recognizing that we are committed to this issue in the long term. The government's notice of intent with respect to the clean air bill does set out a framework that could be used to do just that if it's implemented effectively. It recognizes that we need an integrated approach to clean air and climate change, to working with the provinces, and this needs to be an approach that recognizes the critical role of investment and business cycles.

In conclusion, we believe that to make progress there has to be a carefully developed path to achieve reduction targets. We have not seen a workable plan yet. Until it is clear how Canada can meet such targets and at what cost to economic, fiscal, and environmental priorities, we cannot support this bill. After ten years of discussion on Kyoto, I have not yet seen a government do this kind of assessment. Without any target, it's going to be unrealistic and probably counterproductive.

The evidence illustrates that technological change and capital investment are the key drivers to greenhouse gas reductions. This is something that takes time and cannot be legislated into existence by the government. Right now the technology is simply not available to economically capture greenhouse gases, particularly in a short timeframe. There is no program that adequately addresses this fact, and to that end the alternative is to bear the huge cost of purchasing foreign credits that have no environmental benefit for Canada or Canadians in terms of absolute reduction of greenhouse gases.

Thank you very much for your time.

9:30 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Bob Mills

Thank you very much.

We'll go to the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, Paul Kovacs, please.

9:30 a.m.

Paul Kovacs Founder and Executive Director, Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

This is the first time I've been invited to appear before the committee, and I thank you very much for this opportunity to share my views and the institute's views on these important issues.

I just want to take a brief moment to introduce myself and the institute. I'm an economist. For the last 15 years, my research has focused on extreme events--tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, and those sorts of risks. Our focus is on trying to promote loss prevention. What actions can reduce the adverse impact of these kinds of extreme events?

Our institute has had support from, and we were founded by, the Canadian insurance companies. We're based at the University of Western Ontario, and we have a large team of researchers--and a laboratory--trying to understand how to minimize the risks of extreme climatic events.

Today I wanted to share two key messages with the committee. First, there's growing evidence of the benefits of early action by Canada and Canadians to address change in the climate. In particular, our research has focused on the increasing frequency and severity of large storms--they're already increasing in Canada--and action is urgently required to protect Canadian lives and our property from these extreme events.

Second, a comprehensive climate strategy should include participation in international efforts to mitigate the adverse impacts on future generations, but it should also be combined with a domestic plan to adapt to the local impacts.

Bill C-288 and the federal government's green plan focus on managing future emissions, but both fail to have a comprehensive strategy that includes adaptation.

For the past decade, I've been part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This is the United Nations' process, which John Stone talked about earlier, that is monitoring and evaluating the emerging climate research.

The IPCC has been warning that in a warmer world there would be more weather extremes. For Canadians, these are some of the risks we should anticipate. There will be more large Atlantic hurricanes, hurricanes like Hurricane Juan, which went through downtown Halifax and became Canada's most costly hurricane. There will be more wildfires that could grow out of control and get into urban areas, wildfires like the wildfire in Kelowna that destroyed more than 200 homes and became Canada's most costly wildfire. There could be more heavy downbursts, the kinds of events that led to record flood damage in Alberta recently and also to Ontario's most costly storm last year. There will be growing threats to human health from summer heat waves, and there were record heat health alerts in Ontario in 2005 and in Alberta this year. There will be more drought events. We've had several billion-dollar drought events in Alberta recently. There will be more landslides and avalanches in particular areas, and recently there have been deadly landslides and avalanches in British Columbia, Alberta, and Quebec. And there will be more disruption of our transportation networks.

The short message is that this is happening now, and the research is saying that we will see more in the next period of time in a warming world.

The insurance industry has been on the front lines dealing with the increase in extreme climatic events evident across Canada and around the world. Some of the actions taken by the insurance industry may illustrate some of the important efforts that Canada and Canadians can take to deal with the change that is happening to our climate.

Something is happening in the insurance industry. First, the insurance industry is paying a lot more in disaster claims. There's been a twenty-fold increase in payments by insurance companies over the last thirty years worldwide. In Canada, last year was the highest payout year ever. Several billion dollars were paid by insurance companies to Canadian homeowners and businesses because of damage that had occurred.

Second, insurance companies are changing their practices. They're adapting. In some areas, like Florida, where there's been a significant surprise, or unanticipated, increase in activity, insurance prices are going up. There are various other ways that insurance companies have changed their practices to reflect what they're learning about the new climate.

In addition, the insurance industry is investing in research. They're supporting our institute. They've been active for more than a decade in our work, trying to understand what's happened to the climate and what can be done to reduce the negative impacts.

The insurance industry has also been fairly outspoken about public policy actions that can be taken to minimize the adverse impact of extreme events. They've been fairly outspoken in terms of their praise of those governments in Canada that are taking positive action. Good examples of enlightened policy have recently been introduced in Quebec, Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia. A number of provinces are showing some real leadership here, but the federal government could play a bigger role.

Because actions needed to bring about meaningful reductions in greenhouse gas emissions will take many years to realize, it is critical that the international mitigative actions are supported by local adaptive actions, actions that will deal with the adverse impacts that are happening now. Near-term investments to build resilient communities are crucial over the next twenty to fifty years, while we wait for the international mitigative efforts to have an impact.

Examples of adaptive actions are taking place not necessarily because of support from the federal government. The insurance industry, for example, has taken action not because the government encouraged them or told them what to do, but because they just got on with business. And while some are adapting without help and guidance from government, there still is a very important role for government—in particular, I believe, a role for the federal government—to play to support adaptive actions.

Here are some illustrations of what the federal government could do. The first thing is to provide climate information, local climate predictions, and other risk management tools that would help decision-making by individuals, by business, by others, to better cope with the change that's taking place.

In addition, the government is investing billions of dollars in public infrastructure. It's modernizing building codes in a way that influences private investment decisions. It's important that public infrastructure building codes and other standards not only reflect historic climate, but future climate, and that we spend the money appropriately so that there will be long-standing positive benefits for all Canadians.

The government has an important role to play in protecting climate-sensitive public goods. Here we're talking about coastal regions that are vulnerable all around the country, and the federal government should be more aggressively supporting embedding this protection role in emergency management efforts.

The government has a role to play in making sure the adverse impact of these changes is shared and is not disproportionately on those who are most disadvantaged. And the government has a potential role to support research in these areas.

To conclude, again, I thank you very much for the opportunity to participate. There were two key messages that I was looking to share with you today. The first is growing evidence that early action is important. There are more extremes already occurring in Canada and we need to take action. The second is a comprehensive strategy that not only would deal with Canada participating in international efforts to reduce emissions, but also include an adaptive strategy. Adaptation is the only response available to reduce the adverse impacts of climate change over the next several decades before the mitigative measures take effect.

Thank you.

9:40 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Bob Mills

Good. Thank you, Mr. Kovacs.

I'll now call on Claude Villeneuve.

Welcome to our committee, sir.

9:40 a.m.

Biologist, University of Quebec at Chicoutimi

Claude Villeneuve

Good morning, and thank you for virtually welcoming me to your committee. I'm going to address the committee in French. However, I can answer any questions in English.

Allow me to introduce myself: my name is Claude Villeneuve, and I am a professor at the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi. I've been interested in climate change since 1979. My first research interest was fish, but as acid rain destroyed the fish, I developed an interest in the causes of acid rain and, from the causes of acid rain, in air pollution in general and climate change in particular.

I published my first book in 1990, in which I adopted a skeptical position. In 2001, I published a second, in which I concluded that it was necessary to adapt to climate change because we were already living with it, as the first speaker showed. In 2005, I published a third, to which I'll refer a number of times in support of my remarks.

So I've been asked to discuss Kyoto, the urgency to act. The first reason why it is urgent that we act is the scope of the challenge. The challenge was very well illustrated at Exeter in February 2005: on a global scale, we must reduce global emissions by 25 billion tonnes a year, relative to the reference scenario, until 2054 in order to limit global temperature increases to two degrees in the twenty-first century. With all the uncertainty associated with that and with the thermal system, to which the previous speakers referred, this is an immense challenge, particularly in a situation in which the global population at that time will be approximately nine billion inhabitants. So we still have three billion new greenhouse gas producers to welcome to the world.

Kyoto is a small part of the challenge. In fact, it's a part that represents so little that, even if we manage to achieve the Kyoto objective in full, with the participation of the countries that have ratified the protocol, we won't affect the rate of increase of greenhouse gas emissions. It represents a reduction of 5.2 percent of 35 percent of global emissions.

Canada, as everyone knows, is a poor player in this new part, under global governance, with, according to the latest figures, 270 million tonnes a year to recover relative to its objective and likely 300 million tonnes in 2008, since it was the 2004 figures that were released a little earlier this year. So from 2008 to 2012, we in Canada will have to find a minimum of between 1.35 billion and 1.5 billion tonnes of CO2, assuming we can level off our emissions immediately.

The plan that the government published two or three weeks ago contains no short-term measures that would suggest to us that we can achieve this objective. It's clear that Kyoto 2 is the first of a very long series that won't necessarily be spread over five-year reference periods, but by the 2050 horizon, we would have to do at least 30 times Kyoto in order to be able to meet the challenge. So that's my first observation: the scope of the challenge is very great.

The second reason why Kyoto is urgent is Canada's inability to meet its commitments between 2008 and 2012. I mentioned the extent of the challenge of 1.5 billion tonnes. How are we equipped? Very poorly.

The report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Johanne Gélinas, which was tabled in the House of Commons this fall, provides a list of policies that have failed since 1997 in an effort by the Canadian government to put in place an effective system of measures and greenhouse gas reductions.

Paragraph 1.10 states that the six percent reduction objective was set without a preliminary study — you could say it was set “one evening at a party” — to limit the objectives of the United States and Europe. For example, that same evening, Australia was a little wiser and set its objective at 10 percent. It must be understood that the government had no obligation to set a reduction objective at that time. If it had conducted serious studies, it would have set a much more realistic objective.

Second, government intervention since 1998 has been characterized by procrastination. The plans that were published in 2002 and 2005 were hastily put together, and that's quite clear in the report of the Commissioner of Sustainable Development. The government refused to take effective action for political reasons. Reference was made to pan-Canadian policies. For example, it wanted to apply the same rules to Quebec on electricity reduction, whereas electricity in Quebec produces very little greenhouse gas, and those investments were therefore ineffective. The government should have been much more flexible much sooner. I remind you that Quebec already had a strategy in 1998 to which the Canadian government could have contributed, which would definitely have yielded more interesting results.

The government indulged in a lot of wishful thinking, in saying in Mr. Dion's last plan, for example, that Canadians would provide significant quantities of emissions reductions to the Climate Fund Agency. The current objective is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10 tonnes a year for every Canadian, if we want to achieve the Kyoto objectives. However, that's a mathematical impossibility.

The Kyoto Protocol must not be viewed as a goal in itself. Kyoto is a training session for the real game. Earlier I referred to global governance for horizon 2050. Kyoto is the reference period for putting tools in place and showing that they can be usable and effective. We have to think that a thermal power station built today, like the Bécancour plant which was built in Quebec last year, will still be emitting one million tonnes a year in 2050. If we don't show any good will today in implementing greenhouse gas reduction measures, it will be impossible for us to be credible to the international community in negotiating a better position in the subsequent stages.

By the horizon of 2050, the federal government's last plan stated that Canada would have to reduce its emissions by 65 percent. That's extremely hard to believe, if we consider that Canada is an exporter country and that it is considered an empty country. If we use the Radanne classification, which was used and explained in my book, Canada has much too small a domestic market for its citizens to offset the greenhouse gases caused by its exports, whether it be exports of aluminum, metals, paper or oil.

The fourth reason why it's extremely important to act immediately is adaptation issues.

Mr. Kovacs mentioned adaptation before disasters occur. We have populations at risk. It is necessary to rebuild and repair infrastructures. Erosion problems, flooding problems which are already very much present, freeze-thaw cycles, low water levels and drinking water problems anticipated in the next 10 years call for major investments.

The question of energy production is also extremely important.

There are research problems. I sit on the scientific committee of Ouranos Consortium. Last week, we had a symposium of the status of research on adaptation to climate change. I invite committee members to take a look at that work. There is an enormous amount of work to do in this area, and there are very major issues.

One subject that is more similar to my work is biodiversity across Canada, which is changing and which will undergo very great change along with climate change.

The fact that we have not yet seriously addressed the Kyoto issues has made us miss absolutely important opportunities. Some businesses and industrial sectors have been very proactive, as the chemical sector has shown us. Unfortunately, we are not equipped to recognize the progress achieved in that area.

Some companies are conducting research and development on CO2 sequestration, enzymatic capture of CO2 and development of more efficient engines, and do not receive research grants, despite the fact they are experiencing financial difficulties and have trouble being globally competitive.

We're working on the development of methodologies to offset greenhouse gases, and, without a defined framework, those methodologies must be recognized internationally because we in Canada are unable to have those methodologies recognized.

For example, we have doubly offset the emissions from the Conference of the Parties last year, and Environment Canada wasn't equipped to validate what we did.

9:50 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Bob Mills

Mr. Villeneuve, I would remind you that you're at about eleven and three-quarters minutes. Could you start to wrap up, please?

9:50 a.m.

Biologist, University of Quebec at Chicoutimi

Claude Villeneuve

Thank you, sir.

So these are missed opportunities, not to mention the carbon market.

I'd like to close by saying that uncertainty kills the economy. Clear rules make it possible to integrate costs. I would especially like to call on committee members to consider one thing: I've been a grandfather for two months, and you're playing with my granddaughter's life.

Thank you.

9:50 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Bob Mills

Thank you very much.

We'll begin with Mr. Godfrey and Mr. Silva.

9:55 a.m.


John Godfrey Liberal Don Valley West, ON

Thank you very much, everybody. It was a most helpful session.

I have two questions, and these are addressed to Messrs. Stone, Rutherford, Kovacs, or Villeneuve, whoever wishes to answer.

My first question relates to Mr. Paton's presentation in terms of the difficulties he sees in moving in a way that responds to the urgency you describe. I would like to know what your reaction is to his difficulties or the case he made, in terms of how the two balance off—the urgency you describe and the problems he describes.

The second question relates to the bill we're studying, Bill C-288, which is simply an attempt to increase accountability in terms of our obligations under Kyoto. Imperfect though Kyoto may be, do you think this is a helpful way of increasing the urgency of our response to the urgency of the problem you describe?

I'll turn it over to whoever would like to respond from among the four I asked.

9:55 a.m.

Adjunct Research Professor, Carleton University

John Stone

I will try, with some trepidation. I am not an economist.

The issue, in my view, is climate change. As Dr. Villeneuve said, Kyoto is a first small step. Tackling climate change requires long-term, medium-term, and short-term targets and actions. As Professor Villeneuve mentioned, if we want to stabilize the climate, it's going to take a reduction of between 60% to 80%.

Kyoto can be interpreted as giving guidance to short-term actions. It provides us with the chance to experiment, to learn. It gives a signal, and with the right amount of will and political instruments, it allows us to attempt to in fact meet those commitments.

Finally, just to conclude, I will mention the example of British Petroleum. A year or so ago, I was invited to visit them to talk about climate change and the science of it. John Browne is the chief executive officer of British Petroleum, and in the mid-1990s he committed British Petroleum to return their emissions to 1990 levels by 2010. They achieved it in 2001, and they added $600 million to the value of the company.

Thank you.

9:55 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Bob Mills

I would ask our panel to keep the answers as short as they can, just so we get the maximum number of questions.

Dr. Rutherford.

9:55 a.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society, Partnership Group for Science and Engineering

Ian Rutherford

I really do not have a lot to add. Like Dr. Stone, I'm not an economist; I'm a meteorologist. I'm quite willing to comment on the science, but I would not really want to comment on the economics of trying to do this, that, or the other thing. I would leave that to the economists.

The point is, though, that there is an urgency to act, and to act quickly, unless you're willing to accept the consequences of longer-term, built-in climate change going on for centuries. That may be a decision that society would want to take, but that's not for me to say. All I can say is that the science tells us that if we continue on the path we're on, there will be certain consequences.

I'm fully cognizant of the difficulty of shifting a human economy that is so energy-dependent to other sources of energy or becoming less energy-dependent. On the other hand, I'm struck by the fact that Mr. Paton mentioned that some industries have already met or exceeded the Kyoto targets. In fact, they're distressed that they're not getting credit for doing so. They're not that difficult to meet, at least in certain sectors. It's understandably difficult for Canada, as a country with a highly energy-intensive economy that is growing, to meet them. But our energy sector is not only growing, it's producing increasing amounts of greenhouse gases, and that is a major problem that has to be dealt with in this country.

Whether meeting Kyoto is a good first step or not, I'm not sure. I think we have to do far more and we have to do it more quickly. I'll leave it to others to figure out how we do it.

Thank you.

10 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Bob Mills

We'll go to Mr. Kovacs.

10 a.m.

Founder and Executive Director, Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction

Paul Kovacs

If I can speak very briefly to the second question, I am an economist. I guess economists speak on most issues or something. I'm not quite certain what the reference to the profession is about.

I believe very much that it's good economics to set targets and measure performance against targets. I think it's good politics as well. The spirit of Bill C-288 to do that is a very positive thing. I only remind the committee that in addition to Canada ratifying Kyoto, Canada also ratified earlier the Framework Convention on Climate Change. I think that's actually a more important document, and that was much of what Professor Villeneuve talked about.

The bigger goal is the climate change convention. It deals with issues like adaptation and another set of issues, including informing the public about progress. To measure progress against the climate change convention would actually contribute more to this issue.

Thank you.