Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Good morning and bonjour.
I'm very pleased to be here today, and I'm pleased to join you as always. I look forward to good collaboration with the committee.
Since I last appeared before this committee last March to speak to you about the department's achievements and main estimates for 2007-08, much has happened.
At my last appearance, I spoke about our spending commitments and I explained how the funds would be shared between Environment Canada, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy.
I also mentioned at the time that the Government of Canada was about to unveil the most comprehensive environmental plan ever produced by a Canadian government to tackle climate change.
Climate change is an important issue and of great influence to all of us here in Canada. Indeed, as I've said before, it's one of the greatest threats, certainly the greatest ecological threat, facing our world today. Canada, perhaps more than any other country, has been impacted greatly already by the effects of climate change. You just have to look at some of the effects we see right across our great country. In British Columbia, the devastating impact of the pine beetle has created serious environmental problems and has severely damaged our great forests. In the north, melting permafrost threatens important infrastructure causing roads to buckle and schools to slide off their foundations. In urban areas, more and more we are fighting smog days affecting the health of some of our most vulnerable citizens—Canadian children, the elderly, and those with respiratory problems. It also costs our economy greatly in the number of sick days and in lost productivity.
These examples help demonstrate that climate change is the challenge of our time, and it is why this government is making it its goal to take real, positive action against harmful greenhouse gases and air pollution. We're not only taking action at home but with our global partners as well. We will work in concert with the developed and developing countries around the world, as in the G-8 plus five.
Today I'd like to spend a few moments explaining some of the details of our plan announced last month. “Turning the Corner: An Action Plan to Reduce Greenhouse Gases and Air Pollution”, is about responsibility. It's about showing the world that when it comes to environmental protection, Canada can do more than just talk a good game. For the first time ever, Canada's national government is requiring the industrial community to reduce greenhouse gases and air pollution by implementing mandatory targets by which industry must abide. That's an unprecedented step in Canada, but I believe a necessary one.
For more than a decade in Canada, emissions have risen significantly. Greenhouse gases are now almost 33% above our Kyoto target. That's alarmingly high, although figures show that we are at least beginning to make small strides in the right direction. Data in our annual national greenhouse gas inventory for 2005, which last week we submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, showed a marginal increase in Canada's emissions from 2003 to 2004 and no increase between 2004 and 2005. I'm sure the previous government was all about trying to prove it had green credentials, but the reality is the slowdown in emissions was the result of action taken by the provinces to reduce coal-fired generation and increase nuclear and hydroelectricity generation.
It is the intention of Canada's new government to continue in this direction with its ambitious action plan and to continue to collaborate with the provinces and the territories to reduce greenhouse gases and emissions into the atmosphere.
In fact, the most recent budget includes an extra $5 billion for provincial clean air and climate change initiatives.
We are giving Canada a new direction and we are focussing on concrete progress. Our measures are balanced but rigorous and will translate into absolute reductions of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada and immediate health benefits for our citizens. Our plan will not only lead to significant progress in our fight against climate change and air pollution, but it will also put Canada on track to become a clean energy superpower.
Our industrial targets, combined with our new clean energy and clean transportation initiatives, as well as new infrastructure investments, such as carbon capture and storage, will bring down Canada's greenhouse gas emissions by 150 megatonnes from current levels by 2020. That's an absolute 20% reduction.
We chose 2006 as the base year because we want to measure real reduction from where we are today. Using 2006 as the starting point helps to provide accountability to Canadians, and it gives us a tangible baseline against which to measure our progress.
Although a 20% reduction is a realistic objective, it won't be easy to get there. Industry will obviously bear a heavy burden. That's only fair, as it accounts for half of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution.
But we wouldn't set our targets without also setting up mechanisms to help industry comply. So they will have various options at their disposal. As I mentioned last month, in order to comply with our regulations, firms will be able to, most importantly, make in-house reductions, take advantage of domestic trading and offsets, use the Kyoto Protocol's clean development mechanism, and invest in a technology fund.
In the longer term, we will look at future linkages with emissions trading systems in the United States, particularly in California and the northeastern states, and quite possibly in Mexico too. But before we proceed down that path, we'll be making sure that an emissions trading system is first and foremost in the best interests of our country and its people.
From an air pollution perspective, we intend to set overall mixed emission caps for air pollutants that cause smog and acid rain, with the goal of cutting industrial air pollution by as much as 50% as early as 2012 and no later than 2015.
We are going to fight emissions that are produced by cars, trucks, and airplanes, which account for one quarter of our country's emissions.
We will reduce air emissions from consumer and commercial products by strengthening energy efficient standards and by taking action on products such as paints, coatings, cleaners, and personal care products that contain volatile organic matter that causes smog.
We will also set performance standards for all lighting that would phase out the use of inefficient incandescent light bulbs by 2012.
Our government will also make new regulations to limit the volatile organic compound contents of commercial and consumer products.
Strong environmental regulations to reduce greenhouse gases and air pollutants will inevitably come at a cost, a cost all Canadians will help to bear. However, these costs, I believe, are manageable and can be offset by the health and environmental benefits that our plan will create in the medium term.
Our plan will generate significant new business opportunities, whether through the development and implementation of carbon capture and storage technologies, renewable energy, or the significant gains to be added in the areas of agriculture and landfill gas offset projects. Indeed, it will send market signals to encourage all businesses to become more energy efficient, improving the environment as a whole, as well as improving individual corporate bottom lines.
In addition, the plan provides businesses with the long-term certainty and time needed to adjust and align environmental investments with their capital turnover cycles.
Since I unveiled the “Turning the Corner” action plan, Canada's new government has faced some criticism. Our detractors say that the government doesn't understand the urgency of addressing climate change. I believe, Mr. Chair, that is nonsense.
Climate change is a serious threat to Canadians and to the Canadian way of life. That's why this government is the first to regulate mandatory reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. For the first time in Canada's history, greenhouse gas emissions will stop going up and will actually begin to go down.
We're embarking on an ambitious agenda to tackle climate change and to clean the air we breathe. Greenhouse gases and air pollution share many common sources. By coordinating regulations to reduce them both, Canadians will have a cleaner country both now and well into the future.
Some have suggested otherwise, but the fact is we're bringing forward tough regulations on all industries across the board. Canada's new government believes the polluter should pay, so we've set targets for all major industrial sectors regardless of their mandate and regardless of where they're located. Oil and gas, forest products, refining, smelting, mining—you name it, it's covered.
Our emission targets will be backed by the full force of the law, and now we are replacing voluntary agreements with mandatory reductions in key sectors. Remember when former Minister of the Environment, Stéphane Dion, said “We know that agreements can work when they are voluntary”? Mr. Chair, we need to move beyond voluntary agreements and reach mandatory reductions.
Failure by companies to meet our requirements will be an offence. The Canadian Environmental Protection Act has teeth to ensure compliance. If Canadian companies don't follow our plan, they'll do so at their own peril. Critics may say otherwise, but the fact is we're following the strategic environmental assessment process mandated.
First of all, in announcing our plan, we have provided an initial analysis of the economic, environmental, and health impacts of the proposed regulations. We will continue to refine that analysis as we work to consult on the framework and develop specific sectoral regulations.
Secondly, I believe critics are confused about the requirement for strategic environmental assessments for federal policy development and a cost-benefit analysis for federal regulations. I encourage members to read the related cabinet directives, but in the meantime I'm happy to clarify.
In assessing the environmental impacts of policy proposals, the cabinet directive on strategic environmental assessment requires that government decisions be informed by an understanding of the scope and nature of the likely environmental effects, the need for mitigation, and the likely importance of any adverse environmental effects.Our “Turning the Corner” plan is in full compliance with that directive.
We have gone further than that by publicly reporting the results of our assessment of the environmental impacts of our plan by releasing a detailed review of the associated economic costs and of the health impacts with our “Turning the Corner” materials.
We did not see such analysis with the Project Green plan. Further, this initiative has been developed in full compliance with a new cabinet directive on streamlining regulation. We are now in the process of finalizing the specific approach to implement our plan, including validating the air pollutant targets with industry.
Once we receive input from stakeholders and the regulations start being drafted, a full cost-benefit analysis, of course, will be undertaken as required under the federal government's regulatory process. The results of this analysis will be incorporated within the regulatory impact analysis statement that accompanies all federal regulation.
Before I go any further, let's look again at the 2005 Project Green and compare it to our plan. While we retain the emissions intensity approach to greenhouse gas targets that had been included in the Stéphane Dion plan, our targets are much more stringent. Just do the math. Project Green asks for a flat 12% reduction in emissions intensity from existing facilities. Our plan starts with an 18% reduction, increasing to 26% by 2015 and 33% by 2020.
As did Project Green, we exempted fixed process emissions from our emission reduction target. This is because these emissions are determined by the industrial process, which is often linked to the chemical relations, and there is no way of reducing them other than through cutbacks to production. Also, we considered it important to recognize those companies that had taken action beyond “business as usual” practices to reduce their emissions. We have therefore set aside 15 megatonnes for early action. Some will argue that 15 megatonnes is not enough. In response, I would make two points. First, it's 15 megatonnes more than what was included in Project Green. Second, I believe it represents a reasonable balance between recognizing good past action and ensuring we get the emissions reductions we need going forward.
Some of the financial commitments made in recent years also make a compelling case in favour of the government's environmental record. Between 1997 and 2003, the government announced $3.7 billion in financial commitments to address climate change, while Budget 2005 set aside an additional $2.46 billion. Of the initial $3.7 billion, federal departments dispersed only $1.35 billion from 1997 to 2003.
The current government has invested more than $3.3 billion on clean air and climate change initiatives this fiscal year. I want to emphasize to the committee that with the pending budget and main estimates approvals, Canada's new government will spend more money addressing the concerns of Canadians about air pollution and greenhouse gases in 2007-08 than the last government did in any of their previous budgets.
Budget 2007 also demonstrated our commitment to the environment with an investment of $4.5 billion to clean our air and water, to manage the legacy of chemical substances, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and to protect our natural environment. Combined with over $4.7 billion in investments made since 2006, the resulting investments in the environment total over $9 billion. Of that $9 billion, $7 billion will be spent on climate change alone, while the remaining money will go toward other important components of our plan, including clean water, our chemical and toxics strategy, and others.
Already, we have provided $1.5 billion to the provinces and territories to support concrete energy efficiency technology and other projects they've identified to achieve real reductions in air pollutants and in greenhouse gases. Some provinces have already taken action. For example, just before we left government in Ontario, we moved to close the Lakeview Generating Station, one of the highest polluting sources in Canada. Why? Because Lakeview was outdated and it was the right thing to do.
We also supported bringing more nuclear power back online in a refurbishment of reactors like Bruce and Pickering. These plants had generated approximately 18,000 gigawatts of power back online to the Ontario power grid in 2006 alone. That's a marked improvement over the disappointing reign of our predecessors. Unfortunately, there is still work to be done, for example, with coal-fired plants. The five other remaining coal-fired plants in Ontario emitted approximately 29 megatonnes of greenhouse gases in 2005. That's up from 26.5 megatonnes in 2004.
Although we inherited a less than ideal situation when we were elected, I can't take responsibility for Liberal government inaction. All I can do is tell you that we're going forward. Canada's new government is assuming its responsibilities to the Kyoto Protocol, to the international community, and most importantly to Canadians.
Let me repeat once again, and hopefully once and for all, that our government still supports the protocol. Our issue is not with the treaty. Frankly, we don't even take issue with the targets. It's simply a question of timing. The previous government led us so far off the path that we can't possibly get online in time to meet our initial 2008-2012 obligation—that's it, that's all. Our issue isn't with Kyoto; our issue is with the fact that we cannot unfortunately turn back the hands of time, Mr. Chair.
To meet its Kyoto target through the 2008-2012 period, Canada would need to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by an annual average of 33% beginning next year and for each of the following four years. There is no precedent for the pace of technological and economic changes that would be required for Canada to reduce emissions this quickly. Pursuing a balanced approach that recognizes the urgent need to act on the environment while also respecting a responsibility to keep Canadian families working is the most appropriate response to achieve real and meaningful greenhouse gas reductions.
If you read our plan, you will discover, as did the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Mr. Yvo de Boer, that it's a balanced approach to meeting our climate change obligations.
In talking about our plan, Mr. de Boer said last week that
he now understands that Prime Minister Stephen Harper government wasn't rejecting the value of the Kyoto accord, but rather observed its objectives cannot be met within the target deadline. The current government's answer to that has been to put in place an ambitious policy package, which it expects to take it as far as it feasibly can.
That doesn't sound like much of an indictment of our plan. In fact, if the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change can accept our rationale, then surely Parliament can too.
The fact is our regulatory framework will give Canada one of the world's toughest sets of regulated targets for greenhouse gases and air pollutants. We are the only country in the world to regulate greenhouse gases and air pollutants together to such an extent. No one else is doing as much as we are. No other jurisdiction has simultaneously introduced such a major regulatory initiative on greenhouse gases and air pollutants combined.
Our regulatory targets are as good or better than anyone's anywhere. Why? Because our air pollutant targets have been benchmarked against the best performers in the world. For each industrial sector we looked around the world to find the toughest regulatory standards in place and we applied those standards to Canadian industry, adjusting where appropriate to reflect work that has already been carried out in this country.
By definition, when we roll out these targets, up to give a national emissions cap, ours will be among the toughest in the world. This will be the first time in Canada that the federal government has taken this type of leadership role with its plan to address both greenhouse gases and air pollution.
As I said earlier on in my remarks, we had committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 150 megatonnes by 2020 and we will impose mandatory targets on industry so that air pollution emissions from industry are cut by half by 2015. Much has been made of the fact that our greenhouse gas targets require emissions intensity reduction rather than absolute caps. The World Resources Institute said it best when it stated last November that “for environmental performance, what matters overall is that targets are set at reasonably stringent levels and subsequently are met”. I'm going to repeat this:
for environmental performance, what matters overall is that targets are set at reasonably stringent levels and subsequently are met. This may be achieved with absolute or intensity targets.
The bottom line is that an absolute cap has no impact if it is set too high. An emissions intensity target can lead to absolute reductions if it's demanding enough. Believe me, our emissions intensity targets are incredibly demanding, and they will be tougher each and every year. As I said earlier, our target starts at 18% by 2010 and then rises to 26% by 2015, reaching one-third by 2020.
These are aggressive yet achievable targets. In fact, our plan proves to the world that Canada is committed to the fight against climate change, and the leadership we've shown in setting some of the toughest targets on the planet also gives us credibility in dialogue with our other partners.
Mr. Chair, I hope my explanation of turning the corner has shed some light on how Canada's new government is working to address the climate change challenge that our country currently faces. As I said earlier, climate change is the big challenge of our time, and as Canadians we are blessed with a country filled with natural beauty and splendour, from the Pacific to the Atlantic, to the Arctic, and all points in between. As Canadians, I believe we have a special responsibility to protect and preserve our natural environment and to help the world fight climate change. We owe it to all of us and our future generations to make it happen.
I understand the committee may have some questions, and I would be pleased to discuss them.
Maybe I could ask each of my colleagues to introduce themselves and give their responsibilities within the department.