Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for your invitation to speak to the committee this morning.
I'm pleased to be here today to speak to the supplementary estimates (C), but I will as well address the main estimates.
This is the first time I have had the pleasure of appearing before the committee since being named minister for Environment Canada, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, and Parks Canada, and I'm looking forward to working with all of you in the committee in the days ahead.
As you know, the position of environment minister carries great opportunity, the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to preserving Canada's spectacular natural legacy.
This government is keenly interested in striking the right balance between economic renewal and environmental protection. We have put in place a plan that is already reducing greenhouse gas emissions, a plan that takes a strategic sector-by-sector approach, a plan that focuses on real, measurable progress. And this plan, members, is already working. In partnership with provinces, territories, and others, we have already taken actions that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 65 megatonnes, bringing us to about one-quarter of the way to meeting our target of reducing our emissions to 607 megatonnes by 2020.
Yes, there is much still to do, but over the past five years a solid foundation has been laid. Together with our provincial and territorial partners and others, we've made significant progress in a number of areas, including establishing new standards for emissions from passenger vehicles and light-duty trucks, and we are in the process of doing the same for heavy vehicles; announcing standards that will phase out the use of dirty coal to generate electricity, another major emitter; signing the Copenhagen accord, an international agreement overseen by the United Nations that inscribes the greenhouse gas reduction targets of all major GHG emitters and establishes a framework that enhances the transparency of all parties' mitigation actions; providing $400 million in new and additional climate financing in 2010—the largest-ever contribution by Canada to support international efforts on climate change; and introducing aggressive new environmental enforcement rules, which have just passed into law.
With respect to climate change—one of the most serious environmental dangers facing the world today—we have made clear commitments and taken significant action. Along with the United States, we've pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17% below 2005 levels by 2020. It is, I agree, an ambitious target. To achieve that, we've developed a comprehensive plan to achieve real emission reductions in the short, medium, and long terms, while at the same time maintaining Canada's economic competitiveness and capacity to create jobs.
In some key areas Canada has strategically aligned its policy with that of our closest neighbour and largest trading partner, the United States. Although this approach is by no means a boilerplate environmental solution, in some sectors the highly integrated nature of the North American economy makes it the most practical and efficient approach. This builds on a long and successful history of collaboration between our two countries. In particular, I would note that 20 years ago this month Canada and the United States signed the air quality agreement. At that time, acid rain was causing serious damage to our lakes and our ecosystems on both sides of the border, and smog was a serious threat to the air we breathe. Working together, Canada and the U.S. have cut in half the emissions that lead to acid rain, and cut by one-third our smog-causing emissions in the transboundary region established under the agreement.
On the transportation front, which is responsible for about 22% of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions, we've worked closely with the United States on 2011 vehicle emission standards. That makes sense because of the seamless cross-border characteristics of the automotive industry. We will continue to work together on even tougher standards for 2017 and beyond.
In the case of electricity, however, we're taking our own path. The United States relies on coal to generate about half its electric power. The United States has 650 coal-fired plants, compared to Canada's 51, which means we're in a better position to pursue an independent regulatory course to phase out coal plants and to become a world leader in clean electricity.
To repeat, this approach reflects our commitment to realistic and pragmatic policies, aligning with the U.S. where it makes sense, as in the case of transportation, and pursuing a unique path, such as electricity, where it does not. The government is also taking action to ensure that the economic benefits of developing the oil sands are balanced by a strong, clear environmental mandate. To that end, we have accepted the recommendations of an independent advisory panel of scientists who reviewed water monitoring practices in the area around the oil sands, specifically the Athabasca River and connected waterways.
We are currently developing a technical plan based on those recommendations. Working with Alberta and other stakeholders, including aboriginal communities, environmental groups, and industry, the scope of our plan will expand to include air quality monitoring, plant and animal habitats.
Especially at a time when oil prices are historically high and the incentive to ramp up production is strong, there is a need for clear, strong leadership on this file, and we are providing just that.
As for the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, Mr. Chair, our focus for the upcoming year will be on delivering high-quality environmental assessments on major projects and playing a lead role in shaping the future of federal environmental assessment.
We're also working to ensure that aboriginal people are consulted on environmental assessments affecting them. This is particularly important, of course, because the agency, on behalf of the Government of Canada, is responsible for encouraging and supporting aboriginal participation in the environmental assessment process.
In addition, I would also like to add to the actions that Parks Canada is taking to establish more and more protected wilderness areas. These areas are known to be natural buffers that protect our planet against the impacts of climate change, such as droughts and floods. They also provide safe havens for plants and animals that help nature respond to changing conditions. These past four years alone, we have taken steps that will add more than 133,000 square kilometres to the existing lands and waters administered by Parks Canada. That's a 48% increase, or an additional protected area equivalent to the size of a country such as Greece.
I would like to turn now to the estimates documents that are before Parliament for consideration. There are, as you know, two main documents: the supplementary (C) estimates for the 2010-11 fiscal year, and the main estimates for the 2011-12 fiscal year. We will be looking at these estimates for my portfolio, including Environment Canada, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, and Parks Canada.
Let's start with the supplementary (C) estimates. These estimates are the final requests for adjustments to our funding allocations for this fiscal year. For Environment Canada, this fiscal year started with a request for $1.1 billion in planned expenditures. This was a 10% increase over last year.
The first thing you will probably notice about these estimates is that they are not seeking additional funds. Rather, they are seeking to transfer $4.7 million to other departments.
The majority of these funds will be directed to departments as part of Canada's climate change financing. This money comes from Environment Canada's $5 million share of the $400 million that was approved to support mitigation and adaptation in developing countries, as outlined in the Copenhagen accord.
For Parks Canada, the supplementary estimates (C) are requesting to redirect $5 million from program expenditures to the new parks and historic sites account. This transfer would cover additional costs associated with new national parks and national marine conservation areas.
Mr. Chair, let's turn now to the main estimates--the first request for departmental funding for the next fiscal year.
Environment Canada is requesting $872 million in these main estimates. This amount is a portion of the funding that the department will request over the course of the fiscal year. We expect further adjustments will be made to our funding through the supplementary estimates tabled later in the year.
As you all know, departmental expenditures can change from year to year. This is especially true for a regulatory department like mine, where a portion of the funding has been temporary in nature and is subject to further scrutiny before renewal. This fiscal year, a number of our programs based on temporary funding will expire. This does not mean that programs such as the chemicals management plan, the species at risk, the clean air agenda, and the federal contaminated sites action plan will end.
In this context, and as reflected in earlier reports on planning and priorities, these programs are following the renewal process. The extension or enhancement of their temporary funding is subject to government decisions. Once approved, funding amounts will be included in the supplementary estimates to be tabled later this year.
As for the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, the 2011-12 main estimates propose $30 million in funding for the agency. This request is $1 million higher than was requested in the main estimates for the last fiscal year. The agency is seeking this additional funding to fulfill its additional responsibility for aboriginal consultation during environmental assessments by federal review panels.
The 2011-12 main estimates for Parks Canada, on the other hand, total $690.5 million. The net decrease you may note with these estimates is largely attributable to the end of funding under Canada's economic action plan. These estimates also reflect some reductions that have been made to reduce the rate of growth in Parks Canada's operating expenditures.
Mr. Chairman, let me close once again by thanking the committee for this opportunity to join you, and for your ongoing work on behalf of Canadians. As a new minister I value your insights and welcome your suggestions. I look forward to working with all of you to lighten our footprint on this planet and preserve our incredible natural legacy for future generations.
I'd now be delighted to answer your questions.