Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak about Bill C-33, An Act to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 and about our amendment, which proposes that the bill not be read a third time but be referred back to the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food for the purpose of reconsidering Clause 2 with a view to making sure that both economic and environmental effects of introducing these regulations do not cause a negative impact on the environment or unduly influence commodity markets.
The New Democrats support the use of biofuels and will continue to do so. A well-managed biofuel program in Canada could have a positive effect on climate change while also helping farmers. We refuse to simply give the Conservatives a blank cheque on this. We have asked that the bill be referred back to committee so that the members of the House can take a second look at it.
I have many constituents who have written to me about the bill, none of whom were supportive of the bill in its present form, which just does not have the controls to limit the reach of the bill. Here is an example. A constituent said:
I worked in Tropical Agricultural Research for 25 years in Asia and Africa. I find this new bill that gives a $2 billion subsidy to biofuel a crime. Following in George Bush's path will lead to a whole range of second and third generation problems. Once big business gets on this technology integrated in its system it will change the market so even more hunger and death will ensue.
I want to give members an idea of the range of comments that I have received. Another constituent said:
I was very disappointed to learn that Canada is now joining the 'food for fuel' club with its vote to mandate ethanol content in gasoline. Never mind the dubious environmental merits of such a move, with food prices spiraling out of reach of the world's poor, such a decision seems morally repugnant at best.
I'm not sure if there is an opportunity for this bill to be revisited.
However, there is an opportunity.
I will not go on, but the emails and the letters I have received are all of this type.
Despite these legitimate concerns, the NDP's proposed amendments to the bill were defeated. Therefore, I urge the members of the opposition in particular to reconsider and to think about our responsibility as parliamentarians to do no harm.
Our amendments would have served to introduce accountability and sustainability into the bill: two essential elements that are clearly lacking in Bill C-33 in its current state.
As it reads now, it will have several impacts. I would like to list some of them.
One of them was raised in one of the emails on food security. A number of governments, in conjunction with large multinational corporations, are pushing farmers to grow crops not for food but for fuel. That has had devastating effects. The Convention on Biological Diversity Alliance states in a recent media advisory:
Agrofuel plantations are already destroying the remaining rainforest reserves in Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia pushing farming communities to abandon food production. Agrofuel production is irreversibly displacing agricultural biodiversity.
On this subject I would also like to quote Darrin Qualman of the National Farmers Union. He stated recently:
“There's a misconception that the world has a surplus of food--that we have food to burn. But the truth is, in seven of the last eight years, humans have consumed more food than farmers have produced”.
In that short time, the international supply of food has dropped from 115 days worth of food down to just 54 days worth. If we continue this trend for even one more year...food prices will skyrocket and incidents of food riots and rationing will become commonplace.
We have already seen the beginning of this.
Mr. Qualman goes on to say:
It's irresponsible and unrealistic to call for increased agricultural production from a system that is already unable to produce enough food for people, never mind cars. According to the experts, we need to concentrate on fixing what's broken rather than adding more stresses to an already overburdened system. It's critical that we halt the drop in food stocks and begin to reverse the hunger trend....
Mr. Qualman's words highlight the NDP's concerns about pushing ahead with this legislation without having thought it through.
It is impossible to speak to the bill without talking about the effects of agrifuels on biodiversity, because this bill as it stands ignores this potential problem.
Today, experts estimate that biodiversity is being lost at a rate estimated to be 100 times the rate of natural loss, and this despite the fact that in 2004 some 192 signatories to the Convention on Biological Diversity agreed to reduce the rate of biological diversity loss by 2010.
Governments like ours have failed to act decisively to counter this loss. They continue to commit to biofuel quotas without regard for that diversity and the global food supply.
It is clear that increasing energy use, climate change and CO2 emissions from fossil fuels make switching to low carbon fuels a high priority. According to Science magazine of February 2008, biofuels are indeed “a potential low-carbon energy source”. This is why we do support the concept of biofuels, but the magazine article continues, saying, “but whether biofuels offer carbon savings depends on how they are produced”.
I would like to quote from one of the articles, which says:
Increasing energy use, climate change, and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuels make switching to low-carbon fuels a high priority. Biofuels are a potential low-carbon energy source, but whether biofuels offer carbon savings depends on how they are produced. Converting rainforests, peatlands, savannas, or grasslands to produce food crop–based biofuels in Brazil, Southeast Asia, and the United States creates a “biofuel carbon debt” by releasing 17 to 420 times more CO2 than the annual greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions that these biofuels would provide by displacing fossil fuels.
This is why my colleagues proposed amendments to consider the impact on land changes, as well as the amendment that we are now proposing to refer the bill back to committee for a second look.
Scientists are calling on the international community to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% over the next 40 to 50 years to reverse climate change.
Substituting biofuels for gasoline would indeed reduce greenhouse gas emissions because biofuels sequester carbon through the growth of feedstocks, but they also say that these analyses have failed to count the carbon emissions that occur as farmers worldwide respond to higher prices and convert forests and grasslands to new cropland to replace the grain diverted to biofuels.
Using a worldwide agricultural model to estimate emissions from land use change, they found that corn based ethanol, instead of producing a 20% saving, nearly doubles greenhouse emissions over 30 years and increases greenhouse gases for many years to come.
The government's strategy to limit the effects of climate change is more than inadequate. In fact, with this bill it could cause new damage. As the Science magazine article described, if we allow centres of biodiversity such as rainforests, grasslands and other agricultural systems to be cleared to grow biofuels, biofuel production actually increases the global greenhouse gas emissions it is supposed to reduce.
Clearly, all biofuels are not equal. The way this is done is key. In an analysis of the Ontario biofuel options, a report recently concluded that solid biofuels offer the least expensive biofuel strategy for government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Ontario. The report's major discovery is that government incentives applied to large scale solid biofuels would surpass even the most effective existing subsidies, such as those for wind power, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
These findings suggest that a solid biofuels policy would be an effective and sustainable means to develop the Ontario and Canadian economies in that area. Such a program would support market opportunities for the forest industry and for farmers with marginal farmland.
It is clear that these are the areas that we think the government and members of committee should explore in giving the bill a second look, and they also should impose some restrictions to move away from the food for fuel approach.
There is another element that I wanted to speak to as well. That element is the increasing corporate control of the agrifuels industry. It is alarming to note that small scale food producers and harvesters are being eliminated through the centralization and control of the food chain, from seed to sewer, by large multinationals, including Monsanto, Cargill and others.
This has happened in the United States. It has been demonstrated through the use of commercial contracts, seed laws, patents and intellectual property rights, not to mention proprietary genetically modified seeds. These corporations are rapidly gaining a stranglehold on agricultural biodiversity and in the process are removing the livelihoods of food producers worldwide.
Therefore, it is important to move ahead with this kind of legislation, being attentive to meeting the needs of farmers but also protecting some of the key issues that I have raised.
I also want to raise an issue that has not been much discussed in this process. That is the government's mediocre program with respect to energy efficiency. This is an area where the government, if it were serious about really taking action to reduce the impacts of climate change, it would put in place more solid programs to help Canadians reduce their consumption of fossil fuels.
With the recent announcement by the B.C. government of its energy program, I was comparing it with what the federal government is offering at the moment to Canadians who use fossil fuels to heat their homes, for water and/or with all the electrical appliances we use. The incentives are so minimal.
This is where the federal government really could set some objectives to help Canadians retrofit their homes and actually make savings. At the moment, the potential for low income Canadians, for example, to retrofit their homes is so limited. This is precisely the group of Canadians that should receive some help.
I want to give a couple of comparisons that I noted in regard to the difference in the subsidies. In British Columbia, for example, on an air pump B.C. is offering something like $1,450, while the federal government is offering something like $400. It gives us an idea of the difference in the magnitude of interest that the federal government is putting into energy efficiency.
Indeed, one of the most important sources of potential energy savings is in the energy that is being wasted at the moment. A serious energy efficiency program would have multiple positive effects.
Let us consider the amount of energy that is being used. Recently British Columbia provided a breakdown of the way we use energy in our homes: 46% goes toward heating and 30% goes toward water. Let us think about these two sources we use in our homes and consider the kinds of programs. If, for example, the government decided that each year hundreds of thousands of homes would be retrofitted, ensuring that Canadians had the support they needed at all income levels, this would be a beginning to actually reduce the use of fossil fuels before jumping into programs that may or may not be effective. As an example, an efficient clothes washing machine or dishwasher uses less power and less water. Efficiency also provides a higher level of comfort, so it is not a question of sacrificing quality of life.
In conclusion, I would like to speak to a couple of issues which, in my opinion, are important to consider in this bill. The government has undermined and indeed has reversed the efforts of individuals and groups on environmental issues. The government's track record on environmental issues is shameful. That is the only way to put it. How then can we simply give it free rein on the question of biofuels? That is the question all opposition members should be asking themselves.
With the kind of record the government has, can we give it free rein on this question? Canadians have made it clear that we simply cannot. Any solutions to climate change and biodiversity loss must be complementary, not mutually exclusive and must not undermine each other. Above all, our guiding principle must be, as I said earlier, to do no harm because, as decision makers, we are responsible for the harm that we cause through actions, as well as the harm that we fail to prevent.
With this in mind, I urge all of my colleagues to reconsider the harm this bill could cause if we do not apply some provisions to control its reach.