When the United States and China announced an historic agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions last week, many said Canada would soon face increased pressure on the issue of climate change.
For years, Harper Conservatives have essentially argued that it makes little sense to take aggressive action if the world's top two polluters — China and the U.S. — aren't doing the same.
But the deal announced in Beijing by U.S. President Barack Obama is being called a game-changer. Under the agreement, the U.S. vows to double the annual rate it is reducing GHG emissions and, by 2025, slash emissions to 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels. In turn, China says 20 per cent of its energy will come from zero-emissions sources by 2030.
In 2009, under the Copenhagen accord, Canada promised to cut emissions 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020. However, the environmental commissioner has already said Canada is all but certain to miss that mark.
Shortly after the U.S.-China deal was announced, a spokesperson for Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq would not dispute Canada will miss its 2020 target, when asked by The Canadian Press.
On Sunday, Aglukkaq's parliamentary secretary, Tory MP Colin Carrie, was a guest on Global's "The West Block." Host Tom Clark wasted little time turning up the heat.
Clark asked Carrie directly if Canada will meet the new U.S. standards, which actually build on previous commitments. The Tory MP obfuscated by saying Canada has one of the "greenest electricity sectors" in the world.
"I'm asking about the new standards agreed to by Washington and China," Clark continued. "Because this is the new American standard, 26 per cent by 2025, are we in or are we out?"
Carrie replied he was glad to see the U.S. and China strike a deal and said the government wants to see further details.
"Canada only accounts for two per cent of greenhouse gas emissions," Carrie said.
"We're the ninth largest emitter in the world," Clark interrupted. "Are we in or are we out?"
Carrie said Canada is committed to decreasing emissions but, with a global climate summit in Paris in 2015, won't "pre-suppose any of the negotiations and agreements" that could take place in advance.
Clark then changed tack, asking if Canada is going to make its agreed-upon 2020 targets.
"I'm confident that we're going to be moving towards that target. That target is a 2020 target," Carrie said.
"Well, it's moving towards the target," Clark interrupted. "Are we going to reach 17 per cent by 2020?"
Carrie again ducked the question, saying the government has cut greenhouse gases by about five per cent between 2005 and 2012. The host said "a thing called a recession" meant a lot of factories closed but emissions have been going up since 2009.
"We made a solemn commitment to reduce our emissions by 17 per cent by 2020. Either we get there or we don't. Your department, Environment Canada, has said we're going to miss it by at least 20 per cent," Clark said. "Are we going to miss it?"
And that’s when things got feistier.
First, Carrie said everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Clark said it wasn't an opinion, rather what Environment Canada is already saying.
Next, Carrie was shut down as he seemed to want to compare the Tory record on the environment to those of previous Liberal governments.
Then, the parliamentary secretary said "2020 is still a far way away" and Canada will decrease emissions until then.
Clark then asked when Canadians will see oil and gas emissions standards promised in 2009.
"Well, I can't give you a specific time Tom," Carrie said. "What's really important…"
"Are we going to see them before 2020?" asked Clark.
"Well, as I said, I can't give you a specific time, but…"
"We may not see them at all?" Clark wondered.
Again, Carrie ducked the question, saying "unilaterally binding Canada to certain regulatory agreements" would put the oil and gas sector at a disadvantage.
Clark (mercifully) ended the interview not long after that, but not before saying: "I just point out though that this was your commitment that was made, that we're not going to meet." Watch the full exchange in the video above.
Earlier this month, Tory backbencher Michael Chong urged the federal government to take urgent action after a report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that, if left unchecked, climate change "will increase the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems."
"As a Conservative, I believe that we have a moral obligation to conserve our environment, so I call upon this government to meet its commitment to reduce emissions and I call on all governments meeting next month in Lima, Peru, and next year in Paris, France, to work together toward a new global treaty to reduce emissions," Chong said.
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With files from The Canadian Press