POLITICS

Leona Aglukkaq Prods Provinces For Better Greenhouse Gas Numbers

04/12/2015 05:16 EDT | Updated 06/12/2015 05:59 EDT
OTTAWA - Having missed a March 31 deadline to submit greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets to the United Nations, the Harper government is prodding the provinces to come up with better numbers.

But at least one province is accusing Ottawa of taking credit for climate change initiatives launched by other levels of government.

In letters sent to her provincial and territorial counterparts on Friday, and released publicly on Sunday, Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq urged the provinces to send more information to bolster reduction targets that Ottawa has so far only estimated based on 2014 information.

Aglukkaq said the government wants to announce targets soon that it can present Canada's contribution to the UN climate conference in December.

"This contribution is expected to be national in scope and reflect action by all levels of government with quantifiable post-2020 emission reductions," Aglukkaq wrote in individual letters to the provinces.

At UN climate talks in Lima in December it was agreed that countries "ready to do so" would formally file pledges on cutting greenhouse gas emissions with the UN by the end of March.

Canada, along with Japan, Australia and China all failed to meet the deadline, although a spokesman for Aglukkaq said it was never a firm date.

In Panama City at a hemispheric summit on the weekend, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Canada will unveil its targets for greenhouse gas emissions before the G7 meetings in June.

But he said Ottawa wanted to see the outcome of provincial talks on emissions first before unveiling national targets.

The provinces are to meet in Quebec City on Tuesday.

"Obviously we will be moving forward with our partners, not just in announcing targets but, as we've done in the past, continuing to support international climate-change financing," Harper said after participating in the Summit of the Americas.

The prime minister also discussed climate change Saturday with Barack Obama, but said the U.S. president did not ask him for a commitment on emissions.

The U.S. recently made a formal pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions by up to 28 per cent over the next decade.

Critics have complained that Canada is lagging behind other nations in defining targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions beyond 2020.

At the same time, the Harper Conservatives have scoffed at Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau for vowing to work with the provinces to reduce emissions, warning that Trudeau would impose carbon pricing on the provinces.

But the provinces are already in motion, with Premier Kathleen Wynne set to announce Monday that Ontario will join forces with Quebec in adopting a "cap and trade" carbon pricing system to set emissions limits on polluters.

Quebec formally adopted its own carbon pricing system last year that lets polluters buy credits from companies that cap their greenhouse gas emissions. It has linked its trading market with California under the Western Climate Initiative, of which Ontario is also a member.

A blue-chip panel of Canadian economists last week unveiled a study calling carbon pricing the least costly, most efficient and effective way to reduce Canada's greenhouse gas emissions.

The Ecofiscal Commission, comprised of 10 nationally recognized economists and backed by a cross-partisan advisory board that includes the likes of Reform party founder Preston Manning and former Alberta finance minister Jim Dinning, also said the provinces are best equipped to come up with an effective trading system.

Aglukkaq said the federal government remains committed to implementing "a responsible sector-by-sector regulatory approach" aligned with Canada's major economic competitors, including the United States.

"Through this approach, we have already taken action on two of Canada's largest sources of emissions — the transportation and the electricity generation sectors," Aglukkaq wrote to B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak.

Similar letters were sent to all of Aglukkaq's counterparts, including tables of Environment Canada data showing each jurisdiction's progress toward their expected targets.

One of the actions Canada has taken to reduce emissions is to close energy producers fuelled by coal, said Aglukkaq.

But that's no thanks to the federal government, said Ontario Environment Minister Glen Murray.

"While Minister Aglukkaq in her letter points to (closing coal-fired power plants) as part of Canada's contribution to fighting climate change, the federal government did not support Ontario in this bold action, much as it is now critical of Ontario's commitment to putting a price on carbon to further fight greenhouse gas pollution," Murray said in an email from his office.

"Canada needs a federal government that is willing to work with provinces and territories and support them in their efforts to fight climate change," he added.

"It is unacceptable for the federal government to refuse to act on climate change and simply provide a tally of provincial initiatives as "Canada's" contribution to fighting climate change."

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