04/11/2012 11:46 EDT | Updated 06/11/2012 05:12 EDT

Peter Kent: Greenhouse Gas Emissions Stable Despite Canada's Economic Growth


OTTAWA - The Conservative government is pointing to a new greenhouse-gas report as a sign that the economy's rebound from recession did not come at the expense of the environment.

New figures released Wednesday show greenhouse gases remained stable in 2010 even as the economy grew. Emissions rose by just two megatonnes, or 0.25 per cent, to 692 megatonnes, while the economy grew by 3.2 per cent.

Emissions fell in 2008 and 2009 during the global recession and were expected to rise as the economy recovered.

"Through a responsible and practical approach to managing both the environment and the economy we will continue on this path," Environment Minister Peter Kent said in Toronto.

"This is not a blip, this is a continuing trend."

Canada has signed on to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and must report each year on its greenhouse gases.

Last year's report caused a stir because it left out data showing a rise in greenhouse-gas emissions from the oilsands. The previous year's inventory included a breakdown of oilsands emissions.

This year's report is being released just days after Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives axed an independent advisory body that used to track greenhouse-gas emissions, among other things.

The National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy was a casualty of the latest Tory budget. The roundtable has publicly challenged the Conservatives in the past on the effectiveness of its policies to reduce greenhouse gases.

Canada's emissions peaked at 751 megatonnes in 2007. The energy and transportation sectors are responsible for the rise in emissions over the last two decades.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives have set a goal of lowering greenhouse-gas emissions 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020, or down to 607 megatonnes.

But a report posted on Environment Canada's website says even if all the government's actions are taken into account, and all the provinces' actions are factored in, Canada will only get a quarter of the way to meeting its 2020 goal.

"Environment Canada admits that the current policies of federal and provincial governments will only achieve one quarter of the necessary reduction to hit the Harper government's own climate target," Keith Stewart of Greenpeace Canada wrote in an email.

But the environment minister insisted Canada is actually closer to reaching its 2020 goal.

"That was last year's data," Kent said. "In the middle of last year, our scientists estimated that we were, with current regulations in place at the time, that we were about a quarter of the way.

"Although I don't have the hard figures yet for this year ... I think that you will see that we are somewhere between 30 and 40 per cent now towards hitting our 2020 targets."

That target has changed over the years. Under the Kyoto Protocol signed by Jean Chretien's Liberal government, Canada would have been required to meet a tougher target. But the Liberals and later the Conservatives ignored the Kyoto target.

The Tories always insisted that meeting Canada's Kyoto commitments would tank the economy. A few hours after returning from marathon UN climate talks in South Africa in December, Kent announced Canada was pulling out of Kyoto for good.

Environmental groups accused the Conservatives of using the annual inventory report to put a shine on soot.

"Who cares," said John Bennett of the Sierra Club. "Without a cap on industrial emission leading to a rapid decline in emissions, a minor drop is meaningless.

"Canada promised future generations to lower its emissions to about 550 megatonnes by 2012 (and) they are at 692. There is nothing to brag about here."

— With files from Diana Mehta in Toronto

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