New U.S. environmental regulations leave Canada further behind

By Arman Kazemi

August 13, 2015

While the United States announces plans to limit carbon emissions from power plants, Canada continues to avoid regulating emissions from the oil sands, its largest source of greenhouse gases. 

Earlier this month, President Obama released his new climate action plan, a major development in his administration’s domestic environmental policy. According to the Clean Power Plan, individual states will develop their own plans to reduce carbon emissions by 32 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

States have until 2018 to develop these plans, which could drive U.S. coal production to 1970s levels and produce emissions reductions equivalent to taking 70 per cent of cars off American roads.

The goal, furthermore, makes the country a leader among nations heading to Paris for decisive climate change talks in December.

 “While the plan should have been stronger and implemented reductions more quickly,” Vera Pardee of the Center for Biological Diversity told the Guardian, “it lays a solid legal foundation for further efforts to avoid global warming’s most dangerous consequences.”

According to a recent op-ed in the National Observer, this month’s policy announcement south of the border only serves to highlight the widening ideological deficit between American and Canadian approaches to climate change and the two countries’ respective international commitments.

While originally aiming for similar emissions targets under the 2009 Copenhagen Accord, Canada separated from the U.S. “as soon as the latter began to make progress,” according to the report.

Like the U.S., Canada has taken steps to reduce emissions from coal-fired power plants. But Canada’s major contribution to global warming isn’t coal, but rather oil sands extraction, something the federal government has largely refused to regulate.

According to Anthony Swift of the National Resources Defence Council’s Canada project, without the Alberta oil fields, Canada would be able to meet its Copenhagen commitments thanks in large part to advances made at the provincial level, such as B.C.’s successful provincial carbon tax.

“But what’s happening,” Swift told the National Observer, “is the expanded tar sands sector is swamping all other progress being made elsewhere in the country.”

According to Climatetracker, a site that keeps tabs on countries ahead of Paris 2015, Canada is “inadequately” prepared to meet its present climate change agreements, even with a change in government next October.

But with heated election campaigns on both sides of the border, the time between now and December could still mark a decisive shift toward resuming a common energy strategy ahead of international climate talks in Paris.



Photo Credit: Benny Lin