Volume 9, Number 1
The Lost Year 2006:
Several decades ago, I ran on the cross-country team for Don Mills Collegiate in Toronto. I remember one big race with 300 runners on a rainy November day at York University. At the start I tripped, fell on the pavement and was trampled. By the time I got to my feet, I was dead last. I had never felt so discouraged. I ran anyway and had one of my best races ever, passing all but twenty or so of the runners along the way to the finish line.In 2006, Canada fell down in the race to save the biosphere from catastrophic climate change. Federal programs were slashed, and the importance of addressing global warming was downplayed. Prime Minister Stephen Harper publicly questioned whether burning of fossil fuels was responsible for global warming. An entire year was lost. This lost year came after a decade of Liberal procrastination, half-measures, and delays. Now, Canada is not far from dead last among the nations of the world in meeting Kyoto Protocol commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
In the lost year of 2006, Canada also went from hero to zero in its international reputation on Kyoto. Former Liberal environment minister Stéphane Dion, considered by many the best chair of any of the international Kyoto conferences for his efforts at COP11 in Montreal, was followed by Conservative Rona Ambrose, who did not even show up to international Kyoto meetings she was to chair.
A chorus of politicians and newspaper columnists continued to whine throughout 2006 that Canada could not possibly meet the target of a six percent reduction from 1990 levels by 2008 to 2012. Canadians will never make the necessary changes to their personal lives and businesses, they complained.
Sierra Club of Canada has a more positive view about what Canadians, and their governments and industries, can achieve once we collectively make the commitment to tackle this formidable challenge. Canadians built a railway to the Pacific, helped defeat the most notorious tyrant in history, led international efforts to close the hole in the ozone layer, and convinced industry and Vol. 9, No. 1, April 2007 American governments to stop acid rain. Let’s not give up on our Kyoto targets before we have even barely started to work to achieve them.
Still, after so many years of weak efforts by Canadian governments, industry and citizens, achieving dramatic reductions in carbon pollution will surely not be easy. Many Canadians are discouraged, thinking that we can never get on track. At the same time, Canadians know that something is very wrong with the climate. The staggering hurricane year of 2005, the crazy winter weather in 2006-2007, the ongoing one-in-a-thousand year Australian drought, the mountain pine beetle scourge of western Canadian forests, and disappearing Arctic sea ice have led 25 to 30 percent of Canadians to rank the environment as their biggest top-of-mind issue in recent opinion polls. They understand that the planet is coming into a period of mainly dire consequences.
The Conservative government in Ottawa had a change of heart as polling numbers supporting environmental action skyrocketed. John Baird replaced the unfortunate Rona Ambrose as environment minister with a mandate from the Prime Minister to remove the environment thorn from the flesh of the Conservative body politic. Some half-measures of the former Liberal government were partially restored, and Baird was dispatched to patch up relations with other countries and the environmental community. The sow’s ear of the Conservatives’ Clean Air bill may yet be stitched into a silk purse this spring by opposition parties holding a majority of votes in the House of Commons. Legislation with ironclad commitments to Kyoto, medium-term and long-term emissions reduction targets, California-style vehicle emission standards, and fixed absolute caps on industrial greenhouse gas emissions would be an important step forward. More important is the federal regulatory process, which will drive actual emissions reductions by industry and Canadians.
Given the enormous privileges and the natural heritage that Canadians enjoy, surely we owe it to the other nations of the world—not to mention our children and grandchildren—to get back on our feet and make every effort to be leaders, not laggards, in implementing the Kyoto Protocol. We can do it if we try!
Improving Implementation of the Species at Risk Act
Canada’s Species at Risk Act, affectionately known as SARA, became law in June 2003. SARA can succeed only if it protects and recovers species in the wild and not just on paper. In essence this requires the following: the listing of species at risk based on science and not on politics; timely preparations of recovery strategies; identifying critical habitat in those strategies, and effective protection of both the species and its habitat.
Sierra Club of Canada played an important role in the development and passage of the legislation, and we have been a watchdog for its implementation ever since. We see a story of an incomplete and half-hearted implementation:
Three federal government bodies are responsible for implementing SARA: Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and Parks Canada. In July 2006, the federal government released the results of an assessment it had commissioned in a report entitled Formative Evaluation of Federal Species at Risk Programs (Stratos, 2006). The report concurs that there are significant gaps in the implementation of SARA, stating that while the federal government is delivering on most of its mandatory requirements, “not all requirements have been met, or are likely to be met, given progress to date.” The report identifies some of the root causes of this insufficient progress:
For over a decade, Sierra Club of Canada has focused on improving the protection and recovery of species at risk at the federal level in Canada. In almost all cases we act in collaboration with other organizations. Some examples follow.
We petitioned the federal Minister of the Environment to intervene in the case of the Little Smoky woodland caribou herd in west-central Alberta, because the provincial government was failing to effectively protect the herd and its habitat. We are also actively working with companies operating in the herd’s range to halt the ongoing habitat destruction.
We also petitioned the federal Minister of the Environment to intervene in the case of the tiny cryptanthe, an endangered vascular plant with a population of less than 100 plants in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
We similarly petitioned the federal Minister of Environment to intervene in the cases of the endangered spotted owl, whose habitat continues to be destroyed by logging in British Columbia.
All three cases remain unresolved.
In October 2006, Sierra Club of Canada and other organizations filed a complaint to the Commission on Environmental Cooperation (CEC), alleging that Canada is failing to enforce the Species at Risk Act. The CEC monitors environmental compliance in Canada, the United States, and Mexico as part of the North American Free Trade Agreement. While awaiting the outcome of this complaint regarding SARA, we learned in February that a CEC investigation triggered by our previous complaint concluded that Canada has failed to enforce the Migratory Birds Convention Act against logging companies.
As part of the Green Budget Coalition, we have worked hard to convince the federal government to provide the responsible departments with adequate funding for full implementation of SARA with notable success in the 2007 federal budget. You can learn more at www.greenbudget.ca.
Sierra Club of Canada has participated in SARA-mandated consultations on the legal listing of species at risk. We strongly defend the view that listing species under SARA should be based exclusively on science—not politics. You can read our comments at www.sierraclub.ca/national/programs/biodiversity/wilderness/endangered-species/sara-consultation.shtml.
We have also conducted independent reviews of the recovery strategies that have been prepared for key species. You can consult these reviews at www.sierraclub.ca/national/programs/biodiversity/wilderness/endangered-species/recovery-strategies.shtml.
SARA’s fifth birthday will be in 2008, which means there will be a legislative review of the Act. Just as we have been engaged in improving the implementation of SARA, you can be sure that we will be working hard for necessary improvements to the legislation itself in 2008.
Jean Langlois and Elizabeth Boileau.
Political, not partisan
Environmentalism is political. While our daily individual actions are very important, nothing has more impact on our environment than the decisions made by various levels of government. Governments are meant to be a mechanism to give action to our society’s collective will.
Sierra Club of Canada’s role in politics is clear: we advocate practical solutions to solve environmental problems, and visionary approaches to avoid problems before they occur. This means we act politically, that is, we express support for some policies and ideas and actively promote their adoption by legislatures and governments and we advocate against other policies. To do this effectively, it is essential that we remain non-partisan. We evaluate all policies, electoral platforms, and candidates equally, regardless of their affiliation with any political party. History shows us that governments of every political strip have contributed some good environmental policies and some bad.
Our real strength is the quality and objectivity of our policy analysis – this is what Canadians, the media, and even politicians turn to us for. We don’t see good or bad parties, good or bad candidates, only good or bad ideas, good or bad actions.
At the same time, partisan politics is what makes our political system work. It is what wins elections and forms governments. As an individual, you can play an important role in addition to being a Sierra Club of Canada member. You can join the ranks of Canadians who are actively involved in the political process.
Firstly, be an engaged voter during election campaigns. Tell candidates and others that environmental issues are key in your decision on who to vote for. Participate in all-candidates meetings and ask questions.
Secondly, support a candidate. If there is a candidate in your riding that you feel is strong on environmental issues, reward them with some practical support. Put up a lawn sign or volunteer for the campaign. Local races are often won on the strength of the local volunteer team.
Thirdly, if you want to take your involvement further, become an active member of the political party of your choice. Let’s be frank – there is not a single political party whose platform would not benefit from the involvement of more Sierrans.
In the end, government action on the environment improves when all political parties feel that their environmental policies can win them votes or lose them seats.
Ten generations from now, no one will remember the logos of the parties or the personalities of the candidates, only the legacy we have all passed on to future generations in the integrity of global ecosystems.
Blame the Media as well as the Politicians?
Why is it that Canada is such a global laggard in doing our share to stop global warming? Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions have grown nearly 30 per cent from 1990 levels since we signed the Kyoto Protocol rather than decreased 6 per cent as we promised. While other countries innovated and regulated to meet their Kyoto targets, Canada procrastinated and equivocated.
Federally, we can blame the Chrétien Liberals for 13 years of delays and halfmeasures, and the Harper Conservatives for the lost year of 2006. Provincial governments took little responsibility until very recently when the Quebec and British Columbia governments announced credible plans. Ontario and Alberta remain laggards due to pressures from the automobile and oil and gas industries respectively. These and other industries have been content to block government action, and otherwise sit on their hands.
Perhaps blame also should be apportioned to Canada’s chattering classes— those media commentators, columnists, and editorialists who shape public opinion. I continue to be amazed at the lack of understanding of most journalists of the science of ecology and climatology several decades after the threat to humanity posed by global warming first became clear. If opinion- leaders don’t get it, the public probably won’t either, and politicians will certainly take no action.
Let’s focus on The Globe and Mail, not because it is the worst offender, but because its columnists are usually thoughtful and well-informed, and its reporting on the news of global warming has been reasonable. A few columnists such as Eric Reguly and Jeffrey Simpson appear to have grasped the gravity of the climate crisis. Others appear sublimely ignorant or willfully blind. Margaret Wente claims that the Arctic ice cap will never melt, and rejects the overwhelming international consensus of climate scientists favouring those of the crankiest of climate cranks. Rex Murphy never loses an opportunity to sneer, comparing Al Gore—who actually studied climatology— to Anna Nicole Smith. As a witness to the complete destruction of the northern cod fishery in his home province, he should understand that an ecological catastrophe caused by humans can strike hard and fast. Many of The Globe and Mail’s other columnists are hardly better informed.
Why is this? I suspect that one reason is that few journalists have much science education, One notable, if dated, exception was Dr. David Suzuki, who for some years wrote a regular column in The Globe and Mail.
Wolfgang Sachs once wrote: “Eventually the world will no longer be divided by the ideologies of ‘left’ and ‘right’ but by those who accept ecological limits and those who don’t.” The human ecological footprint measured in terms of growth in population, resource consumption and pollution cannot grow indefinitely. Even accounting for our incredible adaptability, humans are not much different from cod in an ecological sense.
If global warming is indeed the defining challenge for humanity in the 21st century, perhaps it is time for The Globe and Mail and other media to hire commentators with some understanding of the ecological science underlying that challenge.
Politicians’ Green Peeks Through
An Important Notice to All Supporters of Sierra Club of Canada
First of all, we would like to thank our generous and loyal members and donors.Through your support, you are really helping us to make a difference for the future of our country and our planet!
As of February 1 2007, Sierra Club of Canada has made a major change that affects our members and donors. From that point onwards, any supporter who makes a single or cumulative contribution to Sierra Club of Canada or the Sierra Club of Canada Foundation of $20 or more in a 12-month period will be treated as a member of the Club.
This replaces our former membership structure, in which we encouraged donations, but expected supporters who wished to have membership status to pay a separate membership fee. We have set the support level where we feel it can be achieved by almost anyone because we place great value on the support of a diverse and engaged constituency.
However, we hope that you will continue to support Sierra Club of Canada at levels that are equal to—or even greater than—your support in past years. For example, if you have paid a membership fee of $40 in the past, perhaps you will consider a gift of $50 this year. This will still entitle you to membership, and your increased support will go directly to our environmental programs. We have much work to do and we can’t do it without your support!
To find out more, please read our Frequently Asked Questions on our website at www.sierraclub.ca/national/getinvolved/notice.
Tania Beriau is Development Manager at the National Office.
The Clean Air Act: Hot Air or Hot Stuff?
The Conservatives devoted the first eight months of their mandate to dismantling existing programs that combat global warming an d to promising a “Made in Canada” approach. Then they introduced Bill C-30, the so-called Clean Air Act, on October 13, 2006. Bill C-30 was such a dud, it quickly became known as the Hot Air act. It included amendments to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, the Energy Efficiency Act and the Motor Vehicle Fuel Consumption Standards Act. It added few powers that were not already in place under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and contributed little to reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs).
At worst, Bill C-30 could have undermined federal authority and even risked being declared unconstitutional by the courts. Bill C-30 contained no commitment to implement Canada’s Kyoto Protocol GHG emission-reduction targets. The sole target that the government committed to was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45 to 65 percent from 2003 levels by 2050. Opposition parties, environmental groups, and media commentators almost unanimously heaped scorn on the proposed legislation.
There was one positive feature: the government’s commitment to a regulatory approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, it proposed to regulate so-called “emissions intensity” of different industrial polluters, and not impose absolute caps on emissions needed to meet Canada’s Kyoto Protocol commitments, let alone the more dramatic reductions needed by 2020 or 2050. The government made no commitment to regulating vehicle emissions to the highest North American standard (i.e., California). Interestingly, the government proposed issuing regulations under the existing Canadian Environmental Protection Act, suggesting that Bill C-30 was not needed to get the regulatory job done.
Bill C-30 was on the verge of sinking into parliamentary oblivion, when the New Democratic Party threw the Conservative government a lifeline. The bill was referred to a special parliamentary committee after First Reading on the understanding that any and all amendments to Bill C-30 could be considered by the committee (which was controlled by opposition parties in the minority Parliament). (Usually bills are referred to parliamentary committee after second reading, and the scope of amendments that the committee can entertain is limited—see sidebar.) The NDP had rolled the dice, betting that a silk purse could be made out of the sow’s ear that was Bill C-30, and that the Conservatives could not convert a new and improved Clean Air act into the additional seats needed to form a majority government in the next Parliament.
Sierra Club of Canada was very concerned by this turn of events. The bill was unnecessary and distracted attention from the truly important federal job of regulating reductions in carbon pollution caused by the auto, oil and gas and other industries. The environmental community realized the need to speak clearly to the government with one voice as to the amendments that make the bill acceptable to us. The Climate Action Network worked with ten executive directors of major environmental groups (known as the Strathmere Working Group) to build consensus around the key amendments needed for the environmental community to support Bill C-30. Here are some of the key requirements for amendments that the 24 environmental and conservation groups agreed to:
A Clean Air act with these amendments could serve as a rallying cry for concerned Canadians, a benchmark for measuring progress in reducing carbon and other air pollution, and an instrument to cajole reluctant industry and future governments— whether Conservative, Liberal or other.
At time of writing, the Bill C-30 parliamentary committee is undertaking a clause-by-clause review of the proposed statute. New Democrats appear to be most eager to get a strong bill through the House of Commons, while the Liberals, Conservatives and Bloc Québécois appear to be less eager. The partisan politics is intense as a federal election looms.
The fourth report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released in February 2007 stated that evidence of climate change is “unequivocal” and that of human responsibility for such change is “very likely.” The stakes grow even higher for federal politicians, and more importantly for the ecology of the planet.
Stephen Hazell Elizabeth Boileau
Stephen Hazell is Executive Director and Elizabeth Boileau is a campaign intern.