Is Ottawa feeling pressured to make new climate change commitments?

Canada's oil and gas producers might be seeing tougher emissions regulations soonWith a new deadline to release greenhouse gas emission regulations to Canada's oil and gas producers having just slipped by with no results, is the government just dragging its feet? Or might we be seeing some stronger commitments against climate change in the near future.

The federal government has been building up a reputation for themselves — anti-science, anti-climate change, and obsessed with developing the oil sands regardless of the environmental cost. They've had two excellent leads to follow though, because the world's biggest emitters of greenhouse gases — China and the United States — haven't been doing much about climate change themselves.

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However, just within the past month, both of those countries have made new commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions — first China, with their launch of a carbon trading program, and then just last week, U.S. President Barack Obama gave a speech at Georgetown University where he made a bold new commitment to addressing greenhouse gas emissions and making the United States the leader in combating climate change.

So, with this newest delay in producing the federal emission regulations, is it just more bureaucratic red tape? According to CBC News, these regulations have been in the works for years, and they've already been delayed once (they were supposed to be out by the end of last year). So, there's already a precedent set.

However, could it be that these new efforts by China and the U.S. have the federal government scrambling to make some stronger commitments themselves?

It used to be convenient for the government to simply point to the 'big kids on the playground', and say how any efforts from us wouldn't matter while they continued to do whatever they wanted. It's not the greatest stance to take, but the pragmatism of it doesn't necessarily make one 'the bad guy'. However, with those 'big kids' now putting forth the effort, and one even striving to take the lead in cleaning things up, that could definitely make the Canadian government look bad, if what they had in mind looks 'soft' compared to what the others intend to start using.

According to the Pembina Institute, an environmental think-tank, Canada needs some tough regulations in place in order to meet our 2020 greenhouse gas emission targets. Their report says that a cut of emissions by 42 per cent is needed by 2020, and that a fee of at least $100 should be charged per tonne of emissions over the regulated limits (but that $150 per tonne would be better). That fee would go into an 'arms-length' technology fund called the Climate Change and Emissions Management Fund, to be invested in emissions reduction technology and climate change adaptation.

If we can meet these emission targets, we'll be doing our part to keep the global average temperature from rising more than two degrees by the year 2050. That might not seem like much, but if you look at the graphs of climate change that scientists have been able to piece together from records and proxies like tree rings and ice cores, the changes in global temperature over the past 10,000 years or more have only been by less than one degree Celsius. So, not only would the two-degree rise be unprecedented in human history, but warming in the past happened over thousands of years, giving life a chance to adapt, and we are driving it on the scale of decades. Everything, including us, will struggle to adapt on that scale, and that two-degree limit is just to keep us from experiencing the worst, which would be a runaway greenhouse effect.

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It's unclear what regulations the federal government had or has in mind. Alberta has proposed a 40 per cent reduction and a $40 fee per tonne, and apparently industry would like to see it more like 20/$20.

The NDP's environment critic, Megan Leslie, who has, according to CBC News, been skeptical of this government's commitment to setting proper targets for the oil and gas sector all along, was apparently equally skeptical about seeing the government use the Pembina Institute's recommendations.

"I don't know how they are going to pull the rabbit out of the hat on this one," she said in the interview, "but this is the sector that is growing the fastest. This is the sector that is most important when it comes to meeting our emissions [targets]."

As to whether or not this whole delay was caused by these new commitments, especially after Obama's speech, Clare Demerse, the director of federal policy at the Pembina Institute, certainly thinks so. "That has clearly increased the pressure on the government of Canada to get these regulations right," she said, according to CBC News.

(Photo courtesy: The Canadian Press/Jeff McIntosh)

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