Are Canada’s climate laws a negotiating chip in TransCanada’s poker game
CBC is reporting that Prime Minister Harper has sent a letter to U.S. President Obama offering to commit to greenhouse gas regulations in return for the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has sent a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama formally proposing "joint action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the oil and gas sector," if that is what's needed to gain approval of the Keystone XL pipeline through America's heartland, CBC News has learned.
Sources told CBC News the prime minister is willing to accept targets proposed by the United States for reducing the climate-changing emissions and is prepared to work in concert with Obama to provide whatever political cover he needs to approve the project.
It’s rather remarkable that Canada’s government would offer greenhouse gas regulations that are over two decades over-due in return for the approval of a private industrial project. I mean: aren’t strong climate change laws something that we should expect for their own sake?
2 decades of climate inaction vs. the Keystone XL Pipeline
- 21 years ago - Canada signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, agreeing to reduce our production of greenhouse gases (GHG).
- 16 years ago - Canada signed the Kyoto Protocol agreeing to specific targets for GHG reductions (6% reduction relative to 1990 levels by 2012). Little or no meaningful progress was made in meeting these targets.
- 7 years ago - Stephen Harper was elected Prime Minister on a platform to develop a “made in Canada” approach to climate change. Shortly thereafter, the government announced that it would instead incorporate climate change into its proposed Clean Air Act. That Act was introduced but was never passed.
- 5 years ago - The Conservative Party was re-elected on a promise to work with the U.S. and Mexico to develop a cap and trade system to address climate change. That commitment didn’t stop government Ministers from subsequently attacking such an approach as a “job-killing carbon tax”.
- 4 years ago – Canada signed the Copenhagen Accord, weakening its GHG emission target to 17% from 2005 levels by 2020. These targets are not expected to be met.
- 3 years ago – Canada repealed the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act, the only piece of Canadian legislation which set legislated GHG targets or required monitoring of progress to achieve GHG emissions. Canada is one of very few countries without “flagship climate change legislation”.
- 2 years ago – The Canadian government quietly announced that cap and trade was off the table, and that instead Canada would develop a “sector-by-sector” approach to address climate change. Oil and gas sector regulations were expected by the end of 2011, and have still not been released, despite promises that they would be in mid-2013.
- It was also 2 years ago that Canada formally withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol.
And now, because President Obama has signaled that GHG emissions may be a reason for rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline, suddenly the government is offering, yet again, to develop a new approach to addressing greenhouse gas emissions.
Prime Minister Harper’s offer has Michael Den Tandt of PostMedia News musing about whether earlier action on climate change might have helped the Keystone XL’s case with President Obama. Referring to Government MP attacks on carbon pricing as a “job-killing carbon tax”, Den Tandt tweeted:
My guess would be that Harper's letter to Obama did not contain the words "job-killing carbon tax" … The ‘job-killing carbon tax’ trope has now been revealed in all its brain-crushing stupidity.
Den Tandt may have a point. At a minimum, a bit more action on climate change might have prevented the anti-Keystone movement from comparing the Prime Minister’s offer to one made by Darth Vader.
The government’s credibility on this issue is not high, and President Obama would do well to treat any Canadian promises of GHG reductions with a healthy dose of salt. Just as somewhat disillusioned Canadians have learned to do.
But we also wonder what it says about Canada that concern for our children and grandchildren is not enough to convince our government to deliver real climate change laws. Instead, our government is using the offer of climate change laws as a negotiating chip in a high stakes poker game, played on behalf of TransCanada.
By Andrew Gage, Staff Lawyer