Under the proposed federal emissions trading program, tar sands developers will be eligible for up to $700 million in "carbon credits" even as they increase their greenhouse gas emissions.Meanwhile, Ontario will get nothing for closing its coal-fired plants, thereby eliminating about half of the province's greenhouse gas emissions.
Sounds absurd, right? But that is the analysis of World Wildlife Fund-Canada, and it is supported by officials from the provincial government and its utility, Ontario Power Generation.
Here's why: rather than mandate absolute reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, the federal government has opted for cuts in the "intensity" of emissions.
Thus, the overall output of greenhouse gases from Alberta's tar sands will rise as production expands, but as long as the per-barrel level of emissions comes down, the oil companies will be rewarded.
A study by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, a respected British institute, commissioned by WWF-Canada to look at the federal emissions trading proposals, calculates that reward at up to $700 million.
"This is a plan in which it pays to pollute," says Mike Russill, president of WWF-Canada. A federal environment official challenged the $700 million figure but offered no alternative calculation, saying, "We have not done the analysis by sector."
The official did confirm that, under the current federal plan, Ontario will get nothing for closing its coal-fired plants by 2014 because it earlier announced it would do so and Ottawa does not want to reward anyone retroactively.
The official stressed that the plan is under review, and, indeed, there have been talks about the coal-fired plants between bureaucrats from both governments.
But a query on the matter to the office of federal Environment Minister John Baird was met with a ferocious response that focused on Premier Dalton McGuinty's failure to close the coal-fired plants by 2007, as he originally promised.
"The reality is that Ontario is still waiting for the premier to make good on his broken promise to close down Ontario's coal-fired power plants," emailed Amanda Galbraith, a spokesperson for Baird. "Just this year we gave Ontario over half a billion dollars ($582.6 million) for clean air and climate change initiatives. Even with that kind of support Premier McGuinty still won't take action.
"Premier McGuinty is just like his federal cousin, Stéphane Dion. When greenhouse gases were rising year after year, Dion did nothing. Just like the premier is still doing nothing while Ontario's air gets dirtier and dirtier."
Put aside for a moment the substantive inconsistencies with this response.
(Yes, Ontario got $582.6 million, but as part of a national "trust fund" established by Ottawa; Alberta received $156 million from the same fund. The emissions trading credits are supposed to be over and above that. And while one can always accuse the McGuinty government of not doing enough on the climate-change front, it is demonstrably wrong to say it is doing nothing while it is pouring billions into alternative power sources nuclear, gas, hydro, solar and wind and conservation.)
What is truly remarkable about the response from Baird's office is its partisan tone.
It suggests relations between Conservative Ottawa and Liberal Queen's Park have hit a new nadir, with negative ramifications for both climate change and other important federal-provincial files.