Canada's UN Climate Inventory Data Clashes with New Environment Canada Report

OTTAWA - - The federal government has told the international community that its policies to reduce heat-trapping pollution linked to global warming are up to 10 times more effective than what it told Parliament at the beginning of the month.

The mixed messages were sent less than a few weeks apart in separate reports required by Environment Canada under Canadian and international law.

The first report was a Canadian inventory of greenhouse gas emissions submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, an international treaty that calls on its members to stabilize the concentration of the heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere to prevent dangerous changes to the climate and the planet's ecosystems.

"Altogether, the major federal GHG reduction initiatives already in place may, by 2009, have been contributing on the order of 25-40 Mt megatonnes of annual greenhouse gas emission reductions," said the National Inventory Report to the UN. "There are also a number of additional provincial programs, including forms of carbon-based taxation in both British Columbia and Quebec, and Ontario has introduced the Green Energy Act."

The second report, published last Thursday, said that federal government actions would have resulted in four megatonnes of annual greenhouse gas emission reductions for 2009.

This second document was required under Canadian legislation that forces the government to produce reports detailing federal climate change policies and their impact on meeting Canada's international obligations under the Kyoto Protocol — an update to the UNFCCC that set legally binding caps on greenhouse gas pollution from industrialized countries.

Environment Canada spokesman Mark Johnson said in an email that the numbers in the second report, submitted to Parliament, reflects the fact that this analysis took a "more conservative approach" to projecting impacts of government policies.

In comparison, he said the inventory report for the UN was showing what he described as a "high-level illustrative estimate of the possible impact on 2009 emissions," of all measures introduced since 1990.

He also noted that the second report only focused on the impact of government policies introduced after 2006, while considering other factors such as rising oil prices and consumer behaviour that are not related to federal action.

For example, "homeowners may turn the thermostat higher in winter as a result of efficiency standards that mean their furnaces consume less fuel for a given household temperature," Johnson wrote on Wednesday evening.

"The measurement of these and other government measures and their implications on all our greenhouse gas emissions estimates is a field of active research at EC. We will continue to work on determining the best way to account and report GHG emissions to Canadians."

Environment Canada has been criticized for excluding statistics indicating a substantial rise in overall pollution from the oilsands sector from 2008 to 2009 in its inventory report, while including numbers suggesting the industry was making progress in reducing emissions per barrel of oil produced.

Clare Demerse, director of the climate change program at the Pembina Institute, an Alberta-based environmental research group, said that 70 per cent of 20 federal climate change initiatives and programs highlighted in the government's report submitted to Parliament are slated to expire by next year. She added that the report submitted to the UN listed two factors causing a one-year drop in emissions levels — Ontario's efforts to phase out coal-fired electricity and the economic slowdown — that were not related to federal policies.

Johnson said that the statistics covering overall pollution levels for the oilsands were not required under the UNFCCC reporting criteria, even though Canada had included this data in its report from last year. He also said that the data on emissions per barrel were included because it was an "important part" of the department's overall analysis reported to the UN climate change secretariat.

The department said its estimates on overall emissions from the oilsands were preliminary and subject to change based on ongoing work to assess and calculate the industry's carbon footprint.

An independent report released Wednesday by British Columbia researcher Michelle Mech also listed numerous sources of emissions in oilsands production that were not included in previous calculations and could double the estimate of its annual carbon footprint.

Canada was the last country to submit its inventory report, trailing even earthquake-stricken Japan.

Environment Canada was not immediately able to explain the differences between numbers in both reports. It has declined to explain who asked for changes to be made in its reporting methods, and turned down requests for interviews with scientists who prepared its analysis.

Meantime, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade has defended the efforts of a "Pan European Oil Sands Team" it set up to promote the sector and lobby against climate legislation in Europe that would restrict the industry's access to the market because of its environmental footprint. Newly released briefing notes, reported last week by Postmedia News, revealed the team had recommended hiring a public relations firm and was working with oil companies such as BP and Shell, which it described as like-minded allies.

But Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Caitlin Workman said that, although it didn't enlist a public relations firm, its diplomats are working with industry stakeholders because the industry is a "key to Canada's economic prosperity and Canada's status as a stable source of secure energy."


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