A few days after Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper pitched his government's environmental plan to leaders in Europe, an underground campaign emerged back at home. It wasn't Greenpeace. There were no environmental activists staging a sit-in at the parliament buildings. Instead, the leaders of the country's largest provinces got together and shook hands on some regulations for cutting greenhouse gas emissions that call for faster and tougher movement than the policies put forward by the federal government.
On Monday, the Premiers of Ontario and Quebec announced that the two largest provinces will cut carbon dioxide emissions to 1990 levels, a plan close to the Kyoto Protocol. In contrast, Harper's Conservative government's agenda - called "Turning the Corner" - commits to cutting emissions by 20 per cent by 2020 from the much higher 2006 levels. While Harper and his government tout their targets as affordable, realistic and even aggressive, they are much lower than those on the table in Europe, where Britain and other EU members are looking to decrease emissions by 20 to 40 per cent, as compared to 1990 levels. And say what you will about campaign promises, even U.S. Republican nominee John McCain has presented some tougher standards, with the suggestion of a return to 1990 levels by 2020.
In order to accomplish this drop in emissions, Premiers Dalton McGuinty (Ontario) and Jean Charest (Quebec) are proposing the creation by 2010 of a cap-and-trade system, where the heaviest polluters would have to buy carbon credits. "Why wait for the Americans?" Charest asked the CBC, citing a coming shift in the White House concerning climate change. "We want to subscribe to everything that is being done on the European level and the North American level," he said.
Criticism came quickly from Conservative Environment Minister John Baird, who called the announcement "just talk." With Canadian greenhouse gas emissions up a full 25 per cent from 1990 levels (as of 2005), let's hope that whatever government official is currently speaking is also prepared to swing into some long-awaited action.