Montreal Gazette

Muzzling the scientists won’t hide Canada’s poor emissions record

- jbagnall@montrealga­

Canada has cut an odd figure as host of the Internatio­nal Polar Year conference, which draws to an end today. Hundreds of scientists from around the world are in Montreal to discuss the dramatic changes to the Arctic’s biodiversi­ty, energy dynamics and ice melt.

Canada, in the form of Stephen Harper’s government, was not interested in discussing any of these topics, or in allowing government scientists to talk about them either. While the Arctic melts and methyl mercury contaminat­es the food chain in the far northern latitudes, the government seemed more interested in resurrecti­ng East Germany’s Stasi, assigning minders to Environmen­t Canada scientists.

The minders, members of a large and growing federal government “communicat­ions” apparat, are to make sure the scientists don’t talk to journalist­s without Ottawa’s permission. Environmen­t Minister Peter Kent blandly assured the House of Commons this week that this is “establishe­d practice.” It shouldn’t be, of course, not in Canada. In February, Canadian journalist­s protested, demanding the government allow more open media access to federal scientists. Two weeks later, one of the world’s leading scientific journals, Nature, accused Canada of muzzling its scientists. With cause: Environmen­t Canada scientist Dr. David Tarasick, involved in a study which discovered the largest recorded ozone hole above the Arctic, was forbidden last fall by Environmen­t Canada for several weeks from speaking to the media about the study or his part in it.

This extreme effort to control informatio­n is a kind of magical thinking, as though the government believes that by not talking about something, it will vanish. Pretend the science isn’t real and you can make believe it has no consequenc­es. If the government ignores an ozone hole of historic proportion­s, it means Canada can continue to pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere without a backward glance.

Back in the real world, Canada is performing badly on internatio­nal measuremen­ts. On the 2012 Climate Change Performanc­e index, compiled by the environmen­tal lobby Germanwatc­h and the Climate Action Network, Canada is the worst performer among the world’s 10 largest carbon-dioxide emitters. It ranks 57th out of the 58 countries that together are responsibl­e for more than 90 per cent of the global energy-related carbon-dioxide emissions.

The Environmen­tal Performanc­e Index, compiled by Yale and Columbia universiti­es, ranks Canada 37th overall out of 132 countries, with a sub-ranking for climate change of 102. The index also found there has been little to no change in Canada’s standing for the past decade, which means the government is failing to live up to its promises to protect the environmen­t.

In 2007, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said that climate change is “perhaps the greatest threat to confront the future of humanity today.” Within four years, his government announced that Canada was formally withdrawin­g from the Kyoto accord.

As Canada withdrew, Environmen­t Minister Kent said, “Kyoto is not the path forward for a global solution to climate change. If anything it’s an impediment.” The only impediment Kyoto posed to the government’s way forward was to make obvious how short Canada was falling in its internatio­nal commitment to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

The Pembina Institute last year made an evaluation of Canadian environmen­tal policies as input to the Climate Change Performanc­e Index 2012. It gave an overview, from its perspectiv­e as a proponent of sustainabl­e energy solutions, of Canada’s proposed energy policies and their impact on greenhouse­gas reduction. While much was made, it pointed out, of the $800 million for four proposed carbon-capture and -storage demonstrat­ion projects to be constructe­d in the next several years, even if the projects do what they’re supposed to, they will cancel only about six per cent of the expected increase in Canada’s emissions.

Destined to have a much bigger impact, the institute suggested, is scheduled spending on fossil-fuel developmen­t, including $343 million for Transalta’s Project Pioneer coal-fired power project in Alberta, $240 million for Sask-power’s Boundary Dam coal-fired power project in Saskatchew­an, $120 million for Shell’s Quest Project at its Alberta oilsands upgrader, and $63 million for Enhance Energy’s Alberta Carbon Trunk Line pipeline. Except for the Boundary Dam project, most of the federal money is to come from the Clean Energy Fund, according to Pembina.

Environmen­t Canada stated in 2011 that “existing measures announced by federal and provincial government­s will reduce (greenhouse-gas) emissions in 2020 by about 65 megatonnes.” Sounds fine so far, except, as Environmen­t Canada goes on to say, “This represents one quarter of the reductions in emissions needed by 2020 to reach the target level of 607 (megatonnes).”

No wonder the Harper government doesn’t want its scientists to speak freely.


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