Opening Statement to the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development

2012 Spring Report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development

8 May 2012

Scott Vaughan
Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development

Mr. Chair, I am pleased to present my Spring 2012 Report, which was tabled in the House of Commons this morning. With me are Bruce Sloan and Kimberley Leach. 

Chapter 1—Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act

This is my final report under the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act. The government announced last December its withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol. However, the Act—as of today—remains in effect, and I am thus required by law to report on the government’s 2011 climate change plan.

We found that the government did not comply with the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act, primarily because the measures included in the plans will not ensure that Canada meets its Kyoto obligations, which is the purpose of the Act.

Chapter 2—Meeting Canada’s 2020 Climate Change Commitments

Let me now turn to the government’s approach to meeting its current target for greenhouse gas emission reductions of 17 percent by the year 2020.

The government intends to achieve that target through a sector-by-sector regulatory approach to lower greenhouse gas emissions. To date, two federal regulations are in place, with a projected reduction of between 11 to 13 million tonnes by the end of the decade. Canada will need to reduce its emissions by more than 10 times that amount to meet its 2020 target.

Environment Canada’s own forecast shows that in 2020, Canada’s emissions will be 7 percent above the 2005 level, not 17 percent below it.

Given the time it takes to develop, finalize, and implement regulations, and then to actually realize emission reductions, we do not believe that there is enough time to achieve the 2020 target.

We also found that the government’s regulatory approach was not supported by an overall implementation plan that, for example, gives a detailed analysis of how different regulations will work together to meet the 2020 target.

The government said it was withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol because remaining in it would be too costly to the Canadian economy.

We therefore expected the government would have estimated how much it will cost to meet its target and identified the least costly options. We found that this has not been done.

Chapter 3—Federal Contaminated Sites and Their Impacts

Turning to our report on federal contaminated sites and their impacts, we found that the government has made progress in identifying some 22,000 contaminated sites across the country for which it has responsibility. It has also put in place a good system to classify sites, and steps to manage them. To date, the government reports that nearly half the contaminated sites are closed.

We expect that dealing with the remaining 13,000 sites will prove to be a major challenge. The capacity to assess the remaining sites has been reduced, while there is a shortfall of 500 million dollars to deal with the sites that have already been assessed for possible remediation. Of the billions of dollars available for contaminated sites, the majority of funding is now focused on four large, high-risk sites. It is therefore unclear how the thousands of other sites will be managed.

The government has reported its combined environmental liabilities at 7.7 billion dollars. Many of these sites are buried and out of the public eye, but they will impose human health risks and environmental and financial burdens for generations to come.

The government needs to assess the full impact of all federal contaminated sites on the public purse. It is mid-way through the program, and time for the government to take stock of how it intends to manage and pay for the remaining sites across the country.

This Report also offers my perspective on the “jobs versus the environment” debate 20 years since the first Earth Summit in Rio.

Two decades ago, some feared that controlling pollution or protecting forests would stifle economic growth, cripple productivity, and suffocate innovation. But businesses are finding innovative ways to lower costs while meeting environmental targets.

As more and more businesses are mainstreaming environmental protection, I hope we can learn lessons from the past. Contaminated sites are a testament to poor planning, inadequate environmental assessment, and weak environmental regulations. These sites are an expensive reminder that future generations must live with mistakes we make today.

Mr. Chair, the Committee may wish to follow up with Environment Canada on the specific steps that they will be taking to address the issues raised in the chapters we have tabled today.

Mr. Chair, that concludes my opening remarks. We would be happy to answer your questions.