Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development’s Opening Statement

October 2011 Report Press Conference—4 October 2011

Good morning. My name is Scott Vaughan, commissioner of the environment and sustainable development. I am pleased to present my Report, which was tabled in the House of Commons this morning.

Since I began as Commissioner three years ago, a recurring theme in my reports has been the significant gaps in the information needed to understand and respond to the changing state of our environment.

The audit results presented in this Report show that the government is still struggling with this issue.

Climate Change Plans Under the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act

The first chapter in our Report focuses on the government’s climate change plans under the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act. The Act requires the government to produce annual climate change plans to ensure that Canada will meet its Kyoto obligations by 2012.

The Act requires me to analyze these plans and report on the government’s progress in implementing them and in meeting its obligations. This is our Office’s second such report.

We found several improvements in the completeness and transparency of the information contained in the climate change plans. However, we also found that the government does not have the tools it needs to achieve, measure, and report emission reductions. As a result, the government does not know what it has accomplished so far with nine billion dollars allocated to the 2010 climate change plan.

Canada is not on track to meet its greenhouse gas emissions target under the Kyoto Protocol. In fact, the government has lowered the bar in what it hopes to achieve. It has made new commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but it is unclear whether they are achievable.

Climate change is already having a major impact on Canadian ecosystems and the health of Canadians. To reach the new target the federal government committed to under the Copenhagen Accord, it will need to address the weaknesses in current management practices.

Assessing Cumulative Environmental Effects of Oil Sands Projects

In Chapter 2, we examined the government’s assessment of the cumulative environmental effects of oil sands projects in northern Alberta.

When there are several development projects in the same region, it’s important to understand their combined impacts on the environment and how to minimize them. Failure to prevent environmental impacts from the start can lead to significant problems down the road. 

The government has not implemented a system to track the cumulative environmental effects in this region. We found that decisions about the oil sands projects have been based on incomplete, poor, or non-existent environmental information. Since 1999, the government’s own scientists have acknowledged that impacts on water, land, air, fish, wildlife and habitat are not fully known.

In response to a 2010 report from the Oil Sands Advisory Panel, the government committed to establishing a comprehensive environmental monitoring system for the lower Athabasca River basin.

The government has set out a detailed and comprehensive plan to get the right environmental monitoring system in place. We look forward to reporting to Parliament on its implementation in future reports.

I will now be pleased to take your questions.