The Conservative Environmental Record: Four Ministers and Insignificant Policy.

May 1st, 2011 Comments Off on The Conservative Environmental Record: Four Ministers and Insignificant Policy.

April 7th 2006, Rona Ambrose, the first of four conservative ministers of the environment, declares Canada’s Kyoto commitments unachievable. She is right. After nine years of inaction, emissions have increased significantly. Hers is not a statement of dismay. It might even reflect pride. Her government cuts greenhouse gas (GHG) regulations proposed by the outgoing government. Canadians are disappointed.

Responding to public sentiment, in 2007, John Baird, the second Minister of the Environment, reintroduces a Liberal plan for climate change. Despite weaker objectives than its precursor, John claims climate leadership at home and abroad. The plan is never implemented. Amongst his other achievements, setting aside parts of northern Canada for conservation and his government’s ban on Bisphenol A in baby bottles.

Obama’s election makes US GHG policy likely. In a departure from its roots, the conservative government proposes harmonizing up. Jim Prentice, the third minister of environment, is to persuade Alberta that this is in their benefit; the only way to continue energy exports to the US. Political compulsions prevent US legislation on GHGs.

In May 2010, the US EPA issues a GHG regulation timeline for large industrial sources. In its first stage: coal-fired power plants and refineries. In June 2010, Jim presents Canada’s plan for GHG emissions from coal-fired power plants. These are yet to be implemented. In October 2010, he harmonizes Canada’s vehicle fuel economy and emission standards with the US.

In November 2010, Jim quits to be Vice President of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. John finds himself the minister again. Peter Kent, the fourth Minister of the Environment, is appointed in January 2011.

In the meanwhile, Rona, John, Jim and their counterparts in Natural Resources spend. They create boutique tax credits and grants to support public transit passes (2006), fuel efficient – conventional, and not so fuel efficient – E85 vehicles (2007), the production and retail of biofuels (2007), energy efficient retrofits of home and business (2007), and “clean energy technologies such as carbon capture and storage” (2009).

The conservative environmental record splits into two periods. Before 2008, they scuttle, reintroduce, or claim credit for work done by the outgoing liberal government. After that, they enact the minimum needed to match US environmental policy. Five years yield no substantive action on climate change, minimum progress in other environmental areas, and minor spending programs with insignificant effects. Can we expect better from a centre-right government of a resource economy in a global recession?

Yes we can.

While centre-right governments in France, Germany, and Italy implement the second stage of European carbon trading, New Zealand’s adopts carbon trading, and coal dependent Australia proposes a carbon tax, our government does everything possible to avoid regulating carbon. If these countries can get serious about the environment, so can we.

Maybe the conservatives need to look outside their ranks for their next Minister of the Environment. I hear Elizabeth May is leading an opinion poll in Saanich-Gulf Islands.

Postscript: This is a post written for the Province newspaper’s Money Section. You can see their version here.

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    I am an Associate Professor in Environmental and Resource Economics at the University of British Columbia, Canada.

    Through my research I try to gauge the efficacy of policy designed to help the environment. This research is usually joint with colleagues from the University of British Columbia---the real brains behind it. I recently studied automobile sales in Canadian provinces to determine if tax rebates for hybrid vehicles were cost-effective. Studying appliance sales in the US, I analyzed whether mail-in rebates for energy star appliances helped promote their adoption. I am currently studying whether British Columbia's vehicle retirement program, BC SCRAP-IT is cost-effective and am trying to understand what motivates someone to participate in it.

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