Fire / Feu

 

Histoire sommaire de l'enjeu climatique

"Dans l'ensemble, le Canada ne parviendra pas plus à atteindre les objectifs de réduction de Kyoto qu'il n'a réussi à atteindre les objectifs de stabilisation établis dans la Convention initiale de l'ONU dont on s'inspire."

David Coon examine les actions des gouvernements du Nouveau-
Brunswick et du
Canada durant la dernière décennie. Un survol des politiques, des
problèmes et des faits.

                    

         

A Brief History of
Climate Fiddling


David Coon,
Conservation Council of New Brunswick
March 2000

 

nergy policy in New Brunswick has been historically dominated by electricity policy. In turn, electricity policy has been dominated by the twin interests of industry in cheap power and N.B. Power’s institutional agenda to develop its generation and transmission infrastructure to serve export markets.

Economies of scale were attained by exploiting American electricity markets, permitting the construction of power plants of a size that otherwise could not be justified to serve New Brunswick alone. This, combined with a strategy of importing inexpensive hydro power from Québec for domestic purposes while exporting more expensive domestic power, kept power rates very low compared to many other jurisdictions. 

1980's ... conservation shelved

During the National Energy Program of the 1980's New Brunswick established an Energy Secretariat to administer a federal-provincial program to demonstrate and promote conservation and renewables. This was canceled by the Mulroney government when it came to power, and the staff were rolled into the Department of Natural Resources as its Energy Branch. 

However, the tidal wave of public concern about the environment that swept over society in the late 1980's saw the newly minted McKenna government commit to establishing a provincial energy policy that was environmentally sustainable. This followed closely on the heels of the now-famous Toronto Conference on the Changing Atmosphere that had called for a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2005, catapulting global warming into public and political consciousness. 

Following the release of a discussion document, province-wide hearings and recommendations from the Premier’s Round Table’s energy sectoral group, the provincial government released a long-term energy policy. The policy was based on increasing energy efficiency and conservation, while expanding reliance on renewable and other alternative sources of energy.

A massive study into the potential for increasing energy efficiency through all sectors of the economy and society was commissioned. It translated the opportunities it identified into potential reductions in greenhouse gases, acidifying emissions, and ozone-causing pollution. It also presented its findings on the electricity side of things in terms of how much new generating capacity could be avoided.

Unfortunately, this relatively green energy policy was never implemented, leaving the potential for dramatic gains in energy efficiencies, and consequent reductions in energy demand, untapped.

The McKenna government agreed to N.B. Power’s plans of the late 1980's to construct a massive coal-fired power generating complex at Belledune on the north shore, largely to serve the export markets. While only one unit was ever built, those export markets failed to materialize, while historical exports to the U.S. shriveled. This left N.B. Power with a huge surplus of electricity that they would have to sell in the New Brunswick market, reducing their purchases of Hydro Québec power.

The provincial cabinet shelved its brand new energy policy for fear that conservation and efficiency gains would only aggravate the surplus, driving up power rates to pay for the new power plant at Belledune. Only the Conservation Council argued that Belledune was unnecessary at the time, an argument that formed the centerpiece of the environmental group’s intervention at the environmental impact hearings into the Belledune project. The group also pointed to the huge volumes of greenhouse gases that would result from such a project.


(photo: NBPower)

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"...shelved its brand new energy policy for fear that conservation and efficiency gains would only aggravate the surplus, driving up power rates..."

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The public debate about Belledune was largely restricted to the politics of whether it should be sited in the south or the north, and whether it should be forced to have scrubbers to remove the sulphur dioxide from its emissions.

During this same period, New Brunswick, along with all of the other provinces and Ottawa, began their annual consideration of what to do about greenhouse gas emissions in Canada. The 1988 Toronto Conference had recommended a 20 percent reduction by 2005. Beginning in the fall of that year, energy ministers met to consider this recommendation. A number of studies were launched that showed dramatic savings would accrue to the national economy by making the necessary gains in energy efficiency and fuel switching to achieve the Toronto target. However, within two years the Ministers rejected the Toronto target altogether.

1990's ... horse-trading measure

By this time (1990), Canada was well into the negotiations through the United Nations to establish a Climate Change Convention. Discussions among New Brunswick, the other provinces and Ottawa shifted their attention on the climate change file to discuss Canada’s negotiating position leading up to the Convention signing at the Earth Summit in 1992. It committed Canada and the other industrialized countries to stabilizing their greenhouse gas emissions by 2000. 

The following years saw New Brunswick, their provincial colleagues and Ottawa wrangling over how this should proceed, culminating in a multi-stakeholder process that recommended various options for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Governments only agreed to promoting voluntary measures, and plunged back into international negotiations over the protocol to the Convention, now known as the Kyoto Protocol. 

Signed in 1997, the Kyoto Protocol requires Canada to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 6% by 2012. Once again, a multi-stakeholder process was struck to recommend options for attaining this goal. Only this time it was bigger and costlier, but went through much of the same process of horse-trading measures among the stakeholders and then submitting them to micro- and macro-economic analyses.

What next??

New Brunswick has largely been absent from these multi-stakeholder discussions. The responsibility for the issue remains in the understaffed and poorly funded Energy Branch of the Department of Natural Resources and Energy. With major reforms to be made to the electric power sector and the arrival of natural gas, climate change has received little direct attention by government.

The new Lord government has committed to bringing in its own energy policy by summer - without public consultation. An inter-departmental committee has been struck to draft recommendations to the cabinet. Presumably they will have to touch on the implications of the proposed provincial energy policy to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The Kyoto Protocol target has not been carved up and distributed among the provinces, as the previous acid rain target had been. There have been preliminary discussions about federal-provincial agreements to pursue greenhouse gas emission reductions, but no money has as yet been put on the table. 

New Brunswick officials have made it clear that they and their colleagues from the other provinces intend to delay any decisions about how to proceed with greenhouse gas emissions until at least next year.

More may become clear with the release of New Brunswick’s energy policy this summer. However it is becoming increasingly apparent that Canada as a whole will come no closer to achieving the Kyoto reductions target than it did achieving the stabilization target established in the original UN Convention that spawned it.


(photo: NBEN-RENB)

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David Coon is the
Conservation Council’s
Policy Director and a
founding member of the
Canadian Climate Action
Network’s national
steering committee

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