Magazine article Behind the Headlines

Climate Change and Canadian Energy Policy: Policy Contradiction and Policy Failure

Magazine article Behind the Headlines

Climate Change and Canadian Energy Policy: Policy Contradiction and Policy Failure

Article excerpt

This article examines the relationship between energy policy and climate change policy in Canada. The article finds that Canadian climate change and energy policy have operated in parallel but contradictory directions. The resulting dichotomy helps to explain Canada's failures to achieve significant reductions in GHG emissions to accord with its international commitments. The article also highlights the importance of the emergence of sub-national climate change policies in Canada and in the United States, particularly in the context of the lack of effective action at the federal level in both countries.

Cet article examine la relation existant entre la politique energetique et celle qui se rapporte au changement climatique au Canada. L'article constate que les politiques canadiennes en matiere de changement climatique et d'energie evoluent dans des directions paralleles mais opposees. La dichotomie resultante contribue a expliquer les echecs canadiens a operer les reductions considerables demissions de GES exigees par ses engagemements internationaux. L'article fait aussi ressortir l'importance des politiques climatiques infranationales qui se font jour au Canada et aux Etats-Unis, particulierement dans le contexte de l'absence de mesures efficaces au palier federal dans les deux pays.


Energy and climate change policy are intimately connected. The achievement of the levels of reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has identified as being necessary to avoid "dangerous" climate change will require substantial changes to existing energy policies. In particular the IPCC has identified increases in the energy efficiency of economic activities and a major expansion of the role of renewable energy sources as the foundations of cost-effective strategies for reducing GHG emissions. (1)

Canada has gone through numerous articulations of its policies related to climate change over the past two decades. These have included negotiating positions established for the purposes of the development of the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change and the subsequent 1997 Kyoto Protocol to the convention, a Federal-Provincial National Action Plan (1995), a National Implementation Strategy and Business Plan (2000), bilateral federal-provincial agreements, (2) and most recently an Action Plan to Reduce Greenhouse Gases and Air Pollution (2007). (3) In contrast, Canada has had no formally articulated national or federal energy policy since the demise of the 1980 National Energy Policy (NEP) following the election of the Mulroney Conservatives in 1984.

However, a considerable de facto federal energy policy framework exists, and has been significantly strengthened since the termination of the NEP. This effective energy policy structure is strongly oriented towards the development and export of conventional, non-renewable energy resources, such as coal, oil, natural gas, and uranium. As such, it presents serious challenges to the implementation of effective climate change policy. Despite the succession of climate change policy commitments and plans Canada has seen no progress in reducing its GHG emissions since the signing of the 1992 Framework Convention. Indeed, in her 2006 report, the Commissioner for the Environment and Sustainable Development noted that as of 2004 Canada's GHG emissions were 27 per cent above their 1990 levels. Canada's Kyoto Protocol target is a 6 per cent reduction relative to 1990 levels by 2008-2012. Part of the explanation for this result is that the impact of the few initiatives that have actually been implemented under Canada's various climate change strategies has been completely overwhelmed by the effects of the existing non-renewable energy development and export policy framework.

This dominant energy policy framework consists of a number of specific elements. …

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