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The Syncrude tar sands refinery in Alberta, Canada. (Photo: Rainforest Action Network/cc/flickr)

New "Environmental Sheriff" Says Canada Failing Climate Commitments

Internal government report critiques Stephen Harper government for lack of oil industry oversight

Lauren McCauley

The Canadian government, under the direction of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, is not doing enough to address rising greenhouse gas emissions while simultaneously neglecting to regulate the industries driving those soaring levels, charged an internal government report published Tuesday.

The report, 2014 Fall Report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, was put forth by the Auditor General's office and is the first released under Julie Gelfand, who took over the reins as Commissioner in March.

Unlike her predecessors, whom Rabble reporter Karl Nerenberg describes as being "guarded and diplomatic," Gelfand's critique of the government's environmental shortcomings was "straightforward and candid."

"There is a new environmental sheriff in town," wrote Nerenberg.

The series of audits analyzed Canada's actions related to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, environmental monitoring of tar sands development, and marine navigation in the Canadian Arctic.

Gelfand found is that Canada has made "unsatisfactory progress" in addressing its carbon output and has no detailed plan to do so, despite pledging under the Copenhagen Accord to reduce its emissions by 17 percent, from 2005 levels, by 2020.

"The evidence is pretty strong that we will not meet the target," Gelfand said.

Also, the Commissioner slammed the Canadian government's failure to implement emissions regulations for the oil and gas industries. The audit revealed that a draft of such regulations do exist, however they were only consulted once and privately with a single province; Gelfand surmised this province was Alberta, which is being heavily mined for tar sands.

"If Canada does not honour its climate change commitments, it cannot expect other countries to honour theirs," Gelfand writes. "If countries fail to reduce their emissions, the large environmental and economic liabilities we will leave our children and our grandchildren—such as more frequent extreme weather, reduced air quality, rising oceans, and the spread of insect-borne diseases—will likely outweigh any potentially positive effects, such as a longer growing season."

The report further notes that the government's role in the environmental monitoring of the tar sands industry beyond March 2015 remains undefined. "It has not made clear the rationale for what projects will be subject to environmental assessments, and I am concerned that some significant projects may not be assessed," Gelfand writes.

The Canadian government is also unprepared for their ambitious plans to increase shipping through Arctic channels, now open due to increased melting, the report adds. "Canadian Arctic waters are inadequately surveyed and charted," the Commissioner writes, noting that the government's capacity to do that charting work is limited.

The report also criticizes the country's new environmental assessment process for a lack of transparency, saying that there are "gaps" in how stakeholders, such as Aboriginal groups, are to be consulted on new projects. Nerenberg notes that the new assessment process was slipped by the Harper government into their 2012 "Trojan horse" Budget Implementation Bill, C-38.

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