The Honourable Jim Prentice, PC, QC, MP
Minister of the Environment
To the Pacific Northwest Region
July 17, 2010
Check against delivery
When I became Canada’s Environment Minister about 18 months ago, I didn’t quite understand at the time just how often I’d end up talking about “alignment.”
After all, it’s not exactly the kind of term that first springs to mind when you’re thinking about conservation, or climate change, or any of the other things Canadians think about when it comes to the environment of our magnificent country..
But in fact, “alignment” is a core element in Canada’s environmental policy—specifically as it relates to our relationship with the United States. And rather than an abstract expression of goodwill and warm intentions, it’s an overwhelmingly practical, hard-edged consideration.
Aligningthe approach of Canada and the United States to climate change and its multiple challenges is the most effective and realistic way for us to make the progress to which we have firmly committed.
Immediately following the United Nations climate change summit in Copenhagen, we “aligned” Canada’s greenhouse gas reduction targets with those inscribed by the United States. Like our neighbors to the south, we will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17% by 2020 from a base year of 2005.
We have also worked with the Obama administration towards “aligned” North American standards for regulating emissions from vehicles. We've now published draft regulations for light-vehicle tailpipe emissions that are aligned with those of the United States and have also recently announced that we will do the same for heavy-duty vehicles.
And finally, we are aligningour efforts to accelerate the development and deployment of clean energy technologies under the Clean Energy Dialogue that was launched in 2009 by President Obama and Prime Minister Harper.
Looking ahead, my United States counterpart Secretary Chu and I will be providing the President and Prime Minister with our second Report on progress under the Dialogue.
This Report will highlight some of the substantive progress our two countries have made under a suite of 20 initiatives aimed at accelerating: carbon capture and storage technologies; technologies to advance a “smart” electricity grid; and clean energy research and development.
Plain and simple, this approach is based on our respective realities.
Canada and the United States share a common environment, whether it be the Great Lakes Basin, the Great Plains or the small coastal plain surrounding Puget Sound.
Our economies are integrated. Firms in such key sectors like the automotive industry do not so much compete with each other as cooperate, being suppliers to, and customers of each other, somewhere on complex supply chains.
Canada also plays a major role in the North American energy equation, both as a supplier, and a partner. We are not just the single largest supplier to the American market of oil, natural gas, hydroelectricity and uranium—we are an indispensable supplier to the land-locked northern tier states. In 2008, Canada exported $122 billion of energy to the United States. Crude oil and natural gas exports represented around 14% of United States consumption. Significant reserves of Canadian oil and uranium will mean that Canada will represent an important secure and stable source of energy for the United States well into the future.
We co-manage and co-own pipelines and power grids that transcend the border. Through our membership in the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, or NERC, we are committed "24/7" to maintaining a reliable source of power both in Canada and the United States. And through the International Energy Program of 1974, as reaffirmed through North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), we are committed to sharing oil with the United States in times of emergency short supply and energy insecurity.
Our environmental, economic and energy interdependence is one reason why it makes good sense for Canada and the United States to make common cause and “aligned” their approach to climate change. But there is another as well.
We all know that it's going to be a challenge to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. But the reality is that it will be impossible to do so without the United States and all other major emitters getting on board—which is precisely why the Government of Canada was so determined to ensure that an agreement was reached at the Copenhagen summit.
Given our close geographic and economic ties, if we do more than the United States, we risk suffering economic pain for no real environmental gain—due to the scale of the challenge—economic pain that could impede our ability to invest in new clean technologies.
On the other hand, if we do less, we could risk facing border barriers into the American market.
A continental system composed of national policies and regulations that work to achieve the same results so we foster fair competition and maintain free trade in the integrated North American market.
There are measures that Canada can take that do not depend on alignment and our Government is taking them. And the electricity sector is one case in point.
The Government of Canada recently announced that it is moving forward to reduce emissions in the electricity sector—specifically from coal-fired electricity generation.
We intend to introduce regulations that balance the environment, jobs and investment.
Working to regulate coal-fired electricity generation will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and help to improve air quality for Canadians from coast to coast to coast.
This initiative moves us one step closer to reaching our goal of being a clean energy superpower.
Almost 19% of Canada's electricity is generated from burning coal. Moreover, these coal emissions constitute 13% of Canada's overall greenhouse gas emissions.
To put this in a broader perspective, Canada has only 21 coal burning plants, which we are phasing out, while the United States has 630 plants and isn’t taking steps to close them down. Coal burning plants are the major source of emissions in both countries.
Most of Canada's coal burning electricity plants are dated. We currently have 51 coal burning units, housed in 19 individual facilities. All but 18 of those units will reach the end of their 45 year economic life by 2025.
The approach we are taking creates strong incentives for the industry to invest in cleaner technologies, and reflects extensive discussions with thermal provinces and industry.
Going forward, all new coal-fired electricity units—as well as units reaching the end of their economic life—will have to meet a stringent performance standard. That standard will be based on the emissions performance of high-efficiency natural gas generation, and will represent an improvement in emissions of about 60% per gigawatt hour generated.
It’s anticipated that this policy, coupled with the commitments of the provinces, and companies who have committed to coal closures, will amount to emissions reductions of about 15 Megatonnes by 2020.
Our regulations will be very clear—when a coal burning unit reaches the end of its economic life, it will have to meet the standard or close down. No trading. No offsets. No credits.
In order to allow for adequate replacement generation to be brought on‑stream, this proposed standard will take effect five years from the announcement date. We will guard against any rush to build non-compliant coal plants in the interim. And of course we will accommodate exceptional circumstances to prevent disruption of electrical supply.
We will not lose sight of the potential of cleaner coal technologies developing in the future. Our country is a leader in carbon capture and storage and we will maintain that focus. As Prime Minister Harper has said, providing this technology on a commercial scale is key to reducing Canada's greenhouse gas emissions. In these regulations, new coal-fired plants that incorporate carbon capture and storage technology will be exempt from the standard until 2025.
But while the environmental impact of these combined efforts may be dramatic, the effect on the economy would not be. This is because our capital stock is at the point, where new facilities must be constructed anyway, and cost‑effective technology is available to produce electricity with fewer emissions.
Canada is also blessed with an abundant source of hydro-electricity, and as a result we already have one of the cleanest electricity systems in the world And in a continental context, hydro-electricity should be recognized for what it is: a clean and renewable source of energy.
That said, we are not currently making the fullest possible use of hydro-electricity. Over the next 25 years, Canada has the potential to bring another 25 000 Megawatts of hydro-electricity online, and we need to work to achieve this outcome.
In short, a responsible, clear, phase-out of the electricity sector's inefficient coal-fired generation will allow ample time for the implementation of cleaner generation technologies. This will create new jobs in the clean-energy sector, while helping Canada meet its commitment to greenhouse gas reductions.
And let me deal then with an issue that concerns every Albertan, and indeed every Canadian-the oil sands.
Our Government supports the continued expansion of the oil sands of Alberta. The oil sands are one of country's greatest resource endowments and developed responsibly, they hold the promise to be a driving engine of the Canadian economy, ensuring prosperity and a high quality of life for our children and for our grandchildren.
But let me be perfectly clear, the oils sands must be developed in an environmentally responsible manner and the Government of Canada will ensure that oil sands development lives up to our stated objective to be a "clean energy superpower". We aspire to be a respected and an environmentally responsible producer of all forms of energy, whether renewables such as hydro, or non-renewables such as the oil sands.
Accordingly, we need to up our game, in terms of both environmental investments and vigilance and in terms of our communication efforts. We do not intend to stand still, and this is not an international battle that Canada intends to lose. The challenge has, however, only just begun and we will need to work together to ensure that that happens.
Conservation is something for which I have a personal passion and I am proud of our accomplishments on that front.
For those who have been watching, we have expanded Canada's National Park system by 30%. We increased the Nahanni Park by six times its original size. We finalized the Gwaii Haanas Marine Conservation Area. We announced a new park at Mealy Mountain in Labrador. It's bigger than Yellowstone and Yosemite combined. We announced a feasibility study for a potential new Marine Conservation area in the Arctic at Lancaster Sound. We are working with Nova Scotia to complete consultations and come to agreement on bringing Sable Island into our National Park system.
So we have accomplished a lot and we are proud of this record. Just last week, even Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society applauded our work on the Gwaii Haanas Marine Conservation Area, indicating that this was a welcome step in the right direction.
And, David Suzuki called it a "world-class, ground-breaking approach to conservation."
We are demonstrating that Canada is an environmental leader, and that we're pursuing our goals in a way that balances environmental responsibility and economic security, both for today and in the future.
We are well on our way to meeting our objectives. One thing is clear: Canada is serious about climate change—and about the alignment required to address it.
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