Photo: Budget is status quo for the environment

(Credit: viamoi via Flickr).


By Lisa Gue, Environmental Health Policy Analyst

Well, it could have been worse. But it's got to get better. The federal budget, which Finance Minister Jim Flaherty presented to Parliament and Canadians on Tuesday afternoon, was status quo when it comes to the environment.

Problem is, the status quo isn't good enough.

Budget 2011 maintains short-term funding for some important programs that were set to expire at the end of the month — notably the Clean Air Agenda and Chemicals Management Plan. That's a relief. But on the whole, there's not a lot of new investment in protecting the environment or evidence of a credible long-term strategy for moving Canada towards sustainability.

Let's consider a few specifics.

  • The Budget announced $870 million over two years for renewal of the government's Clean Air Agenda — a 30% cut in the average annual investment in this program over the past four years. The Clean Air Agenda includes regulatory activities to improve air quality — regulations that the government has been promising since 2007. Will Prime Minister Harper at last deliver on his pledge to tackle smog?
  • The Clean Air Agenda also includes some new money earmarked for climate change and energy efficiency measures. In this category, the surprise announcement of $400 million to extend the popular ecoENERGY Retrofit program for homes has received a lot of attention. We believe that Canadians need incentives to reduce their home's energy use, but this funding will only be available for one more year. Hopefully the Government is serious about energy efficiency regulations and this funding is designed to continue existing home retrofit momentum until regulations are enforced at the end of this funding tranche. To date, in the absence of a broader regulatory framework, the Clean Air Agenda has not been very effective in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. So while we agree with extending these programs, what's really needed is a comprehensive strategy to reduce GHG emissions.
  • The Budget makes some progress towards reducing fossil fuel subsidies by phasing out one (of several) special tax write-off for oilsands developments, which will save the federal government $15 million next year. But the remaining $1.4 billion in tax breaks to oil and gas supports an already very profitable industry at the potential cost of investing in clean air and energy technologies, and is at odds with the government's G20 commitment to end oil subsidies.
  • The government is providing $200 million to extend the Chemicals Management Plan for another two years. That's important, although it would have been nice to see a longer-term commitment to protecting Canadians from toxic chemicals. The workplan for the next phase of the Chemicals Management Plan involves assessing and managing 3000 "medium priority" substances. That alone is going to take longer than two years.
  • Fisheries and Oceans Canada faces reduced funding. With no new investment in DFO announced in this budget, we are concerned that cuts to critical programs will further undermine Canada's ability to manage its fisheries, create and manage marine protected areas, and protect freshwater ecosystems.

Real progress to protect the environment and improve our quality of life doesn't seem to be a high priority for the Government of Canada. Piecemeal spending in the absence of leadership and a credible action for plan achieving sustainability isn't going to get us where we need to be.

Read the Green Budget Coalition response to the 2011 budget.

March 23, 2011

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Mar 30, 2011
12:02 PM

Hello Mike,

Thanks for your comments and interest in Dr. Suzuki’s work.

A lot of people share your viewpoint when it comes to carbon credits, that it is akin to buying an indulgence and simply allows damaging behaviour to continue.

We have tried to stress in our work that carbon credits can have a positive effect on the environment. Carbon credits that invest in renewable energy projects or emission reduction initiatives can result in a real reduction in fossil fuel use and our carbon footprint. But this needs to be coupled with behaviour change. It isn’t enough to buy carbon credits and carry on with business as usual. In our publication Doing Business in a New Climate, we encourage people to purchase credits only after they have assessed where they can reduce their footprint and have implemented practices that accomplish this. Some organizations and individuals want to go that extra step and purchase credits to target their remaining footprint. We believe this sends an important signal that there is consumer demand for emission reduction initiatives and it will encourage investment in these types of projects.

Unfortunately, there have also been a number of examples of carbon credit schemes that have not delivered on their advertised emission reductions and some have even been revealed as fraudulent. This does little to inspire confidence in potential consumers. We still feel that high quality, third-party verified carbon credits are positive for the environment but the challenge is for consumers to assess the claims of a vendor. We created the guide Purchasing Carbon Offsets to inform consumers before they make a purchase and provide them with a list of questions and criteria that can help distinguish the best of the bunch.

Mar 28, 2011
10:14 AM

Dear David Suzuki, March 28/2011 I have recently retired from a ground transportation company. Most of their vehicles ran on propane, which as far as I know combusts completely and does not cause toxic residues released into the atmosphere. Why can’t someone who is interested enough in climate change and reduction of GHGs lobby respective governments with what I see as a perfect solution to vehicle emissions? I know the oil companies would not be easily persuaded to let go of their absurd, disgusting and ridiculous profits but surely even they must see that the oil will eventually run out. Why not have the Automobile Industry produce vehicles to run specifically on propane or natural gas or LPG as it is known as in Holland, where by the way, about 95% of vehicles run on LPG, which is available in all gas stations. At the moment for a vehicle to run on propane it needs to be converted at a substantial cost, half of which is reimbursed by the Canadian Government, so I was informed by my former employer. There are ways to combat global warming and GHGs but no governments seem to be interested enough in saving the planet for their children and grandchildren. I hope some of them wake up before it is too late. As a driver I was often needed to return tourists to Toronto from the Niagara Region after a day of sight-seeing. I remember on more than one occasion on approaching Toronto remarks on how beautiful Toronto looked with all the high rise building lights shining in the distance. My only thoughts on hearing this was, “What a waste of energy!” They would probably be much better off hiring Security personnel to patrol the floors overnight than to expend that amount of energy in the name of security, as well as create jobs. I personally am doing what I can to promote Green Energy by taking a job with a company offering Carbon Offsets and RECs to residences. For every household I can convert it will save about 5 Tonnes annually of CO2 being spewed into the atmosphere. However I am sure you know much more about this than I do. I hope you find my correspondence interesting and I will now get down off my soap box for today, Yours in Green Health, Bevin Jackson.

Mar 24, 2011
10:26 AM

A note to David unrelated to this topic:

Puchasing Carbon credits????? Come on David, you’d gain alot more respect amongst everyone I know by at least acknowledging the hyposcrasy in such programs. What this amounts to is a lisence for the rich to continue thier lifestyles flying here and there, while telling everyone else to be green. Don’t get me completely wrong, I love your work and have read many of your books and watched most of the video. I simply think that you should axe the “carbon credits” aspect, or at least be quiet about it, because it makes you look foolish/hypocritical, despite your manifest genius. Carbon credits are not the answer. Feel free to dontate to a green cause, yes, but please forego the idea that this donated money is a liscence to violate the earth. If everyone thought this was OK, we’d all just work harder at our existing jobs (buring more fuels in the process), a buy credits to feel good about ourselves. Since money is but a human fabrication, we could just have the bankers fabricate more it from thin air and loan it to us.. which would solve what, exactly? Lots of us donate money to you, but do not feel that give us any right to be exempted.

The REAL danger in this thinking is that it validates the notion that the affluent don’t have to change… only us poor masses. I can assure you, not a single person is going to change anything at all while our movers and shakers think they are immune from the sacrifices/choices we all must make to preserve nature. Pretty much without exception, all of those musicians and actors who claim to be all about preservation are seen as hypocrites by any thinking person I know, and hence NOT TRUSTED. Please don’t let yourself get lumped in with Al Gore and Madonna (endless talk of do-goodness and change while they fly all over the place in a private jet), your messages are far too important for that.

Sorry, this had to be said… otherwise I’m a truly great admirer. No doubt it’s brutally hard to be under the public miscoscope, and I doubt I’d do 1/10th as well as you have holding up to the naysayers and critics.

Oh PS — I am pretty much making everyone I know listen to your speech in Force OF Nature. Truly great stuff, and a great intro to your work. It’s certainly easier to get people to watch a video than read a book these days. For those that are “moved by the movie”, I instantly recommend The Sacred Balance and Wisdom of The Elders…

Cheers -Mike

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