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While we talk, Canada's emissions go up, up and up ...

From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

Up, up and up. Our greenhouse-gas emissions just keep going up, and no government seems able or willing to reverse the trend.

From 2004 to 2006, emissions actually declined in Canada, from 741 million tonnes to 718 million, a drop explained by one-off developments and mild winters. But, in 2007, emissions jumped 4 per cent, resuming the upward march that began in 1991.

Environment Canada, in a required annual filing to the United Nations, says "long-term growth remains significant. Between 1990 and 2007, large increases in oil and gas production - much of it for export - as well as a large increase in the number of motor vehicles and greater reliance on coal electricity generation, have resulted in a significant rise in emissions."

Canada's record, overall, is therefore awful, the worst in the Group of Eight - which probably explains why Environment Canada put out the numbers without the fanfare that usually accompanies "good news" announcements.

A few pats on the back are in order. The chemical industry dropped emissions by 47 per cent from 1990, and the metals industry by 29 per cent. Emissions from the pulp and paper and forestry industries are way down, courtesy of plant closures and co-generation of power from wood chips. Residential emissions did not rise from 1990 to 2007, courtesy of higher efficiency appliances, furnaces and tougher energy standards for homes.

There the cheering stops. Elsewhere, the record ranged from bad to terrible.

Emissions from sport utility vehicles were up 117 per cent, because the car manufacturers (now trying to paint themselves green) made more money in SUVs and got them classified as trucks, thereby avoiding tighter controls placed on cars. Emissions from diesel trucks soared.

Mining emissions skyrocketed 276 per cent, largely because of Alberta's tar sands projects. Coal, a climate killer, continued to fire power generation with resulting emissions.

Oil and natural gas, big vehicles and electrical generation from coal - these are the major sources of emissions. No Canadian government has developed a credible plan to deal with the problem.

The Chrétien and Martin governments flunked the test. Jean Chrétien got Canada into the Kyoto Protocol with no idea how to meet the target of reducing emissions by 6 per cent from 1990 levels. We missed that target by 34 per cent (or 150 million tonnes).

The Harper government has now set a target of reducing emissions by 20 per cent from 2006 levels. (It just wrote off emissions from 1990 to 2006.)

Alas, emissions shot up about 30 million tonnes in 2007 compared with 2006, so the trend line is already going in the wrong direction. Almost no independent expert or third party group believes the Harper government's policies will meet that 20-per-cent reduction target. Indeed, it cannot possibly be met if Alberta's emissions rise by 20 per cent during the same period.

The world knows this. Climate-change negotiators from other countries are well aware of Canada's awful record. They have seen Canadian posturing many times at meetings. They understand how Canada talks one game but does another. They appreciate the conflict between the Canadian and Alberta targets.

Last week, the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy showed how to improve Canada's record: Create a national cap-and-trade system for emissions, covering all sectors of the economy, not just the big emitters. The scheme would set a price for carbon over time, the only way to reduce emissions. We know it's the only way because all the other "solutions" have failed.

The Harper government, however, has no interest in trying to develop such a national scheme. The Conservatives have largely abandoned key parts of their previous (and inadequate) policies, waiting for Washington to decide how it will reduce emissions - at which point the government will petition to join the American effort.

The subtext of the government's thinking is that, by following the Americans, recalcitrant economic actors in Canada and reluctant provinces such as Alberta will have no choice but to go along. Meantime, Canadian emissions go up, up and up.

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