Canada Needs To Admit It Has No Climate Change Reviews, Plans or Policy

Cameron Fenton, Huffington Post, 2/26/2015

There's an old story about a vain Emperor who cares for little else than the newest and finest clothes. One day the Emperor hires two weavers who promise to make him the finest suit ever seen, made from a fabric invisible to anyone unfit for his position. As the story goes, the weavers are con artists and the Emperor parades through his town completely naked. None of the townspeople say anything, out of fear for their own position, until a child proclaims "the Emperor has no clothes" and in a moment of liberation the call echoes through every mouth in town.

Canada is walking through a real life version of this story. We have no climate regulations, massive pipeline projects like Energy East receive no climate review and all in all we have no plan for managing the climate impacts of our nation's fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions - the tar sands. Not simply an environmental catastrophe in the making, this has become a reality because of a single-minded push from Stephen Harper to shackle our economy to dirty tar sands exports, a gamble proving ill planned while the price of oil stays at record lows.

Meanwhile, almost no politicians seem willing to say, let alone to take action to change things. In fact, it took American journalists Tim Dickinson skewering Harper and his tar sands agenda in Rolling Stone just to get this conversation into the public light. Dickinson's piece Crude Awakening: How the Keystone Veto Dashes Canada's 'Superpower' Dreams is the child screaming "the Emperor has no clothes", but now it's time for Canadians to take up the call and demand real climate leadership.

Stephen Harper's petro-politics run deep throughout this nation, but nowhere is it more clear that at Canada's federal pipeline regulator -- the National Energy Board. The regulator has become the focus of protests from Burnaby Mountain to Halifax over the regulator's refusal to consider climate change, recently receiving over 100,000 messages demanding a climate review of the Energy East pipeline. Confidence in the NEB has fallen so far that according to a poll presented by the Canadian Energy Pipelines Association last October, only 3 in 10 Canadians have faith in the NEB process. Marc Eliesen, a former board member at Suncor, recently quit the NEB review of Kinder Morgan declaring the review process "fraudulent" and a "public deception".

The NEB hasn't always been so obstinate on climate change. In 2010, then NEB spokeswoman Kristen Higgins told the Globe and Mail that "just because [climate change] wasn't listed in the terms of reference doesn't mean it's not an issue that the hearing can consider" and that the NEB review would "have to pass a high test as it relates to the public interest".

Higgins' comments came before the launch of the Northern Gateway review, where public interventions were so numerous that in 2012 Stephen Harper amended both the National Energy Board Act and Canada's environmental impact assessment act. He gutted the review process for fossil fuel projects and effectively silenced the voices of concerned individuals and groups in the review process. Harper has also delayed climate regulations on Canada's oil and gas sector time and time again effectively Canada with no federal climate oversight when it comes to tar sands projects.

In this void, the NEB is now the only body left that could deliver this kind of a review, in fact Peter Watson routinely cites the NEB's responsibility in evaluating the cumulative environmental impacts of projects it reviews. Despite the fact that Energy East would expand tar sands production by upwards of 750,000 barrels a day -- with the same climate impact as 7 million cars -- or that tar sand are Canada's fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions, the NEB's definition of "environmental impacts related to Energy East" does not include climate change.

The bottom-line is that Canada needs to get serious about climate change, and that starts with acknowledging that the emperor has no clothes and we have no climate change reviews, plans or policy. It's a reality made even more glaring by recent United States Environmental Protection Agency report that found that the Keystone XL pipeline would have a significant impact on carbon emissions from tar sands expansion. With the NEB application period closing on March 3rd, and hundreds of people across Canada already having applied asking to speak on climate, the NEB could choose to buck from Harper's agenda and include climate change in the review. It's unlikely, but that's the kind of climate leadership that history will remember, and it could help Canada get on track when it comes to climate change.