Categories: Environment

Environment File

Auditor thrashes government

Canada’s environmental commissioner criticized the government last week for failing to protect fish and for overstating the effects of its greenhouse gas reduction policies by a factor of four.

Scott Vaughan, the commissioner of the environment and sustainable development, released his audits of fish habitat protection and the 2007 Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act last Tuesday.

The 2007 Kyoto Act requires the government to make annual reports on how it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions to meet the Kyoto climate change agreement. This report is separate from the greenhouse gas inventory Canada provides to the UN.

The commissioner found that the report likely overstated the reductions by about a factor of four. The report projected a 52-megatonne reduction in total emissions by 2010 due to new codes of practice and a technology fund, which lets companies pay $15 a tonne into a pool to research technologies that could reduce emissions in the future.

The regulations setting up the fund and codes are already behind schedule, Vaughan said, and they contribute about 80 per cent of the plan’s predicted reductions.

“We think it would be very unlikely that there’d be emission reductions in 2010,” he says. Money invested this year (when the regulations are expected to kick in) was unlikely to produce results before then, and companies would need time to fully adopt the new codes. As a result, the government’s plan would likely produce just 11 megatonnes of reductions. The government had already predicted that it would miss its 2010 Kyoto target, he notes; this adds to the gap.

The report also called on the fisheries and environment departments to do more to protect fish habitat. The departments could not effectively verify if habitat had been replaced after it was destroyed, and did not have an effective system in place to monitor releases from oilsands tailings ponds.

Habitat protection is one of the keystones of federal environmental law, Vaughan says. “There’s a direct risk [here]in terms of potential damage to habitat.” The report makes a series of recommendations to improve habitat protection.

The report is available at www.oag-bvg.gc.ca.

Climate change is the number one threat to human health this century, says a renowned medical journal.

The Lancet, one of the world’s top medical journals, published a report on the effects of climate change on health last Wednesday commissioned from University College London. “Climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century,” it reads, as it would “put the lives and well-being of billions of people at increased risk.”

Recent research suggests that the world will likely see more than two degrees of warming this century, the report found, with northern Canada seeing four to five degrees. This would lead to more floods, droughts and heat waves, and (if about six degrees of warming occur) could lead to the disintegration of the Greenland and west Antarctic ice sheets by 2150, raising sea levels and displacing about a third of the world’s people.

Predicted climate shifts would put about 290 million more people than normal at risk from malaria by 2080, the report found, and almost double the number at risk of dengue fever. African nations would be hit about 500 times harder by such changes than Europeans as they had fewer resources to adapt to the changes.

Albertans would need to reinforce their emergency response crews to prepare for these weather shifts, says Colin Soskolne, an epidemiologist at the University of Alberta and co-author of a similar report from Health Canada last year. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions would help mitigate the effects of climate change on health, he adds.

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