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Climate change report 'irresponsible,' Prentice says

Environment Minister Jim Prentice speaks to reporters outside the House of Commons after Question Period on Oct. 6, 2009.

Adrian Wyld

A landmark report on the economic impact of meeting climate-change targets has run into a storm of opposition, with Western provinces calling it divisive and the federal government saying it would spell economic disaster.

"We would be extremely opposed to any kind of a carbon tax or some other kind of tax that would result in a significant wealth transfer from our province to any other province or area of the country," said Saskatchewan Energy Minister Bill Boyd.

Federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice said there is no way Western Canadians could absorb the deep economic hit projected by the report's environmentalist authors - the David Suzuki Foundation and the Pembina Institute.

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He said their assumptions are way off: The long-term economic conditions they forecast will be avoided by working with the Americans on a continental climate-change plan.

"The conclusions [the report]draws are irresponsible," said Mr. Prentice in an interview with The Globe and Mail from Kingston, where he was meeting with provincial and territorial environment ministers. Specifically, he said Canadians will not accept the report's advocacy of emission targets for 2020 that would reduce Canada's gross domestic product by 3 per cent nationally and 12 per cent in Alberta from business-as-usual estimates.

The report, which was financed but not endorsed by the Toronto Dominion Bank, provides the estimated costs for Canada to meet the Conservative government's own target to reduce emissions to 20 per cent below 2006 levels by 2020, as well as a more stringent target advocated by environmentalists.

The projections rely on an economic modelling scheme designed by Mark Jaccard & Associates, which produced similar models for the federal government.

The report said meeting the government's target would require a cap on emissions and a penalty - or "carbon price" - on industry that rises from $40 to $100 per tonne of CO{-2} emissions. The environmentalists' target would start at $50 per tonne in 2010 and rise to $200 per tonne by 2020.

Mr. Prentice insisted Thursday that Canada's target can be achieved by harmonizing with U.S. proposals that are currently estimated to be about $28 per tonne.

"The kind of economic consequences you see in this report are not necessary if this is done in an orderly way," he said, noting the costs must be acceptable in all regions. Mr. Prentice also said Canada will not cap emissions alone and that he expects the U.S. Senate will not approve new climate rules until next year.

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The slower-than-expected timeline for the U.S. plan has led the United Nations to play down expectations that the world will reach a detailed new climate-change pact this December in Copenhagen. Instead, that gathering is now aimed at producing a more general agreement.

Alberta Environment Minister Rob Renner, who was also at the Kingston meeting Thursday, said the report is "divisive" and unworkable.

"Alberta is not asking for special privileges nor are we asking to get some kind of a free pass," he said in an interview. "We're in this, we're taking it seriously and we're going to do everything that we can to mitigate the issue of CO{-2} as it relates to Alberta."

Mr. Renner said the report does point out that meaningful emissions reductions are technically possible with significant technology spending. Alberta has been investing heavily in carbon capture and storage projects as a way to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions.

Mr. Boyd said the way to solve climate-change concerns is through technology - and perhaps a technology fund - not transfers of wealth from energy-producing provinces.

The report provided fodder for both the left and the right Thursday in Ottawa, where MPs are studying an NDP bill, C-311, that proposes emission targets in line with those forecast by the David Suzuki Foundation and Pembina.

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Conservative MPs at the table said the report shows the NDP's proposals would hurt Alberta and put national unity at risk.

Edmonton-Strathcona NDP MP Linda Duncan defended the report, saying many Albertans would welcome slower growth in the oil sands, and it would reduce the need for Canadians from other regions to fill Western job shortages.

"The Conservatives are trying to say, 'Clearly if we go in that direction it's going to hammer Alberta and Saskatchewan.' I read it completely different," she said, predicting her province would be in line for new technology investments. "I think what it shows is Alberta will do very well under the green scenario."

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About the Authors
Parliamentary reporter

A member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery since 1999, Bill Curry worked for The Hill Times and the National Post prior to joining The Globe in Feb. 2005. Originally from North Bay, Ont., Bill reports on a wide range of topics on Parliament Hill, with a focus on finance. More

Dawn Walton

Dawn Walton has been based in Calgary for The Globe and Mail since 2000. Before leaving Toronto to head West, she won a National Newspaper Award and was twice nominated for the Michener Award for her work with the Report on Business. More

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