At this point, even those who were formerly the staunchest deniers of global warming are now accepting the idea that there is a pervasive global change in climate ”” and that it is occurring at a rapid pace.
To date, 177 countries have acceded to or ratified the Kyoto Protocol on the stabilization of greenhouse gas emis- sions, including long time holdouts like Australia. In fact, the only two signatories to the Protocol that have not acced- ed to or ratified it are the United States and Kazakhstan. Quebec, as a member of Canada, has acceded to the accord but finds itself in the enviable position of not having to bear many costs in adjusting to the new post-Kyoto global reality.
Despite the abundance of sound scientific evidence on the impending destruction of the global climate system, including the annual reports from the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, many jurisdic- tions are still reluctant to take action, primarily because of the potentially high mitigation and adaptation costs. For many countries, ratification of the Kyoto Protocol has been a purely symbolic move, as they have not come anywhere close to their committed targets on greenhouse gas emission reductions.
Canada is one of these countries; its target was to reduce the emission of gases that contribute to the greenhouse effect to 6 percent below the levels of these gases that were produced in 1990, but the most recent data indicate that Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions are up 20 percent since 1990. (This figure does not include data for changes in land use and deforestation. With this additional information taken into consideration, Canada has the third-worst emissions record in the industrialized world: a +54 percent change in emissions since 1990.) The federal government’s current envi- ronmental plan calls for a new target of a 20 percent reduc- tion in greenhouse gas emissions below 2006 levels, with a new deadline extended from Kyoto’s original 2012 to 2020.
What this means is that there is a huge amount of room for Canada to improve its efforts on the mitigation of glob- al climate change. Since the federal government under three different prime ministers has proven unwilling or incapable of implementing an effective strategy for reducing green- house gas emissions, it is now incumbent on provincial gov- ernments to take control of the climate change issue and to realize their own local, and perhaps partnered, strategies for combating climate change.
No province stands to gain more from a shift in responsi- bility on climate change than does Quebec, and the opportu- nity is too good for that province to pass up. The environment is a murky area of the constitution, with no clear powers or roles yet developed for either tier of government. The federal government has failed to meet its inter- nationally committed targets. Quebec’s historical investment in hydroelectricity puts it at an astonishingly low level of greenhouse gas emissions, well below the national average and at a massive advantage over any other province. Aboriginal groups, as well as the interna- tional community, favour more aggres- sive efforts on climate change, so there is some internal and external pressure in this area. Now is the time for Quebec to seize the reins and lead the charge.
Of course there will be obstacles in Quebec’s path, should that province choose to push an aggressive climate change agenda. However, it is our con- tention here that these obstacles can be, for the most part, overcome. Given that Quebec has a long tradition of strug- gling for increased autonomy from the federal government in Ottawa, and given that most of the pressure points on a Quebec climate change agenda will tend to favour increased efforts, now is the time for Quebec to act. Unlike most other Canadian jurisdic- tions, Quebec has much to gain and lit- tle to lose from a massive increase in efforts against climate change.
At first glance, sections 91 to 95 of the 1867 Constitution Act attempt to divide legislative powers neatly between the federal parliament and the provincial legislatures. However, Cana- da’s governments are not the ”œwater- tight compartments” that Lord Atkin of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council once called them. There is a considerable amount of overlap, cross- cutting powers, and continuous jockey- ing for control that results in much blurring of lines between the federal and provincial domains of power. Issues like the federal spending power (other- wise known as the vertical fiscal imbal- ance), the federal government’s power to regulate interprovincial affairs, and the ”œpeace, order and good govern- ment” clause of section 91 of the con- stitution (often called the ”œPOGG” power) offer Ottawa many methods of i n t e rvening in areas normally thought of as provincial jurisdictions.
As a young policy field, the feder- al division of powers in the area of environmental protection is ambigu- ous, lacking in clear legal precedents, and open to further redefinition. In the area of climate change, which has really only been in the public eye for about 20 years, there is ample room for the provinces to step in and reaffirm their constitutional role.
The original constitutional docu- ment does not establish responsibility for the environment for either tier of government. And unlike other fields (such as health care), there is no lengthy tradition of established practices and jurisprudence, because interest in envi- ronmental protection only arose in the 1960s. Sections 92 and 109 of the 1867 Constitution Act gave the provinces the unqualified right of ownership, manage- ment and sale of provincial land hold- ings, as well as control over the wood resources arising from that land. In 1982, the provinces’ powers over nonrenew- able natural resources, forestry resources and electrical energy were reaffirmed under the new section 92A. However, the federal government still has the power to legislate on many aspects of the environment, through its POGG power and its control over territorial govern- ments, First Nations reserves, fisheries, w a t e rways, international trade and other areas of federal jurisdiction.
Despite the base of constitutional authority that the provinces have over natural resources, there have been sev- eral Supreme Court rulings that have bestowed some responsibility on the federal government for protection of the environment. In its decisions on R. v. Crown Zellerbach in 1988, Oldman River Dam in 1992 and Attorney General of Canada v. Hydro-Québec in 1997, the Court has given Ottawa the power to mitigate marine pollution and the responsi- bility to measure the envi- ronmental impacts of provincial projects and reg- ulate toxic substances. In addition, the Supreme Court’s Grand Council of Crees decision in 1994 reminded the federal government that it has control over natural resources that are intended for export outside of Canada. This is an important fact, given that much of the greenhouse gas emissions in Canada come from the oil and natural gas industries, the product of which is mostly intended for export to the United States.
As a result of these decisions, and of the federal policy programs that have ensued, there have been several incarnations of federal environmental protection laws and some intergovern- mental collaboration. In 1988, the provinces and Ottawa established the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, which made ”œharmo- nization” one of its main objectives. In 1998, all the provinces except Quebec signed the Canada-wide Accord on Environmental Harmonization with the federal government, which gave leadership on environmental protec- tion to the provinces while allowing for harmonization of policy and shar- ing of information across jurisdictions.
There is still a lot of room for the federal government to involve itself in environmental protection issues, and more room still for the provinces to assert their jurisdictional powers, espe- cially through collaboration. Provinces can legislate with respect to natural resources within their own territory, but they cannot make laws that are intended to have an effect outside of their borders, so harmonization or at least collaboration is greatly needed here. Since there is an incentive for provinces to lower their environmen- tal regulation on pollutants that tend to leave their territory, it makes sense to have some kind of enforced cooper- ation between provincial jurisdictions.
In 2002, the federal government ratified the Kyoto Protocol. As a treaty, Kyoto binds Canada under internation- al law to legally enforceable restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions. However, as the division of powers on the envi- ronment have not been clearly defined, it is still ambiguous as to whether Ottawa has the authority to compel the provinces to abide by the treaty.
Nevertheless, even if the federal government did possess this power, under POGG or any other clause, this would not preclude Quebec from creat- ing its own climate change strategy. As it can be shown, Quebec is already far in advance of any other province in Canada as regards greenhouse gas emissions, and it is Quebec that will be leading the fight against climate change in the near future. If anything, Quebec has been more actively pursuing Kyoto-like targets than any other jurisdiction in Canada, includ- ing the federal government.
Environment Canada’s National Inventory Report on greenhouse gas emissions for 2007 (the latest year for which a report has been published) con- firms that Quebec is at a massive advan- tage with respect to every single other province on a variety of indicators of greenhouse gas emissions. While Quebec has not yet met the – 6 percent target reduction in emissions, its emissions have only risen a paltry 4.8 percent since 1990 ”” well below the national average of 22.5 percent, and by far the lowest of any province. Since Quebec’s economy grew at around the national average in those 15 years, this means that energy use in Quebec has become more efficient than it has in any other province. In fact there is an indicator to measure this: it is called economic greenhouse gas intensi- ty, and it measures gross greenhouse gas emissions per billion dollars of gross domestic product. In 2005, Quebec’s eco- nomic greenhouse gas intensity was 0.39 ”” again the lowest of any province and well below the national average. At 11.8 tonnes per person, Quebec also had the lowest per capita output of greenhouse gases in the country in 2005. In the 15 years between 1990 and 2005, Quebec’s economy grew 42 percent, its population base grew 7.7 percent, and yet its green- house gas emissions grew at the slowest rate in the country.
The 10 provinces’ climate change efforts have also been evaluated by exter- nal agencies on a number of occasions. The David Suzuki Foundation has praised Quebec’s current strategy for meeting emissions targets and the goals it has already accomplished, including a 27 percent drop in emissions from metal production industries caused by both smelter closures and improved produc- tion processes, and has called on the other provinces and the federal govern- ment to emulate Quebec’s commitment to emissions reduction. The Conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers, which has its own ”œClimate Change Action Plan” that is even more stringent than the Kyoto Protocol, twice gave Quebec the highest rating of any of its members. In 2004 and again in 2006, Quebec’s per capita green- house gas emissions level was the lowest of the 11 members of the Conference, and it was well below the average.
There are several reasons why Quebec has been able to make these gains on its greenhouse gas emissions. In part, the province has pursued a strategy of emissions reduction since 2000, when it released its first climate change plan. Under this plan, the province teamed up with the pri- vate sector to provide $1.6 bil- lion toward reducing electricity consumption, and also built 444 megawatts of wind power.
Quebec’s most recent climate change plan is much more com- prehensive and ambitious than its predecessor: it aims to improve vehicle fuel consumption by 20-25 percent, add 5 percent ethanol to all gasoline sold in the province by 2012, impose a surtax on registering large-engine vehicles, introduce a carbon tax for industrial polluters (the first of its kind in Canada), institute a 10 percent reduction in reliance on petroleum prod- ucts, introduce stricter energy efficiency guidelines for new construction projects, and produce up to 3500 megawatts of new wind power in the province ”” 3.5 times the existing wind turbine capacity in all of Canada. In a separate plan for public transit, Quebec has pledged upwards of $7 billion over 10 years to finance new public transit infra- structure across the province, which should reduce the amount of commuter traffic in urban centres.
As laudable as these climate change plans are, there is no denying that much of Quebec’s success in keeping emissions down is not a result of current govern- ment action. Quebec’s historical invest- ment in hydroelectricity means that it relies much less heavily on fossil fuels for energy than do other provinces. Even in 1990, before the real interest in climate change began, Quebec already produced more than 110,000 kWh of hydroelec- tricity ”” almost three times as much as Ontario or Manitoba, and more than twice that of British Columbia. In addi- tion, unlike British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia or Newfoundland, Quebec does not pro- duce any oil or natural gas. The extrac- tion of fossil fuels and the related industry is one of the most significant sources of greenhouse gases in Canada, as evidenced by Alberta’s and Saskatchewan’s massive increases in emissions since they began to exploit these sectors ”” and especially heavy oils in the tar sands ”” in earnest.
Furthermore, Quebec’s two main metal sectors, the aluminium and mag- nesium industries, underwent signifi- cant improvements in technology that dramatically reduced the greenhouse gas emissions from their production processes. Norsk Hydro, a Norwegian aluminium company with a stake in the Canadian industry, developed a technique that eliminated the use of the powerful greenhouse gas sulphur hexafluoride from its aluminium pro- duction process, and other companies have followed suit. This has resulted in a sizeable reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the industry as a whole.
This gives Quebec a significant advantage in emissions levels over any other province in Canada. Of course, the drawback to this model is that Quebec will have to work harder to further reduce its emissions than another province would, because it cannot attack the most polluting energy production sectors as other provinces might. Fortunately, Quebec has pledged itself to meet this challenge, through investment in wind power and public transit infra- structure. Through the combination of its lucky position with respect to energy production and industry, and its assertive proposals for investment in the future, the province of Quebec is poised to become a leader in efforts against climate change.
The biggest obstacle to imple- menting an aggressive cli- mate change agenda in Quebec is the pressure from the business and industrial sectors. Business and industry representatives will likely oppose any measures that will reduce their profits or increase their capital expendi- tures. Their general fear is that it will simply cost them too much to comply with strict emissions guidelines. The implication here is that if a strict regulatory regime makes it too expensive to operate in Quebec, some companies will move elsewhere.
This is a doomsday scenario, but it is not likely that this is how the future will unfold. In fact, many of these sectors of the economy are already moving out of Canada, as companies increasingly out- source and offshore their manufacturing processes to other countries with lower capital and labour costs. In addition, global prices for raw materials and pri- m a ry metals have coincided with a strong Canadian dollar in recent years, resulting in a less-than-competitive Canadian manufacturing sector, which has nothing to do with restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions. While the manufacturing sector might actually be getting more efficient, it is in decline in Canada as a whole: employment in the sector has been on a steady and sharp decline since 2000. The same applies to the textiles and clothing industries, lum- ber production and the mining sector.
As dire as this sounds, the Canadian economy in general and the Quebec economy in particular are not in com- plete shambles. Rather, Canada is still in the midst of a transition from a resource- based economy to what is now referred to as a ”œpost-staples” economy ”” one that relies much more heavily on the technology and service industries. In the past 15 years, high-tech industries such as aerospace, pharmaceuticals and information technology have been on the rise in Canada. In Quebec, employment in the science-based and information technology sectors rose 29 percent between 1990 and 2000, while the general workforce in that province declined 1.1 percent in that same time period. These new service and technolo- gy industries are, by nature, far less pol- luting than natural-resource-based and manufacturing industries, and so enforc- ing stricter emissions regulations or attaining a ”œcarbon-neutral” state should actually prove to be easier than it would have been in the past.
On the other side of the coin, Quebec would receive strong support for an improved effort against climate change from a number of different sources. Aboriginal groups, especially in the far north, depend on a stable envi- ronment in order to continue their tra- ditional way of life. Melting polar ice, unpredictable winters and decreases in the stocks of northern wildlife all have negative effects on the health, occupa- tional safety and food security of north- ern Aboriginal peoples. This will be an important consideration as Quebec finalizes its historic territorial arrange- ment with the Nunavik Inuit Nation.
While some of the other provinces ”” notably Alberta ”” have shown sub- stantial resistance to the Kyoto Protocol, there is no reason to believe that they would object to Quebec’s pursuing an accelerated climate change strategy. This is especially true under any of the pro- posed ”œcap-and-trade” systems, in which more polluting sectors can buy emissions ”œcredits” from less polluting sectors.
Under this system, the high-emis- sions energy sector could continue to operate without substantial capital re- investment, all while encouraging low- emissions sectors in Quebec to continue to reduce their emissions. Moreover, there does not appear to be any antipa- thy among the provinces on the subject of climate change: in 2007, the Council of the Federation pledged ”œfurther infor- mation-sharing and cooperation” on the subject and as recently as June of this year, Quebec and Ontario signed a ”œmemorandum of agreement” on a bilateral emissions-reduction plan that, if enforced, would be the most rigorous plan in Canada to date.
The international community is also very interested in addressing cli- mate change. The European Union, for one, has been a pioneer in the field of global environmental governance, and continues to provide leadership to the rest of the world on greenhouse gas emissions. And although the United States has not ratified the Kyoto Protocol, many subnational and region- al jurisdictions in the US have enacted climate change plans, most notably the state of California. In some ways, this approach may prove to be more effec- tive, as it allows regions to address the issue in ways that are more sensitive to local public and industrial needs.
The time is ripe for the province of Quebec to adopt an aggressive plan to limit greenhouse gas emissions and attack climate change. Given that Quebec has traditionally and consis- tently sought greater autonomy from the federal government, and given Quebec’s status as the lowest emitter of greenhouse gases in the country, that province is in a unique position to meet the challenge of climate change in the 21st century. Now, while the constitu- tional roles of the federal and provincial governments are still ambiguous, it may be time for Quebec to step forward and assert its place as the national leader on climate change. While the province may encounter obstacles, the amount of support that it has at its dis- posal and the economy’s natural trend toward low-emissions industries will ensure that it will not bear the kinds of mitigation and adaptation costs that most other Canadian jurisdictions would incur. Quebec will be able to invest in cleaner technologies and research and development and to reduce its own emissions even further.
Since the federal government has clearly failed to meet its international obligations to the Kyoto Protocol, it is unlikely that they or any future federal administration would challenge Quebec on its provincial climate change agenda. At present, the Quebec climate change action plan is more stringent than the federal plan, and will likely be so for some time into the future. If anything, the federal government stands to learn a lot from Quebec on this issue, rather than the other way around.