Poor information leaves government unable to properly manage environmental change


(The Commissioner’s Perspective—October 2011 Report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development)

Ottawa, 4 October 2011—The federal government lacks reliable information to inform Canadians about environmental change and to take actions needed to safeguard environmental quality, says Scott Vaughan, Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, in his report tabled today in the House of Commons.

“Since I began as Commissioner three years ago, a recurring theme in my reports has been the significant gaps in the information needed to understand and respond to the changing state of our  environment,” said Mr. Vaughan.

The Commissioner’s Perspective notes that due to a lack of adequate management information, the government does not know what results have been achieved with the billions of dollars allocated to implement its climate change plans.

The report also notes that the federal government has not tracked the cumulative environmental effects of multiple development projects over time. As a consequence, decisions about oil sands projects have been based on incomplete, poor, or non-existent environmental information.

The Commissioner underscores the pivotal role that environmental assessments play in understanding cumulative environmental effects. His report is intended for Parliament’s use in its upcoming review of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. He also noted the recent commitments of Environment Canada to significantly improve environmental monitoring in the Athabasca oil sands region.

“The government has set out a detailed and comprehensive plan to get the right environmental monitoring system in place,” said Mr. Vaughan. “We look forward to reporting to Parliament on its implementation in future reports.”

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The chapter “The Commissioner’s Perspective” is available on the Office of the Auditor General of Canada website.

For more information, please click here.

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Climate change plans don’t measure up

(Chapter 1—Climate Change Plans Under the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act—October 2011 Report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development)

Ottawa, 4 October 2011—The federal government has allocated over $9 billion in the 2010 climate change plan for measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but it lacks the tools and management systems needed to achieve, measure, and report emission reductions, says Scott Vaughan, federal Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, in a report tabled today in the House of Commons. The report is required under the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act.

The audit found that Canada is not on track to meet its greenhouse gas emissions target under the Kyoto Protocol. According to Environment Canada, in 2008, greenhouse gas emissions in Canada were 24 percent higher than in 1990, and exceeded the Kyoto target by 31 percent.

“Climate change is already having a major impact on Canadian ecosystems and the health of Canadians,” said Mr. Vaughan. “To reach the new target the federal government committed to under the Copenhagen Accord, it will need to address the weaknesses in current management practices.”

The 2007 Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act requires that the government implement annual climate change plans designed to ensure that Canada meets its Kyoto obligations by 2012. The Act also requires that every two years until 2012, the Commissioner analyze and report on the government’s progress in implementing the plans and meeting those obligations.

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The chapter “Climate Change Plans Under the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act” is available on the Office of the Auditor General of Canada website.

For more information, please click here.

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Impacts of oil sands development on environment are not understood

(Chapter 2—Assessing Cumulative Environmental Effects of Oil Sands Projects—October 2011 Report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development)

Ottawa, 4 October 2011—A lack of environmental information and monitoring has hindered the government’s ability to understand how oil sands projects in northern Alberta have cumulatively affected environmental conditions there, says Scott Vaughan, federal Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, in his report tabled today in the House of Commons. The audit focused on the Alberta oil sands because of the high concentration of major development projects in the region.

“When there are several development projects in the same region, it’s important to understand their combined impacts on the environment and how to minimize them,” said Mr. Vaughan. “Failure to prevent environmental impacts from the start can lead to significant problems down the road.”

The audit found that decisions about the oil sands projects have been based on incomplete, poor, or non-existent environmental information. The government’s understanding of changing environmental conditions in northern Alberta has been hampered by a lack of baseline information on conditions in the surrounding ecosystems and inadequate environmental monitoring systems. The government’s own scientists have acknowledged that impacts on water quantity and quality, fish and fish habitat, land, air and wildlife are not fully known.

The Oil Sands Advisory Panel established by the government in 2010 reported that the many efforts at environmental monitoring had failed to add up to a credible system. In response, the government committed to establish, with its partners, a world-class environmental monitoring system for the lower Athabasca River basin.

“This monitoring is critically important,” said Mr. Vaughan. “The government appears to have the right plan in place. It now needs to follow through and deliver.”

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The chapter “Assessing Cumulative Environmental Effects of Oil Sands Projects” is available on the Office of the Auditor General of Canada website.

For more information, please click here.

 

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One Response to Poor information leaves government unable to properly manage environmental change

  1. Alan Burke says:

    From the Pembina Institute: Oilsands and climate change
    How Canada’s oilsands are standing in the way of effective climate action

    As the United States evaluates whether the proposed Keystone XL oilsands pipeline is in its national interest or not, there are important issues it must consider, such as the ability of Canadian provincial and federal climate policies to effectively address rising greenhouse gas emissions.

    The Final Environmental Impact Statement for the pipeline issued by the U.S. Department of State overlooked key information and context on greenhouse gas emission management in Canada. In fact, a close inspection of Canada’s climate record illustrates key weaknesses at the federal level as well as in Alberta.

    This fact sheet and briefing note aim to supplement the dialogue by providing key information on oilsands emissions growth, future oilsands intensity improvements, and the climate policies in effect in Canada at the provincial and federal levels.

    Learn more: Fact sheet PDF (Click here)

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