February 5, 2009 / 7:53 PM / 9 years ago

Canada's bid to cut greenhouse gases flawed: probe

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Two of Canada’s major strategies for cutting emissions of greenhouse gases have major flaws and cannot achieve the promised results, the country’s environmental watchdog said on Thursday.

<p>Smoke rises from a chemical company's stacks in Hamilton, approximately 50 km (31 miles) south of Toronto in this February 1, 2007 file photo. Two of Canada's major strategies for cutting emissions of greenhouse gases have major flaws and cannot achieve the promised results, the country's environmental watchdog said on Thursday. REUTERS/J.P. Moczulski</p>

The report by Environment Commissioner Scott Vaughan promises to be a fresh headache for Canada’s minority Conservative government, which critics say is only paying lip service to green causes.

“The government cannot demonstrate that the money it is spending on some important environmental programs is making a difference,” Vaughan said at a news conference.

Soon after winning power in early 2006, the Conservatives walked away from the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, saying the cuts it required would harm the economy.

The Environment Department has since produced a less stringent plan that it says will reduce emissions by 50 percent from 2007 levels by 2050. One element of the plan is a C$1.5 billion ($1.2 billion) clean air trust fund that is designed to cut emissions by 16 megatons a year from 2008 to 2012.

“The department conducted almost no analysis to support that figure ... the little analysis it did undertake is based on flawed assumptions,” Vaughan wrote in his report.

Ottawa handed over the C$1.5 billion to Canada’s 10 provinces and three territories but did not require them to spend it on cutting emissions and did not oblige them to report the results of the actions they took.

“The nature of the trust fund makes it very unlikely that the department can report real, measurable and justifiable results,” Vaughan said.

David McGuinty, finance spokesman for the opposition Liberals, told reporters he had raised concerns months ago about what he called a C$1.5 billion fraud.

“No one knows where the money is going,” he said.

Vaughan also criticized a C$635 million program designed to give tax credits to those who use public transport.

In 2007, the Environment Department said this would cut emissions by 220,000 tonnes a year. A year later, it slashed this estimate to just 35,000 tonnes.

“The tax credit will have a negligible impact on Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions ... it is almost impossible to measure actual greenhouse gas emission reductions attributable to the tax credit,” wrote Vaughan, citing the many factors that influence use of public transit.

“Environment Canada could not provide any analysis to support the assertion that the tax credit would result in measurable impacts.”

Vaughan said the federal Finance Ministry had calculated that it should cost no more than C$800 to cut one tonne of greenhouse gas emissions. The cost of doing so under the transit tax would be well over C$3,000 a tonne, he said.

Environment Minister Jim Prentice said Ottawa had relied on the best information that was available at the time.

“We have to examine the report ... and I imagine we will make improvements,” he told reporters.

The Pembina Institute green think tank said it was “deplorable that Canadians were given the impression the federal government was taking significant action on global warming, when in reality Canada’s action was and remains feeble by international standards”.

($1=$1.23 Canadian)

Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Frank McGurty

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