OTTAWA - A tightening of car and truck pollution standards to take effect in 2018 did little to persuade critics of Prime Minister Stephen Harper that he’s serious about tackling climate change.
Megan Leslie, the NDP’s environment critic, called it a “reannouncement with a couple of extra bows.”
“In terms of trying to demonstrate action on climate, it’s a do-nothing statement,” said John Bennett, of the Sierra Club. “It’s only a small amount of what has to be done if we’re going to take climate change seriously.”
The Conservative federal government, which had already harmonized auto emissions standards with the U.S., said the future regulations would, by 2025, see cars consuming up to 50 per cent less fuel than 2008 vehicles.
Critics said while better than nothing, the announcement is “disappointing,” and is merely an effort to show some kind of action by Canada at a UN climate change summit that the prime minister is skipping, with no sign of meaningful regulations on the highest industrial emitters — the oil and gas sector.
“I think what this comes down to is (Environment Minister) Leona Aglukkaq couldn’t show up empty-handed so she’s gone down there to announce something that they already announced two years ago and that really just brings us in line with what the U.S. is already doing,” said Leslie. “This is not leadership.”
Dale Marshall, Environmental Defence Canada, said because Canada’s vehicle fleet is smaller and more efficient than the U.S. fleet to begin with, the impact of previously announced regulations is much smaller here.
“This will not be seen as adding to the momentum in New York,” he said, adding any benefit will be offset by the impact of more Canadians driving more cars by then.
Harper, who refused to join about 120 other government leaders at a UN climate change summit Tuesday and sent his environment minister instead, shrugged off his absence. He told reporters he looked forward to a smaller dinner meeting of about two dozen leaders Tuesday night to discuss “how we can work together collectively to address this particular issue.”
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon convened the summit to build political momentum towards the next international conference in 2015 in Paris to address global warming.
Harper said Canada is “seized” with several global challenges during the high-level September sessions of the UN, counting emerging security threats, development, humanitarian crisis, pandemics, human rights and governance as among the issues on the agenda this year.
But Leslie said Harper “needs to get with the program.”
“There are going to be over 125 other world leaders. That’s prime ministers and presidents and our prime minister is not going to be there. It’s unbelievable.”
Harper’s critics included Ontario’s environment minister Glen Murray who took part in Sunday’s massive climate change march In New York.
“Climate change is the defining issue of our time, which is why Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon invited world leaders to New York and asked them to announce ‘bold new actions’ to combat climate change,” Murray said Monday in an emailed statement to the Star.
“While it is important that Canada align its fuel and vehicle emissions regulations with the United States, I am disappointed by the lack of leadership the Government of Canada continues to show on the issue of climate change.
“Yesterday I joined over 300,000 people on the streets of New York City who believe that climate change requires meaningful, bold action from our leaders. The government of Canada needs to show that it has heard the message, and the announcement they have brought to New York while the world is watching fails to do that.”
Harper will address the annual UN general assembly on Thursday — his third speech to the body since being elected prime minister in 2006. He will attend an event to galvanize more action towards meeting the UN’s millennial development goals of improving maternal, newborn and child health around the world.
And, as he has in the past, he’ll participate in a moderated question-answer period before a friendly audience in New York City.