Kent touts new emissions standards for autos as he heads to tense talks in Doha

OTTAWA – On the eve of global climate talks that will put Canada’s contentious policies under the microscope, Ottawa has introduced its next set of rules to cut greenhouse gas emissions from cars and light trucks.

Under regulations proposed on Tuesday, vehicles built between 2017 and 2025 will be required to cut emissions by an average of five per cent a year, every year.

Environment Minister Peter Kent said these rules should cut annual gasoline costs by about $900 per auto, compared with today.

The regulations are designed to match U.S. standards first proposed more than a year ago and will build on existing regulations that cover models built between 2011 and 2016.

“We will see emissions at 50 per cent of what they were in 2008,” Kent said in an interview.

Light trucks won’t have to meet the new standards as quickly as cars because manufacturers need extra time to make sure they can perform the work required by the farmers and construction workers who drive them, Environment Canada said in a background document.

Unlike previous rounds of industrial regulations that pitted industry against environmentalists, this set is expected to meet little resistance. The federal NDP denounced the measures as “recycling” from the United States, but auto manufacturers welcomed the government’s decision to view North America as a single market and clearly set out expectations for the next decade.

Environmentalists said the stiffer standards will help clean the air and save consumers money at the same time.

“It’s fairly welcome that Canada will continue to follow the U.S. administration’s ambitious lead on fuel efficiency,” said P.J. Partington, a climate policy analyst with the Pembina Institute. “It’s great for drivers. They’ll be saving a lot of money on gas.”

The announcement comes more than a year after the United States floated a similar plan, but the timing is no accident. Kent leaves this weekend for a week of United Nations climate change talks in Doha that, as usual, will put him on the defensive.

“We wanted to make the announcement before Doha because it is another step forward in our sector-by-sector approach,” he said.

While the Harper government has been vociferous in its attack against other approaches to controlling emissions, Canada’s policy of regulating industry by industry has drawn scorn not just from environmentalists but also other countries.

In Canada, the federal environmental commissioner and the now-defunct National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy have both said this approach is not enough to meet the country’s 2020 emissions target.

Environmental organizations say Canada lacks credibility at the bargaining table as countries seek to replace the expiring Kyoto protocol with another binding international treaty to limit global warming.

“Right now (we’re) well on path for global pariah, heads too buried in the tar sands to see the coming storms,” Cameron Fenton, national director of the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, said in a blog this week.

Canada has an “enormous gap” between its global commitment to reduce emissions and the plans it has introduced so far, Partington added. Since Ottawa has already included emissions from the tailpipe regulations in its tally, Tuesday’s announcement won’t actually take Canada any closer to meeting its 2020 promise to reduce emissions by 17 per cent below 2005 levels, he said.

But Kent said he will tackle his critics head-on in Doha.

“There’s an awful lot of misinformation out there and no little amount of disinformation about Canada’s commitment towards climate change, both in terms of mitigation and adaptation,” he said. “We’ll be meeting with the media, we’ll be meeting with our colleagues in the major economies’ forum, to talk about the things we are doing.

“We’ll refresh the memory of folks who don’t know or who don’t want to know that our sector-by-sector approach has taken us halfway to our 2020 targets.”

But Kent will not be taking any promises of money to the United Nations talks in Doha.

The top U.N. climate official as well as many environmental groups are pleading with developed countries to live up to a commitment to help poor countries deal with and prevent more climate change.

Time has run out for a $30-billion, three-year global fund that was meant to kick-start a larger $100-billion-a-year fund partly financed by the private sector. But the larger fund is still empty.

No one should expect the Doha talks to change that, Kent said.

“This isn’t a pledging conference,” he said, adding that he will make that clear at the meetings.

He said the private sector needs to be heavily involved in the Green Fund financing. But Canada has traditionally opposed a tax on financial transactions — one of the leading options to raise private-sector money.

Countries including Canada have committed to do what it takes to limit global warming to two degrees above pre-industrial levels. But the International Energy Agency projects about 3.6 degrees in warming, even after all recent commitments are taken into account.