Skip to content

Protocol promises bumpy ride to Kyoto (03/05)

Northern Ontario industry leaders are awaiting more details from the federal government on their approach to curb global warming.
Northern Ontario industry leaders are awaiting more details from the federal government on their approach to curb global warming.
To avoid getting too hot under the collar, they want to make sure the timelines and targets Ottawa sets to become compliant with the Kyoto Protocol are realistic and attainable without damaging the local and national economies.

The Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations' Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) went into effect Feb. 16. It is aimed at having those 140 or so industrialized nations of the world that signed the agreement in 1997 reduce the amount of anthropogenic carbon dioxide equivalent emissions they put in the atmosphere by about 8-10 per cent below their respective 1990 levels. The majority of those gases are created during the burning of fossil fuels.

For Canada, that means reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to six per cent below 1990 levels by 2012, a commitment on par with those of our major trading partners that signed and ratified the accord.

The Kyoto Accord is based upon the premise that humankind has been altering the global climate by increasingly pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which reflects heat back to the globe's surface, disrupting weather patterns and altering ecological cycles.

Global warming could cost the world $5 trillion, according to Ottawa, with most of the damage being felt in developing countries, coastal areas and the North.

But some representatives from the major industries that will have to invest in the technologies and operational changes to achieve those targets aren't comfortable with Kyoto. They dispute either the science behind Kyoto, the deadline Ottawa has set for implementation, the environmental priorities it sets for the country, or all of the above.

Doug Switzer is the Ontario Trucking Association's manager of government relations. The industry he represents is having a bit of an environmental identity crisis in the days leading up to Kyoto implementation.

The transportation sector, according to some figures, is responsible for about a third of the country's GHG emissions. Proponents have been working for 20 years to reduce the particulate and gas emissions that contribute to smog, he says. But the equipment that does it is heavy, and causes the truck to burn more fuel to get from A to B, creating more GHGs.

"There are more and deadlier gases out there than greenhouse emissions. We should be focusing on all air pollutants, not just Kyoto," Switzer says.

Due south first Canadian Automotive Parts Manufacturers Association president Gerry Fedchun is of a like mind. He argues a large share of Canada's air pollution drifts across the border from American manufacturing operations. The US is the world's top producer of GHGs. President George W. Bush backed out of Kyoto in 2001, citing potential damage to the American economy and questioning the science behind it.

"We should work harder on having the United States lower their mercury pollutants with better scrubbers on their coal fire stations," he says. "Our coal fire stations are a lot cleaner than most of those in the U.S. That's simply more important at this stage."

Fedchun, like many industry representatives, is hopeful Ottawa will deliver more details on how the regulations and reduction targets will look in the near future.

"We're concerned if they try to make it happen it will create a huge disruption to the economy."

There is less than three years until the start of the first implementation window, when government regulations will take effect. That means industry will have to use what technology is "on the shelf" today in its attempts to reduce GHG emissions, according to Dan Paszkowski, vice-president of economic affairs for the Mining Association of Canada.

Investing in technology may pay off in the short term with energy savings, but efforts to reduce GHGs will become more and more costly as companies hit the "technology wall," he says.

As mines dig, costs climb and GHG-reducing technology has only come so far,he says.

The mining and manufacturing industry is lumped by the government into agroup called large final emitters, which also includes electrical utilities and oil and gas producers.

Paszkowski is careful not to paint the mining industry as uncooperative. Indeed, the industry has been proactive in emission and energy use reduction, he says, pointing to the country's gold producers, which have cut their emissions by 47 per cent.

"The issue for us is how the policy is implemented, how it will be regulated and what the targets will be."

The government is making it difficult for those gold producers in particular to stay compliant when they choose to ignore the 90s and base their reduction targets on 2000 levels, he argues. Another 21-per-cent reduction may be too onerous a task to bear.

"We will continue to try to reduce our energy costs, but we're basically less than one per cent of direct Canadian GHG emissions," he says. "We're not a big part of the problem."

A part of the solution? Sault Ste. Marie-based Algoma Steel is a signing partner of a memorandum of understanding on Kyoto between Ottawa and the Canadian Steel Producers Association, according to spokesperson Brenda Stenta.

The document outlines short- and long-term plans to reduce GHGs, she says. According to , the association's Web site, the industry has reduced its emissions by 16 per cent since 1990, and energy consumption is down 20 per cent. The industry has committed to reducing energy use by another one per cent each year for the next decade.

The agreement also committed the government to a $300,000 contribution to an international research effort to develop new energy efficient technologies the industry can take advantage of.

Concerns over timelines, targets and base year formed the industry's motivation to sign the agreement, Stenta says.

For its part, Algoma Steel is waiting on an approval from the Ministry of Energy for a 150-megawatt co-generation plant that would turn waste emissions to usable electricity, according to Stenta. "That should significantly reduce our emissions."

Inco Ltd. has already reduced GHG emissions at their Sudbury operations to at least six per cent below 1990 levels, according to spokesperson Cory McPhee.

"We just hope the federal plan recognizes companies like Inco for their early action," he says.

McPhee shares the concern of the OMA and Tembec that their proactive response will go unrecognized if the base year is set after much of their green efforts took place, or the timelines are unrealistic.

"The challenge with the Kyoto implementation is going to be to maintain a business environment that allows companies like Inco to compete
internationally while meeting our environmental responsibility."

And like the OTA, carbon dioxide isn't Inco's only concern. Indeed, anyone who recalls Sudbury's now largely re-greened "moonscape" could attest to that.

"The most visible environmental picture of Inco is stack emissions," he says. "We've spent close to $800 million on sulfur dioxide abatement in
Sudbury in the past 18 years."

The company has managed to reduce energy consumption while increasing production and introducing a host of environmental initiatives, he says, "which by their very nature are sometimes energy intensive, such as cleaning more gas so it doesn't escape through the stack.

"You have to look at the environment holistically and ensure what you're doing is not creating further problems."

Take nothing for granted. Forestry and lumber giant Tembec Inc. has been a staunch supporter of the Accord, according to spokesperson Pierre Brien. The company has been making efforts to reduce their contribution to global warming for years.

"In the last decade, we have done a lot to reduce our own emissions," he says.

Tembec cut their fossil fuel use by five per cent in 2004 and aims to do the same in 2005. They have cut GHG emissions by a total of 30 per cent. But the $4-billion company does have concerns similar to those of the OMA.

"The government has to recognize efforts made in the past" and not focus solely on a target for the future, Brien says. "The year of reference you use is a very important issue for us."

Emitters who have done nothing to reduce their GHG emissions would be put at an advantage by a government that sets 2000 as a base year for reductions, he explains.

"In our sector, Tembec and many others have made some effort. When you set a new target for the future, you have to take that into consideration."