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Canada

Canada

HIDDEN SUBSIDIES STIRRED UP

In Canada a conference of G7 environment ministers has called for a formal OECD study of direct and indirect fuel subsidies in G7 and other member countries. Meeting in Hamilton, Ontario, the ministers also agreed that the environment and sustainable development should be fundamental components of discussions on international financial institutions that will take place at the June G7 summit in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Meanwhile, the Hamilton meeting revealed that much fundamental fuel subsidy data is not publicly made available in Canada. This is despite a claim by the national branch of Greenpeace that the Canadian fossil fuel industry reaps $1.44 billion in federal subsidies each year. Ottawa has disputed the accuracy of this figure, but not provided alternative numbers.

British environmental secretary of state John Gummer added fuel to the controversy by shocking the Hamilton conference with a claim that Canada subsidised its fossil fuel industry by more than $5.6 billion directly and through tax breaks in the current year, a figure higher than even the Greenpeace figure. However, a spokesperson at the British High Commission in Ottawa later claimed that Gummer misspoke himself, by inadvertently citing figures which were ten times too large. However, the $5.6 billion figure was widely reported in the Canadian press and was plausible in the absence of an official government figure or a published correction.

The lack of precise public data hinders the government from pursuing an enlightened policy on the impact of alternative energy technologies and benefits the fossil fuel industry. Canada's environment minister Sheila Copps reinforced this message in Hamilton, agreeing that there was a need to see where the G7 countries are spending money in an environmentally unfriendly manner.

Canada's fossil fuel industry is large, as are the country's CO2 emissions. The value of coal, oil and natural gas production in Canada totalled $23 billion in 1993. The federal government estimates that Canada emitted 577 megatonnes of CO2 in 1990, of which 20% was due to power generation chiefly from coal. Without new measures such as a vigorous commitment to renewable energy, Canada will not meet its Rio commitment to stabilise 1990 emissions of greenhouse gases by year 2000, let alone reduce them.

Ontario Hydro chair and international environmentalist, Maurice Strong, suggested at the First Renewable Energy Conference in Ottawa (Windpower Monthly, May 1995) that unsustainable practices and global climate change due to fossil fuel emissions threaten the future of the human species.xxxxSuch prognostications are supported by a March report from Reuters news agency which indicates that many insurers fear they are already suffering from claims made due to increasing catastrophes related to global warming effects, causing major destruction of property and loss of human life. As a result they are increasing insurance rates. Such developments suggest that Canada and other countries which contribute disproportionately to global warming could ultimately be responsible for climate-related liabilities for their fossil fuel sales and consumption.

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