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Two years after conceding Manitoba was incapable of meeting its climate-change commitments, the Selinger government has new long-term goals for cutting down on greenhouse gases.
Manitoba plans to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions by a third by 2030 on its way to becoming a carbon-neutral province in 2080, Premier Greg Selinger announced Thursday.
To get there, the province plans to corral pollution from large industrial emitters using a cap-and-trade system, ask smaller emitters to enter a carbon-stewardship program and create a new Manitoba Hydro subsidiary to promote energy efficiency at the household level.
"Because we’re a low-emissions province, with no one sector that dominates in terms of emissions, we have to do all of these things," Selinger said at the University of Winnipeg’s Richardson College of the Environment.
"We know where we can get our gains is in transportation, agriculture and in the construction of new buildings. Those are areas where we can create significant gains."
In 2008, the Gary Doer government pledged to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by six per cent below the 1990 level 2012. This pledge, enshrined in legislation, would have taken greenhouse gas emissions down to 17.6 megatons of carbon dioxide.
Instead, provincial emissions rose to 21.4 megatons by 2013, when the Selinger government conceded there was no way to follow through on its previous pledge.
The premier said the new plan is doable because it involves all sectors of the economy and individual Manitobans. He rejected the idea of bringing in a carbon tax, partly because he said it hasn’t worked well in B.C. and partly because he acknowledged it wouldn’t be wise to announce new taxes during the lead up to the spring election.
"There’s no question I’m sensitive about that. You know that. We all know that," Selinger said.
The premier offered no details about how Manitoba’s cap-and-trade system would work, what the carbon-stewardship program would look like or what percentage of the emissions-reduction burden would fall to the new Manitoba Hydro subsidiary, which has been dubbed the Demand Side Management Agency.
In the past, critics questioned whether cap-and-trade could work in Manitoba, due to the dearth of large greenhouse-gas emitters. The largest among them include the Koch fertilizer plant in Brandon, which was not consulted about the new plan, and the City of Winnipeg’s Brady Road Landfill.
The provincial climate-change plan is "better than nothing," said Alex Paterson, a campaigner with the Manitoba Energy Justice Coalition, who said the details of the program will determine whether it actually greenhouse gases.
Paterson said a cap-and-trade program that allows larger emitters to purchase credits from smaller would neither be fair, nor effective. Carbon taxes, on the other hand, are too low to change corporate behaviour, he said.
"There is no way, politically, this government was going to be able to bring in a carbon tax," said Paterson, acknowledging the aftermath of the 2013 PST hike.
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Progressive Conservative conservation critic Shannon Martin (Morris) and Manitoba Liberal leader Rana Bokhari both said they take no issue with the province’s new emissions target but questioned whether the NDP can follow through on it, given its previous failures.
"Talk is cheap, and nobody really believes anything they’re saying anymore," Bokhari said.
Martin also said the new energy efficiency agency must be independent from Manitoba Hydro if it has any hope of setting and enforcing targets for reducing electricity use.
"It shouldn’t be an arm or subsidiary of Manitoba Hydro. It has to be a stand-alone agency," he said.
According to the province’s plan, the proposed agency would offer Hydro customers a tiered rate structure that would charge less for electricity if consumption stays below a specified threshold. It would also distribute "smart thermostats" that respond to household behaviour and attempt to limit the expansion of natural-gas pipelines.
Highlights of Manitoba’s latest plan to combat climate change:
Cut greenhouse gas emissions by one third by 2030, proposed cut of 7.6 megatons of carbon-dioxide equivalent greenhouse gases. This would take Manitoba down to annual emissions of 13.8 megatons.
Bring in a cap-and-trade system that will place limits on greenhouse gas emissions for large industrial emitters – and introduce “carbon stewardship” for non-emitting industries.
Help the City of Winnipeg roll out a curbside composting program to reduce methane emissions at Brady Road Landfill.
Create a new Manitoba Hydro subsidiary called the Demand Side Management Agency, which will set energy-efficiency targets, encourage lower energy use by households and provide grants for geothermal heating and cooling.
Make Manitoba a carbon-neutral province by 2080.
What was promised before?
In 2008, Manitoba promised to cut greenhouse gas emissions by six per cent below 1990 levels by 2012. This would have brought emissions down to 17.6 megatons three years ago.
What actually happened?
Manitoba’s emissions rose to 21.4 megatons by 2013, when the province admitted it had failed to meet previous goals and needed new targets.