September 24, 2009
Lawmakers across North America are finally taking climate change seriously. But shifting gears to a lower-carbon economy is no easy task for governments struggling to come up with coherent laws that won't hamper economic growth, especially in a recession.
Dennis Mahony, co-chair of Torys' Climate Change and Emissions Trading Practice, first joined the firm as a summer student in 1992, the year that world leaders converged on Rio de Janeiro for the Earth Summit, which produced the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (and in turn led to the Kyoto Protocol).
Over the years, Dennis has closely monitored Canada's ebbing and flowing interest in climate change. While Canada's federal government formally signed the Kyoto Protocol in 1998, there was no legislative activity until three years ago, says Dennis. "Climate change went into a holding pattern somewhere around 1998-1999. That's when the government began to realize how incredibly complicated this was and how much a federal regulatory regime might impact the provinces in different ways."
Adopting climate change legislation in Canada is messy, not least because jurisdiction for the environment is shared among the federal and provincial governments. Ottawa's challenge is to develop policy that balances the provinces' needs, while meeting Canada's international obligations.
"Climate change legislation has a very real potential impact on provinces that are carbon-intensive verses those that are not," says Dennis. For example, he doesn't see Alberta—which, despite its oil and gas industry, still relies primarily on coal as a thermal source—buying into Canada's new direction. "We're not going to get this right for several years. The time period of progress will be measured in years, not months."
The important thing, says Dennis, is that governments embrace the years ahead as a period of experimentation. "If the feedback loop tells government that something isn't working, my hope is that it will adjust to it. This is an area that requires them to carefully watch how things evolve."
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