Sustainability in Canada 2010: A Year in Review

Another year in the books!

As we crawl out of our Christmas haze bleary-eyed and ten pounds heavier, it is a good opportunity to look back and reflect on the events of 2010 as they pertain to the environment in Canada. This past year has seen some encouraging steps, environmental catastrophes and some good controversy, and I’m not referring to the ongoing struggle between the “twenty-ten” people and those who cling to “two thousand ten”.

Scandalous! On with the list…

The Big One

Now you may have heard something about this one, but on April 20th the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded, killing 11 members of the drilling crew (something often overlooked when this story comes up) and proceeding to spew an estimated 205.8 million gallons of crude oil into the ocean.

While the environmental damage was confined to waters and shoreline far from Canada, it remains the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry (according to Wikipedia) and brought our own oil extraction and transportation practices under the microscope. Somehow I doubt the Enbridge leaks that occurred in July and September would have made the news otherwise. Needless to say, if any event will characterize 2010 in terms of the environment, it will be the Deepwater Horizon spill.

RIP Environmental Legislation

Vastly overestimating the readiness for change and rationality of those who voted for him, Obama ended up using most of his political goodwill pushing through the historic US healthcare reform bill in March of this year. With a political chasm dividing the parties and some significant Democrat losses in the US mid-term elections, a new American energy bill for 2010 became as likely as a winning professional sports team in Toronto. (Sound the slide whistle)

RIP US environmental legislation.

Apparently unable to do any thinking for ourselves, Canada’s government took the old familiar stance of sitting firmly on its hands with heads deep in its…sand, stating that we can’t do anything at all until the US figures it out first. Supporters of this strategy would have you believe some economic equivalent of The Rapture would occur if we try to address the environment. Scary, indeed.

But seriously, the advantages of aligning our new energy rules with those of our biggest trading partner are understandable, but there are certainly actions that we can take on our own to be better positioned for the impending energy reform. It doesn’t matter though, because on November 18th, Canada’s Senate killed our own climate change bill, which had been previously passed in the House of Commons.

RIP Canadian environmental legislation. Though as a Canadian, it’s tough to give a stirring eulogy when the rest of world sees you as wearing a clown nose…

But it wasn’t all bad news for domestic environmental programs. The Ontario Feed-in-Tariff program for renewable energy enjoyed its first full year of operation, and while there were some rule changes on the fly, the popularity of program speaks for itself. Meanwhile, BC has released its consultation paper for its own feed-in-tariff program and other provinces are weighing their options.

Putting the “Can” in Cancun?

More recently, our global leaders assembled in Cancun at the UN Climate Change Conference, attempting to overcome the rather underwhelming results from the last meeting in Copenhagen. While nothing concrete really got done, steps in the right direction were taken, though their level of significance depends on who you talk to. Elizabeth May summed everything up nicely in her blog, written more from an environmentalist perspective than that of a federal politician, which is always nice.

Having already set the tone by killing our own climate change bill, Canada naturally sullied its name once again on the world stage, capturing the Fossil of the Day award having been regarded as a negative force to progress.

Clown noses for everyone!

Year to come

It’s difficult to say which events will take centre stage in 2011. With Arctic ice melting, northern sovereignty claims for the Northwest Passage will become a major issue for Canada both economically and environmentally. Imagine an oil spill in the remote north…

The renewable energy scene should also see some key developments. In Ontario for example, it will be interesting to see which solar suppliers actually materialize on the domestic manufacturing scene and which integrators will implode under the weight of their own speculation. In fact, the entire program will be due for review on it’s second birthday in October, so depending on the Ontario provincial elections, that will be a bit of a wild card.

Fresh water is also expected to become a major issue, as other countries are starting to run low on their own supplies and gaze longingly at our abundance of fresh water sources. Companies like The Innovolve Group and RBC have already taken notice, but I’m sure the crowd will grow throughout this year.

Most importantly, I would like to hear what events you saw as significant for 2010 and what you think 2011 will bring for the environmental context in Canada. Perspectives from varying industries and geographical locations are always interesting, so please post your contributions below!

Enjoy the rest of the holidays and Happy New Year!

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About Daniel Caunter

Who is Daniel Caunter? Daniel is a series of contrasts – Environmentalist MBA, anglo Montrealer, landlocked surfer, serious about fun, and creatively practical. He has lofty ideals, but is focused on finding veritable solutions that will work in reality. He is a work in progress, building a career in environmental business with a focus on stakeholder engagement, project management and corporate communications. Daniel can be reached via Twitter (@danielcaunter), or by commenting here on this site. If you’d like a real-time update on this work in progress, he may even be persuaded to come out for a pint or a cuppa. (Please note: the views expressed in Daniel’s posts are his personally - though sometimes satirical - and are not necessarily those of his employer or other don’t be silly.)
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2 Responses to Sustainability in Canada 2010: A Year in Review

  1. Heather says:

    Hmm, an interesting perspective from the energy side! I like your point about Enbridge though, it would barely have registered on the barometer if it weren’t for the BP spill. It wasn’t ideal that it happened of course, but I think Enbridge handled their response really well.

    On my end for consumer facing industries (and food and beverage), there were a couple biggies this year beyond the BP oil spill:

    – the Nestle Palm Oil/Greenpeace campaign
    – the Loblaw and other grocery retailer sustainable seafood commitments
    – the Foxconn suicides
    – the new green claims guides from the US government
    – the food safety bill passed in the US
    – Wal-Mart’s sustainable agriculture goals
    – the UNEP Year of Biodiversity (that wasn’t)
    – Advancements in Sustainable Packaging through the Consumer Goods Forum

  2. Daniel Caunter says:

    A Globe and Mail article echoing my call for homemade Canadian climate policy –

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