North America represents five per cent of world population, but in the most recent figures available, it accounts for 25 per cent of
total world primary energy consumption. North Americans emit more carbon dioxide (CO2) per capita than any other region – almost 20 metric tonnes of CO2 per person according to the latest figures, compared to 7.9 tonnes in Europe and just over one tonne in Africa (2002 figures from GEO Data Portal 2005 based on United Nations 2005). 2005 saw new actions to curb greenhouse
gas (GHG) emissions, though these were considered insufficient by many observers.
Canada’s new climate change plan
After the Kyoto Protocol came into force in February 2005, Canada produced a new plan to meet its targets. The plan enhances incentives
for renewable energy and energy efficiency, outlines strategies to reduce vehicle emissions and promotes individual action. It will place mandatory caps on the emission intensity of sectors responsible for major GHG emissions, and will provide government funds to purchase emission reductions domestically and internationally through the Kyoto Protocol’s market-based mechanisms. The plan anticipates reductions of about 270 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Government of Canada 2005a, Pew Center on Global Climate Change 2005a). Critics claim that the means are inadequate to achieve the targets; there are no timelines; and there is too much onus on individuals, while targets for big business are too low (Greenpeace 2005, SLDF 2005).
US Energy Bill
In August 2005, the US administration signed its first national energy plan in more than a decade. The plan contains policies and tax incentives for renewable energy, as well as incentives for nuclear energy development, cleaner coal-fired plants, increased energy conservation, and energy-efficient cars, buildings and appliances (The White House 2005a). It will extend daylight-saving time by one month in 2007 to save energy (Wilson 2005). Critics claim the plan is directed at energy supply and will not reduce energy demand. They note the omission of mandatory controls on fossil-fuel consumption and GHG emissions, and failure to raise vehicle fuel efficiency standards, as well as continued tax breaks, subsidies, and loan guarantees to the fossil fuel industry (Foss 2005, Hebert 2005, Wilson 2005). Hurricane Katrina (Box 2) prompted the US government to direct its departments and agencies as well as citizens to conserve fuel, curtail non-essential travel, and to make use of carpooling, public transportation, and telecommuting (The White House 2005b and 2005c). Such gestures are new to an administration whose focus has been on
boosting energy supplies rather than reducing demand.
|Box 1: States mandate energy efficiency and emissions reductions
In the absence of US ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, many US states joined a remarkable process of policy formulation to increase energy efficiency and lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at the state level. The movement began in the early 1990s but has expanded and intensified in the past decade (Rabe 2002). Among the actions mandated by a number of state governments in 2005 are new or stronger appliance efficiency standards for products not covered by existing federal standards, and the promotion of energy efficiency and renewable energy investments. Some states have set targets to achieve emission reductions – including California’s aggressive new targets equivalent to returning to year 2000 GHG emissions levels by 2010 and to 1990 levels by 2020. Other state-level policies include improved energy efficiency for public buildings and facilities, and the adoption of improved standards for motor vehicle GHG emissions. These new policies promise to reduce GHG emissions by millions of tonnes a year and to save billions of dollars in reduced energy costs (Pew Center for
Global Climate Change 2005b). At the city level, 158 US mayors signed a Climate Protection Agreement that commits them to strive to meet or exceed targets that would apply to the US under the Kyoto Protocol (seven per cent emission reduction from the 1990 level by 2012). They joined 164 other mayors who had already signed onto the agreement (US Mayors 2005).
It is still too early to analyze the lasting effect of higher prices on consumer patterns of energy use, although the media reported
significant declines in sales of heavy cars and increased sales in smaller efficient Japanese vehicles (McClellan 2005). In 2002, the North American transport sector was responsible for 39 per cent of the region’s total energy consumption and the total amount of energy used by the sector rose by 30 per cent over the past two decades (GEO Data Portal 2005 based on IEA 2004).
Canada’s agreement on vehicle emissions.
In April 2005, the Government of Canada and the Canadian automobile industry signed a landmark agreement on climate change action. The industry voluntarily agreed to reduce GHG emissions from new vehicles. The goal is to reduce total annual GHG emissions from light-duty vehicles down to a target of 5.3 million tonnes by 2010. The industry will offer and promote a wide variety of fuel-saving vehicle technologies including hybrid power trains, cylinder deactivation technology, and advanced diesel technology (Government of Canada 2005b).