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In December 2005, Canada’s federal government was about to launch a detailed carbon offset system, after years of multi-stakeholder effort.  Shortly afterwards, the Conservatives were elected, and immediately discarded the  carbon offset program. This week, the Conservatives announced a summary of their own carbon offset system and promised more detailed rules in the fall.

The basic outlines of the Conservative program are very similar to the Liberal program that they discarded three years ago. Offset credits can be generated voluntarily, anywhere in Canada, and sold “across the economy”, using the general process described in ISO 14064.  A government agency  will “validate” proposed projects, i.e., accept them for registration, provided that they comply with an appropriate Offset System Quantification Protocol. (Eventually, this responsibility may be transferred to the private sector.) Proponents will implement projects; accredited private sector specialists will verify whether credits have genuinely been created. The government will then issue credits that can be freely traded or banked in a carbon trading system that has not yet been created. The system is expected to be as close as possible to the one adopted in the US.

The Conservatives used to ferociously deny that greenhouse gases could or should be regulated as pollutants. Now, however, they plan to do exactly that, regulating offset projects under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999.

One key difference between the 2005 plan and the current plan is the limited credit given for early action.  Governments used to promise that they would reward, not punish, companies that took the initiative to reduce their emissions early. This promise is not being kept. The 2005 plan would have granted credit for early action since 2000; the current program will ignore all emissions reduced through efforts that began before 2006.

Environment Canada “anticipates” that it will start accepting proposals for new offsets by the end of the year.

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