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Canada blocked climate change audit: official

© AFP/File / by Michel COMTE | Canada officially recognizes that oil and gas sector subsidies can "encourage wasteful consumption, undermine efforts to address climate change, and discourage investment in clean energy sources," according to the report

OTTAWA (AFP) - 

Canada's auditor general blasted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government Tuesday for effectively blocking an audit of efforts to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies in the fight against climate change.

Canada committed at a G20 summit in 2009 "to phase out and rationalize over the medium term inefficient fossil fuel subsidies," setting a target date of 2025 last year with continental free trade partners Mexico and the United States, Auditor General Michael Ferguson noted in his report.

But Ferguson said the finance ministry, which was tasked with identifying subsidies, refused to hand over key documents for analysis, citing cabinet confidentiality.

Ferguson said he therefore was unable to determine whether the Trudeau administration was acting on its commitments, despite having championed the fight against climate change on the global stage.

"We found that Finance Canada still had not defined what an inefficient fossil fuel subsidy was, nor could the department tell us how many inefficient fossil fuel subsidies there could be," Ferguson said in prepared remarks.

"We asked Finance Canada to provide us with its analyses of the social, economic and environmental aspects of these subsidies. The department did not give us that information."

Ferguson also protested the lack of transparency in a message to parliament.

Fossil fuels are the main source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Since 2009, Ottawa has eliminated or scaled back six federal fossil fuel subsidies, but activists estimate the federal government still provides Can$1 billion in subsidies to the oil and gas sector annually.

Environmental Defense, an activist group, called the secrecy "extremely concerning," adding that the report explains "why the Canadian government has made little progress on eliminating fossil fuel subsidies."

Such subsidies can take the form of government grants or loans, tax measures, research and development funding, energy resources sold by governments at below-market rates or government intervention in markets to lower prices.

Canada officially recognizes that oil and gas sector subsidies can "encourage wasteful consumption, undermine efforts to address climate change, and discourage investment in clean energy sources," according to the report.

Its environment ministry has devised a preliminary plan for identifying non-tax subsidies, but it has yet to implement it.

"These findings matter because without a clear understanding of the fossil fuel subsidies covered by the G20 commitment and without an implementation plan with timelines, the departments cannot ensure that they are providing the support needed for Canada to meet the commitment by 2025," the report concluded.

by Michel COMTE

© 2017 AFP