Sunday, November 27, 2005

Climate Change and Canada's Failure...

The US has spent $20b on climate change activities since the current George Bush came to power and has cut green house gas emissions by 0.8%. Mayors of 180 of the US’s largest cities have committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 7% by 2012 (Salt Lake City is already close to this target) and several states, including California, Oregon and Washington, have also made significant commitments to reducing emissions. Many major U.S. companies are also responding to Kyoto. Pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson pledged two years ago to cut its 1990 greenhouse gas emissions by 7 percent by 2010. So far it has cut them 3.1 percent despite growing fourfold in size during that period.

Meanwhile, Canadian greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, despite a series of government initiatives valued at $10b that have relied largely on ineffective education and weak voluntary measures. Canadian greenhouse gas emissions are up by 24% since 1990. Canada is a dismal 27th out of 29 OECD nations when greenhouse gas emissions are measured on a per capita basis. Canadians produce 16.84 tonnes of carbon dioxide, per person, per year, 48% above the OECD average of 11.41 tonnes and more than four times the global average. The worst “polluter” is Alberta, where emissions have also grown since 1990.

There is some good news from Kyoto watchers. Several signatories to the Kyoto accord have made significant strides. Parties whose emissions decreased include the European Union, by -3% (-8% of the Kyoto target), the United Kingdom, by -15% (-8% of target), Germany, by -19% (-8% of target), and the Russian Federation, by -38% (on target).

The message here is threefold. First, stop complaining about the US’s decision not to sign Kyoto and look at their behaviour and learn. Second, recognize the sad truth that Canada talks a good story at the dinner table, but when the bill arrives it finds itself outside the door warming the car. Which leads to the last point - Canada needs a new approach if it is to meet its commitments.

The answer to greenhouse gas emissions is technology, not punitive taxes. There should be significant and substantial investments in efficient and alternative energy sources, bio-fuels and distributed energy. The recently formed EnergyINet Canada-wide co-operative for research and development should be funded to support such work and Alberta should endow $1b of its surplus for this work immediately, thus encouraging other Governments and industry to make their contributions.

There needs to be clear tax incentives for hybrid transport for individuals and transportation companies and much stronger encouragement for every home in Canada to be better insulated. If the Government paid 75% of the cost of insulation and the installation of energy efficient heating systems it would be a better investment than buying carbon credits from other nations, not to mention the stimulus this would give to the economy. While they are at it, every municipality should change its building code to ensure a much higher level of energy efficiency of all new homes and buildings built from now on.

Challenge teams from industry, research and government should be established to look at landfills, agriculture and power production systems to identify future technologies that could support reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Each team should identify technology solutions to the problem, incentives for behaviour change and four key actions that would show results within twenty four months. They should report by March 2006 and the next Government of Canada should commit to action.

Canada’s reputation is on the line. As one of the world’s worst polluters it is ironic that Canada is hosting the discussion of what to do after 2012 when Kyoto expires. One thing Canada could do this coming week is admit that its own strategy isn’t working and that it is starting to work on a completely new approach – “when you’re in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging” said Churchill. Canada needs a major rethink. It is not likely to get one.

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