Sunday, November 06, 2005

The Real One Tonne Challenge

Whatever your view of the Kyoto Accord, it is very clear that Canada does not have a plan that anyone believes will help meet our targets for reducing green house gas emissions. The goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 6% from 1990 levels by 2012.

The Federal Government has tried several things – modestly investing in better insulation for homes, encouraging all of us to be conscious of what we can do (the “one tonne challenge”), investing in wind power, investing in research in renewable energy, especially bio-fuels. But we will end up not meeting targets and paying for carbon tax credits in other countries, especially Russia. This becomes clear when you consider two facts: (a) the current plan is for 75% of the reduction target to be achieved by the actions of individual Canadians; (b) the industrial side of the plan is to be largely achieved by voluntary agreements.

If we want to avoid substantial sums of money going to other countries to buy our way out of Kyoto, we should consider radical solutions.

First, we could consider individual carbon credits. Now being looked at by the UK Government, the idea is that each Canadian would receive an allowance for gas on a monthly basis. Once the allowance had been used they could either buy unused gas credits from others or purchase more credits, but at a much higher price. Rather than just taxing SUV users, this taxes all carbon users and creates a natural market for gas. Incentives would be built into the scheme to encourage the use of bio-fuels and more energy efficient vehicles would become more attractive over time.

Second, as some US States have done, we could require that all cars sold in Canada after a certain date should meet certain energy efficiency standards and set these standards high enough so as to encourage the faster development and sale of hybrid vehicles. The current voluntary agreement isn’t worth the paper its written on.

Third, we could pay individuals 90% of the cost of replacing their furnaces with energy efficient furnaces and 90% of the cost of high quality home insulation. The German Government, the worlds largest generator and user of wind power, has recently concluded that energy efficient homes are a better investment than their investment in wind turbines. When cabinet Ministers complain of the costs of doing this, suggest to them that it will still be cheaper than sending even more money to another country to buy carbon credits.

Fourth, we could insist on changes to the building code for smart homes and other buildings after 2009 make the best use of new solar and fuel cell technology, thus stimulating research and development in these two sectors and creating a market for their products. This would require us to overcome the vested interests of the current generation of electricity suppliers, but they could play smart and be in the market with next generation products first.

Finally we could enhance the Federal and Provincial investment in the Energy Innovation Network – started right here in Alberta – so as to fast track development of bio-fuels, hydrogen based energy and fuel cell technology.

Leaving the Kyoto plan “as is” simply is not an option. It will not deliver the outcomes Canada has committed to. Whether or not you believe in the “theory of global warming”, this is as much about energy affordability as it is about committing to an environmentally sound future. With gas prices rising and oil staying at around $50-$60 a barrel, we need creative and bold moves to start to challenge our energy use. We cant do it as individuals, we can only do it through collective action in support of change at the individual level.

For some really insightful climate change resources see Calvin James's blog at

This blog article is reproduced at


Candace said...

Please tell me you are joking about personal carbon credits. What planet are YOU living on? (This question from someone who rents a car 5-6 times a year & uses ETS the rest of the time.)

That's insane IMHO.

Stephen Murgatroyd said...

I am living on the same planet as the Government of the UK who are seriously considering this.

The Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) recently recommended that the Government should seriously consider the possibility of extending ‘cap and trade’ schemes for carbon dioxide (CO2) across the whole economy, to cover individuals, as well as business and the public sector. This would enable us to achieve guaranteed, annual cuts in our national ‘carbon budget’, and eventually reduce our emissions by at least 60% by 2050 – meeting the Government’s long term target.

So, guess I am on the ground here - will it work, whole different question!