Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Getting the Environmentalists Angry

Environmentalists are going to be upset with Stephen Harper’s government. This is not a bad thing. It is about time we all faced up to reality and looked beneath the rhetoric of the Kyoto religion and asked “what can we really do about global warming and sustainable development?”

Environmentalists have ignored the last twelve annual reports of the federal Commissioner of the Environment who observes each year that the Government of Canada is strong on rhetoric and weak on action. The new Minister of the Environment will soon recognize that Canada has no strategy for the oceans, no strategy for clean water, no real strategy for achieving the Kyoto targets, no commitment for Government to leverage is $13b in annual procurements to buy green and is exceptionally weak on accountability measures of progress. This is why the OECD ranks Canada 24th out of 24 countries on its environmental policy action.

The commitments of the Conservative Party are clear. They will require a 5% bio-fuels content in all gasoline by 2010; create incentives for the use of public transport; pass a Clean Air Act to improve the quality of the air we breathe; support and enable the faster adoption of technology by industry so as to reduce green house gas emissions; pursue a range of actions to improve water quality and protect water supplies and clean up the 10,000 polluted land areas in Canada.

They also intend to join the US, Australia, India, Japan, China and South Korea in the Asia-Pacific Partnership on clean development, energy security, and climate change and intends to recognise that Canada will not meet the Kyoto targets. We will follow Japan in retaining our role in Kyoto while at the same time partnering with our polluting peers to leverage technology in pursuit of a greener environment. This will anger many environmentalists who see Kyoto as a sacred text.

Canada signed Kyoto in 1997 and proceeded to increase green house gas emissions at a faster rate than any other signatory. The US, who didn’t sign, has slowed the growth of its emissions and is pursuing a strategy based on city (195 US cities have committed to reductions at least as demanding as Kyoto) and industry adoption of new technologies. China, which burns a great deal of coal, will likely be first to achieve dramatic results in clean coal technology for no other reason than they have to. Treating Kyoto as a sick solution is the only sensible thing to do.

The other sensible thing to do is to focus on a few alternative energy sources – bio-fuels and solid oxide fuel cells, for example – and minimise others. The German government is the largest user of wind power in the world. They have recently recognized that this has not been a great investment and that they would have been smarter to invest the same funds in incentives for every home in Germany to be fully insulated. We need to be smart here too, and focus our resources on those actions which will have most impact. No more “one tonne challenges” and a strong focus on real incentives and results.

The environmental portfolio is a good example of the way in which the conservatives will be different from the Liberals. In this portfolio, the Liberals talked a good story and preached to citizens, but did very little. They berated the US on moral grounds, but quietly admired them for actually doing something. The conservatives will act decisively, partner with communities, cities and industries and will achieve results. Rather than berating the US, we will partner with them and co-operate on research and development. They will also hold themselves accountable for action. And this is what those of us concerned with the environment actually want – action and results.

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