Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Needed: More Climate Change Honesty

Prime Minister Harper strikes a strong figure on the world stage these days, doesn’t he?  Swift in condemning the barbarity of Isis terrorists and the aggressive unilateralism of Russia; steadfast in defence of Arctic sovereignty; resolute in his uncritical support of  Israel; and determined not to attend the Meeting of Leaders at the U.N. Climate Summit.  But surely there is more to strength than simply a stubborn refusal to change one’s simple tune. Is a more balanced approach to Palestine and a little more genuine leadership on climate issues too much to ask for? From this government, apparently, it is.

The UN Climate Summit is intended to “galvanize and catalyze climate action” in advance of the Paris COP climate talks in 2015 where countries will form binding agreements to address global warming. The 400,000 demonstrators demanding climate action in New York were not rabble-rousers who had nothing better to do. They were concerned citizens responding to the growing emergency of runaway climate change.

Of course, Canada was represented by Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq, who announced that Canada would bring in the same higher vehicle emissions standards that the United States is bringing in. That has always been the Harper policy: do it if the Americans do it first, and then it won’t run the risk of a high economic cost.  I could find such a policy acceptable, if I didn’t feel that a G-7 country that calls itself an “energy superpower” has a responsibility to do more, and if I didn’t know that the global costs of adapting to climate change will run into many trillions of dollars, and if I didn’t know that there are economic benefits to be had in green power.  This government can, and should, do more.

After the cynical fakery of the Liberals’ non-implementation of the Kyoto Agreement, Mr. Harper replaced it with his own emission target for 2020, which he presented in his 2007 policy statement, “Turning the Corner.” Just like Mr. Chrétien, however, Mr. Harper failed to immediately implement the necessary policies. Canadian emissions have declined slightly, but that was because of  the 2008 recession, some decline of heavy industry, Ontario’s reduction of coal-fired power, and climate policies in British Columbia and Quebec. Mr. Harper’s adoption of U.S. vehicle regulations will have only a small effect by 2020.

So the Harper government won’t achieve the 2020 target, even though it still pretends that it will. And it won’t admit that one of the principal reasons that Environment Canada is predicting  that Canadian emissions in 2020 will exceed the target by at least 20 per cent is the government’s own promotion of oilsands development and pipelines in all directions. But then honesty in climate change policy has not been the forte of Canadian governments, whether Liberal or Conservative.


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