Sunday, November 21, 2010

Canada and Climate Change

At Cancun, Canada will be playing its usual role of trying to obstruct any meaningful progress.  Canada's own target of a 17% emissions reduction from 2005 levels by 2020 is both totally inadequate and totally unreachable on current policies.  Stephen Harper's Conservative government's aims are quite clear.  Harper was a climate change denier when he came into office in '06, and has only changed his line since to keep in step with the USA. Under Harper, Canada is betting its economic shirt on the tarsands industry, the emissions from which are so high that arguably the industry's success depends on potential importers -- chiefly the USA and China - not treating climate change seriously.

But what of the two opposition parties, the Liberals and the NDP?  If, following the next election, the Liberals were able to form a minority government with NDP support, would Canada start taking constructive steps to reduce its emissions?  The recent performance of both parties does not augur well.

The last federal election in 2008 was fought on the issue of climate change.  The Liberals,led by Stéphane Dion, put forward a radical and detailed "Green Shift" programme which would have used carbon taxes to force a shift of Canada's economy from carbon intensive industry to green technologies.  The aim was to reduce Canada's emissions to 20% below 1990 levels by 2020. However, the Liberals lost the election, Dion resigned, Michael Ignatieff took over as leader; the green shift and carbon taxes were immediately forgotten.

The Liberal Party currently supports a cap and trade system to reduce emissions, but is vague about targets.  Ignatieff has a habit of contradicting himself, and it is difficult to tell how sincere he is about this (or any other) issue.  Prior to Dion's leadership, the Liberal Party's record on climate change has been described as "hot air", paying lip-service but doing nothing. The signs are that the Liberals are back to business as usual.

The NDP also supports a cap and trade system, but is against carbon taxes, and on that basis opposed the Green Shift.  They want a 25% emissions reduction by 2020 and an 80% reduction of emissions from 1990 levels by 2050, but their road plan for getting there is no more substantial than the Liberals', and given that they don't support carbon taxes, the target is in the realm of fantasy. 

The Climate Change Accountability Act was to embed the NDP targets into law. It was introduced by the NDP and passed with Liberal  and Bloc Québécois support.  The Act is a short read - little more than 2 pages -  and that's only with the bilingual translation.  It's a holiday brochure without a price list, an itinerary, a map, or a picture of the hotel. I've been told a lot of work went into it, in which case I'd like that job. The Act has just been killed by the Senate.

The problem with Canada adopting a target for 2020 which is actually more ambitious than the EU's is that whereas the EU had reduced its emissions by 8% from 1990 by 2005, Canada had increased its emissions by 10.54%.  A lot of that growth has come from the tarsands, and although the NDP have called for a moratorium on new tarsands development (while Ignatieff has boasted about having enough oil for the USA for a hundred years), even the NDP has not suggested the tarsands should close down tomorrow.

The Senate rejection of the Act has enabled the opposition parties to complain about lack of democracy.  The Act was never going to achieve much else, and cynical me suspects it was never intended to.  I know a number of young people who are sincerely disappointed.  Meanwhile the NDP is campaigning to abolish the Federal Sales Tax on home heating, one of the very few taxes on carbon in Canada.

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