Hoax? Canada's Actual Targets The Real Joke

So, you've heard about the prank that got played on Canada yesterday? I though it was pretty funny, personally. The punchline of the whole thing though, is that Canada's actual targets are the real joke.

I know, I know, that might sound like it rolls off the tongue a bit too easily. Prank...Joke...ha ha. But if you look more closely at our targets, something is obviously out of step.

In a hoax press release, political tricksters "The Yes Men" hoodwinked a number of politicians and publications into believing that Canada had revealed a much more ambitious climate change plan. The faux-plan included 40% cuts to 1990 emissions by 2020.

Canada's actual emissions targets (3% of 1990 by 2020) are the lowest in the G8, lower than the EU (25% by 2020) and even lower than the US if you take 2050 targets into account (83% of 2005 by 2020). They are also orders of magnitude below what our best science is telling us we need to be doing. It's worth asking, why are we falling so far behind our peers? (You can track national targets here, or the climate scoreboard below)

The three answers that come up most often are: a fear of negative economic impacts, the fact that developing nations (read: "India and China") need to do their fair share, and that before doing anything we have to wait to see what American policy will look like. But none of those really stand up if you poke them a bit.

Avoiding Economic Impacts
Climate Change, and climate change policy is going to affect our economy one way of the other. Setting low targets doesn't solve that problem. Actually, it makes us more vulnerable. Take Forestry for example. Forest fires and infestations like those that have decimated Canada's western forests, for example, are only predicted to grow worse as temperatures rise. Similar trends will hit agriculture and fisheries. Blocking a commitment to strong international emissions reductions backs a big part of our economy into very stormy waters.

Take a look at last year's Globe and Mail list of Canada's top companies and you'll notice something else. Appart from the banks and a few insurance companies, all the other companies in the top 20 are in the fossil fuel sector. That's hardly a picture of a balanced economy.

Strong emissions reductions targets create a climate where Canada's innovative hi-tech, engineering and manufacturing sectors can expand into areas of alternative energy and green infrastructure – the fastest growing sectors of the global economy. Without targets to encourage that diversification, the climatic vulnerability and carbon liability on our economy will just keep on growing.

Rapid Growth in India & China
Now, on the surface of it, worries about rapidly industrializing countries like China and India make sense. What good would it do anyone if our reductions were simply swallowed up by growth elsewhere? But both India and China are reported to be at the top end of the targets recommended by the United Nations IPCC.

China has pledged to educe carbon emissions per unit of GDP by 40 to 45 in 2020. India has pledged a 20% to 25% reduction in emission intensity (both based on 2005). Will they live up to those targets? A good question. Do we hope for better in the future? Yes. But foot dragging from a wealthy country like Canada doesn't help any. Not the mention the fact that we are missing a prime opportunity to sell renewable energy technology into one of the hottest markets in the world.

Waiting for the Giant
When it comes to the U.S., we've got a long history of conflict and collaboration over economic and environmental issues. The treaties that govern the shared waters of the Great Lakes are held up as a model on international environmental policy. Our confrontations over softwood lumber have attracted different kinds of attention. But in both cases, Canada has been effective in defining and defending its own interests.

We need to do the same thing for Climate Change. Take Tar Sands emissions, for example. Who should be responsible for them? We make the stuff, but the Americans buy it. It took our former P.M., Paul Martin, to argue that the U.S. should assume responsibility for some of those emissions before the current Environment Minster stepped in. The U.S. disagrees, and has considered imposing carbon-based taxes on oil like the kind coming from Alberta.

Interesting. But where is the current Federal government on this or other similar issues? What's their plan? These are details we need to figure out before, not after the US, or the UN, decide on climate change policy. And while I think Paul Martin has a point, it certainly seems strange that serving politicians need to take their cues from former Prime Ministers.

Leaderless in Copenhagen
So why then are our targets so low? Partly, it is because of the incorrect Federal argument that aiming low and waiting for others to call the shots puts the Canadian economy in a better position. But more than that, it is because within the party currently in power (and some of the parties not in power), we lack any real leadership on climate change. In fact, many of the best leaders in the country are among our provinces and cities.

Leadership is about recognizing that there are multiple possible futures, having a vision of where you want to go, and then building the strategy to get there. Leadership is about understanding that current economic and political realities don't determine the future. Yes, they are the foundationfor tomorrow -- but how we build on that foundation is something we have a say over. That, after all, is what politics are all about -- otherwise we'd just get experts and bureaucrats to run everything.

Canada is in an enviable position to lead on these issues. We are a rich country, a smart country, and a secure country. We have a legacy of savvy diplomacy that has meant that (until recently) we have punched well above our weight in international negotiations. As a signatory of the Kyoto convention we also have the ability to negotiate more broadly in Copenhagen than non-signatories (like our neighbours to the south).

It's a shame to see that go to waste. We have an opportunity now to help build an international climate change agreement that would be good both for our country, and for the whole world. It's time we get serious about this. Spending time defending our uniquely low targets isn't the way to go about it. Much more is possible.


4 Responses to "Hoax? Canada's Actual Targets The Real Joke"

Canada Guy said... 15 December 2009 at 09:16

Excellent job by the Yes Men! Canada should be truly embarrassed. If we don't sign up to a reasonable deal, the world community should put sanctions on us until we wake up and do what's right (and get rid of the tar sands!)

CardinalXiminez said... 9 January 2010 at 16:57

The political reluctance explanation is two-fold.

First, the "prestige" card. In a non-renewable energy world, nations are divided in those which have energetic resources and those which have not. Having oil, exporting oil, is a measure of prestige. A net oil importer, under this paradigm, will be always a second-rate country. In the opposite, a net oil exporter is worth some respect. Brazil is the most recent example of this: even if they have been for long the leading country in biofuels (they have cars running on ethanol since 1979 - in that year if you told somebody in Iowa cars could run in moonshine you would be next in the list for the Baptist healer next Sunday) nobody took Brazil as an energetic powerhouse until they became self-sufficient in oil some years ago.

Canada, as Brazil, has the problem that their oil bonanza is relatively recent. A lot of people have made big plans with the oil money - not only in Backwardness, AB, but in Ottawa, too. Trudeau tried to tap the oil money for the Feds - and now, even 30 years later, if you are a Liberal and want to walk around rural Alberta, better take some armor with you. (Will follow.)

CardinalXiminez said... 9 January 2010 at 17:16

That means that many politicians, in Edmonton and Ottawa, were raised in the political idea that "Now we are an oil exporter. Now we kick ass. Wow.". And under this mental framework, you just don't ask them to leave this (until now) fantastic trump card for something else, even if it is terrifyingly self-evident that this "something else" is definitely more important.

Second, is about money. Technology is making renewable energies more and more economically attractive, but by now, when we actually needed, it needs political bravado to give renewable sources the push they need. Non-renewable sources industries are bigger, have been around for longer, and know powerful people.

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