By May 25, 2015 Read More →

Canadian climate change targets not taken seriously by anyone

USA can easily reduce emissions by phasing out coal, Canada has cold climate, generates 59% of power with hydro

Stephen Harper’s government has long made a show of not “going along to get along” when it comes to foreign relations. How very curious, then, that the Conservatives should have done just that when it comes to combatting climate change.

climate change

Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada.

Take Ottawa’s most recent greenhouse gas reduction plan, announced by Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq last week. It appears designed to fail in every area but that of optics — and even there, the message is halfhearted.

Canada’s newest climate goal, in nominal terms, is to cut emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. That’s somewhat less ambitious than the American target of a 26-to-28 per cent reduction by 2025. It’s hugely less ambitious than the European plan to reduce GHGs to 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030.

But really, who’s counting? No one expects the Conservative government to come anywhere near this latest target, after undershooting every previous one — including its 2009 Copenhagen commitment to get emissions 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020, a goal now clearly out of reach. Nor is there any federal plan in sight, whether for drivers, consumers or oil sands producers, that has a hope of reversing the trend.

Far more likely is that, as was the case under previous Liberal governments, the emissions target has been set largely as a sop to international bodies and foreign allies who actually do take climate change seriously. Prime Minister Harper heads to the G7 summit in Germany next month, ahead of the next big global climate round in France in December. It would not do to have the Germans or French blasting away at Canada’s climate delinquency in an election year.

Here at home, however, the federal government appears comfortable with the transparency of this shell game. “Under the current circumstances in the oil and gas sector, it would be crazy, it would be crazy economic policy to do unilateral penalties on that sector and we’re clearly not going to do that,” Prime Minister Harper told the House of Commons last December. Oil sands production accounts for under 10 per cent of Canada’s total GHG output. But here again, the message is what matters.

climate change

Dr. Kenneth P. Green, Fraser Institute.

Such statements reassure the Tory donor base that, whatever pious assertions the government may have made internationally for appearances’ sake, there’s no need for concern. Cap and trade schemes, carbon taxes and other such woolly-minded, radical notions are the exclusive province of the opposition parties.

This might be considered subtle, if not for its rank dishonesty. There is, after all, another argument open to the government. It could note that Canada accounted for just 1.6 per cent of total global emissions in 2011, equivalent to Mexico and Iran (Europe, China and the United States together accounted for about 50 per cent). As such, it could say that, in the absence of concerted, effective international action by the world’s largest emitters, any Canadian moves would be symbolic only.

It could point out that Canada, with its cold climate, will inevitably consume far greater amounts of energy per capita than the global norm. It could recall that it costs the U.S. much less to reduce its emissions because of its dependence on carbon-heavy coal as an energy source: responsible for 40 per cent of its emissions, and relatively cheap to replace with cleaner fuels.

But rather than saying these things, which would at least have the virtue of directness, the government has time and time again taken the oblique route, throwing up a series of bold commitments it has no intention of meeting. It is, in fact, a textbook case of “going along to get along.”

This commentary by Kenneth P. Green of the Fraser Institute originally appeared in The National Post on May 22, 12015.

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