The Worst in the World

Stephen Harper is coming to Copenhagen. It really surprised me when the Canadian media started patting him on the back for announcing this, as if he was finally cleaning up his act and showing some leadership. Coming to a conference – and most likely only for a day or two, for a photo op – doesn’t show leadership. As I’ll explain in this post, it’s the latest in a chain of attempts by the Canadian government to look like they’re doing something about climate change, without actually doing anything at all.

Obama is only coming to Copenhagen for one day. Almost certainly a photo op. But I find this somewhat more excusable because the US is already working on their own climate change legislation, independent of Copenhagen. The US has something against international agreements, but they’re being proactive and finding ways to achieve the same ends regardless. Canada hasn’t done any such thing.

And it’s not just the Conservatives that are being difficult. Michael Ignatieff, the leader of the opposition, says that Canada has wasted four years on climate change action. Actually, we’ve wasted twenty. But Ignatieff will only say four years, because beyond that, it was his party that was the problem. The Liberals were the ones to sign Kyoto and agree to an emissions cut of 6% below 1990 levels. Instead, as of 2006, they were 22% above.

The recommended emissions target for developed nations is a 25-40% cut from 1990 levels by 2020. Most developed nations have stepped up to the plate. Norway has pledged a 40% reduction. Japan has pledged 25%. Australia has agreed to 5-24%, depending on whether there is an agreement at Copenhagen. The EU will cut 20% no matter what, and will increase this to 30% with an international agreement. Britain has increased this even further, with a 34% pledge.

The US is a little trickier. Waxman-Markey will cut 14-20%, but from 2005 levels, not 1990. Does anyone know how to convert this so we can properly compare it to other countries?

Then there’s Canada. Canada has pledged 3% from 1990 levels. Absolutely pitiful. Depending on what the US conversion turns out to be, there’s a good chance that our humble country is the worst in the world for climate change action and leadership.

The government knows this, and they’re spending a great deal of time and energy trying to cover it up. For example, they won’t say “3% by 1990”, because it’s so obviously pitiful. Instead, they say that they’ve pledged “a 20% cut by 2020″…..from 2006 levels. What is the point of deviating from the standard baseline among countries who signed Kyoto, unless you’re deliberately trying to keep your citizens happy with you?

And that’s not all. In the summer, I wrote about how Canada was still advertising its Turning the Corner plan, even though it appeared to have abandoned it. When I went to PowerShift in October, I had the chance to talk to a lot of people who knew a lot about Canada’s climate change policies. And yes, our government has definitely abandoned Turning the Corner. But it’s still one of the first links in their sidebar. And when you click on that link, you discover that it hasn’t been updated since August 2o08, and the legislation is supposed to come into effect in January 2010. Yet another example of keeping the citizens happy without having to do anything.

Stephen Harper’s climate change website is full of talk about emissions intensity and CSS. There are pictures of him shaking hands with Obama and planting trees. But trying to get any real information out of it is next to impossible.

The government is spending so much time trying to convince Canadians that they’re taking bold action on climate change. They’re devoting so much energy to putting on sustainable masks that contradict all their talk of a transparent government. All without having to take any action at all.

What I ask is, why not spend all that time and energy actually doing something? Why not cooperate with other nations and realize that this is the way the world economy is going? Why not be proactive and prepared instead of hoping that the whole issue will just go away?

It actually makes me ashamed to be Canadian. Ashamed to be part of this country that tosses around the future of our civilization, the future of my generation, so lightly. And for what?


11 thoughts on “The Worst in the World

  1. Random thoughts:

    My original impression of Copenhagen was that there would be legitimate scientists there. Is this true, or is it just a bunch of “world leaders”?

    It’s a heck of a lot cheaper to look like you’re taking bold action than to actually take it.

    Setting a target emissions cap is great and all, but how are these nations actually planning on getting there?

  2. I’m afraid the U.S. is only pledging a 3% reduction below 1990 levels. See here. This is supposed to be in line with W-M, but not as ambitious as the Senate bill.

    The LA Times reports 4%.

    The EU has agreed to at least 20%.

  3. You may have already seen the poll showing some three-quarters of us are ashamed of our government’s climate stance.

    Combine this with the (sadly, hollow) ultimatum at the Commonwealth summit in Trinidad/Tobago earlier this week – where calls were made for Canada’s suspension from the commonwealth over its climate positions. For the record, if acted upon, this would put Canada in such esteemed company as Pakistan, Zimbabwe, and Uganda (all of whom have been suspended over human rights issues).

    Just recently, as well, George Monbiot weighed in – first with a letter in the Globe and Mail to all Canadians, and then with an article of his own on the subject. (Note that the article isn’t up on his website yet; it’s his custom to include citations when publishing on his personal site, but he leaves them out of his space-limited newspaper columns.) He’ll be engaged in a debate (with Elizabeth May on his side) against Nigel Lawson and Bjorn Lomborg tomorrow on a similar issue (and sadly, since I’m teaching, I’ll have to miss it…).

    All of this means diddly squat to Harper, of course (how much you want to bet he’ll be looking for a Tim Horton’s in Copenhagen?). In fact, a friend of mine observes:

    I could see Harper dropping the monarchy (which would help him consolidate even more power in the PMO) before listening to foreign influences, not to say that will sell here though.

  4. And here in Australia the flat earth people (deniers) have just got control of the Liberal party (which is conservative) So the ETS which was to pass yesterday is now in trouble. That being a very wishy washy ETS that gave many free pollution permits to the biggest emitters

    My own local member gets his science from WUWT, knows all their talking points.

    If we will not even admit a problem then it would appear that most of our adaption is going to be post event. We won’t build a new Sydney Airport untill planes are trying to land on the water.

  5. Just look at Wikipedia’s chart of carbon emissions by country, and you can calculate the equivalent emissions reductions for 1990.

    It isn’t that much of a change, since emissions from 2001-2008 were almost flat, the 90s had a small gain. I suspect a 20% cut below 2005 levels means a 12% cut below 1990 levels.

  6. Oops, 92-93 had a 5% jump for the US, so a 20% cut comes out to about 4% below 1990 levels.

    Either way, these numbers are meaningless, since the chances of such cuts happening in ten years is very remote.

  7. The 1990 benchmark is pointless because that is 20 years ago. Actual cuts are reductions from current usage, so a 10% cut below 1990 levels means a much higher cut in actual emissions.

    Also, the ‘nondeveloped’ countries are the ones with more emissions now.
    For example, according to Wikipedia’s list of carbon emissions, the US is 20.2%, and the EU 13.8%. If you add in Russia, Japan, Canada, South Korea, and Australia, you get 49% of global emissions in 2006.

    If Canada agreed to a 50% cut below 1990 levels for her emissions by 2020, it would probably reduce global emissions by one half of a percent or even less.

    By that time, the ‘developed countries’ will probably account for just 25-30% of world emissions. Any action that reduces global warming requires severe drops in emissions from developing countries, which are light years ahead of their 1990 emissions levels. Changes in developed countries are a drop in the bucket.

    [The only reason 1990 is still a standard base year is that it was the one used in Kyoto, so it’s easy to compare to. Developing countries need to reduce emissions too, but developed countries are more responsible for the damage that’s already been caused, as it’s the cumulative buildup of GHG rather than the instantaneous emission levels that matter. So over the long run, we’re the guiltiest ones. -Kate]

  8. Single digit targets that the United States and Canada are proposing won’t work now. How can the developed countries expect the developing countries to cut their carbon emissions when they themselves are putting forward such dismal targets. It is had to believe in any of the recent emission target announcements as they seem to be have been announced only to dodge international pressure. Only the EU seems committed to its 20% proposal.

    The US Congress is debating putting nuclear, clean coal and free emission permits for industries, now how are you going to ask India, China to tax their coal power plants and shift to renewable energy sources. Australia’s case is THE worst. The only major thing that Prime Minster Rudd has done is the ratification of Kyoto Protocol since then no national efforts have been taken towards reducing carbon emissions. Australia has the world’s highest per capita emission levels. Since his election there have been talks of a carbon trading law but nothing concrete has happened, today again the Australian lawmakers rejected the carbon law.

    Efforts from the developed countries have been extremely disappointing.

  9. I thought the point of Kyoto was to stop global warming, not to punish guilt.

    The US, Europe, Australia, Japan, Russia, Canada, can shut off all of their emissions, and global warming would still happen,reducing warming by about 1C otu of 4C.

    That the developing world has a small share of historical emissions doesn’t change the fact that the emissions there are growing so much that global warming will not be reduced unless emissions there are reduced substantially.

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