Once again, Canada stands exposed as one of the world’s top 10 greenhouse gas polluters as politicians, scientists and others meet in Doha, Qatar, to wring their hands over climate change. Last year Canadians spewed 2 per cent more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the Global Carbon Project’s latest survey reports.
That doesn’t square with Environment Minister Peter Kent’s contention that emissions have stabilized. But however scientists slice and dice the figures, “no one believes that Canada has the policies in place” to reach its target of cutting output by 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020, the Pembina Institute concludes in a study of its own. That’s the Americans’ goal, too. Only they seem to be doing better.
There’s a message here for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose government has been waiting for the Americans to act. The statistics suggest they have. What are we waiting for? Emissions growth from the western oilsands by 2020 will virtually cancel out reductions elsewhere, Pembina warns. And Gord Miller, Ontario’s environmental commissioner, has just served notice that the province will fall “far short” of its goals, after scrapping or scaling back programs to promote greener cars and trucks, among other measures.
In Doha, the Big Picture looks dismal. Thanks to major polluters such as China and India whose output rose 10 per cent and 7 per cent respectively, the world pumped out 38.2 billion tons of gases last year, a 3-per-cent hike. And 2012 doesn’t look much better. At this rate there’s little hope of holding the increase in the Earth’s temperature to 2 degrees Celsius. That means more melting Arctic ice, higher sea levels, droughts and floods, extreme weather, the spread of deserts, melting glaciers, and other calamities. Hence the push in Doha for a new climate treaty by 2020, new emissions cuts and funding to help poor countries adopt cleaner energy.
How has the U.S. managed to pare its output, albeit modestly? Many point to the recession, which reduces all economic activity, and the shift from dirty coal to cleaner natural gas. But that isn’t the whole story, according to the Center for Climate Studies.
Good U.S. public policy, not hard times, seems to be the bigger driver. The U.S. Energy Department anticipates a “dramatic narrowing” of future emissions against past forecasts. But only 22 per cent of that good news stems from economic conditions and 6 per cent from fuel-switching, the centre estimates. Federal and state policies have far more impact, accounting for 46 per cent of gains. Oil pricing and other measures deliver 26 per cent.
In other words, nearly three-quarters of U.S. gains will come from tougher regulation to curb emissions, “green” government procurement, grants and loans to promote renewable electricity, and fuel conservation in vehicles and buildings. Pollution taxes, higher oil pricing and emission trading systems will also have an impact.
The implications for Canada, and Ontario, are obvious. The Canadian Council of Chief Executives has called for a coherent federal climate policy, including “a clear, nationally consistent carbon price” across the economy. And the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy has urged more investment in low-carbon innovation, a major growth sector.
Until now the Harper government has adopted a wait-and-see-what-the-U.S.-does attitude, repudiated the Kyoto Protocol as too costly, and failed to come up with a credible plan to make the painful adjustments that will be necessary to develop the oil and gas sector in a more balanced and sustainable fashion, mitigating emissions. As things stand there’s no federal constraint on oilsands pollution, Pembina argues. Now Ontario, too, is falling short.