Doom and Gloom on Canadian Climate Change Report

“The conclusions [the report] draws are irresponsible,” said Mr. Prentice in an interview with The Globe and Mail from Kingston, where he was meeting with provincial and territorial environment ministers. Specifically, he said Canadians will not accept the report’s advocacy of emission targets for 2020 that would reduce Canada’s gross domestic product by 3 per cent nationally and 12 per cent in Alberta from business-as-usual estimates.

Climate change report ‘irresponsible,’ Prentice says – The Globe and Mail.

Canada cannot take its national unity for granted and must not, in the service of international obligations, allow itself to be immolated by a government policy of such wrenching dislocation.

Globe and Mail Editorial

Wow, “irresponsible”, “Threat to Canada’s National Unity?” What could we talking about? Surely, not a report that addresses the cost of meeting Canada’s commitments to greenhouse gas reductions by 2020?. A bit of hyperbole from this nation’s great flagship newspaper and the Environment Minister?

The study (English summary) looked at two different scenarios, first the weak sauce 20% reduction from 2006 levels by 2020 proposed by the Canadian government. The reason the Canadian government deliberately shifted the baseline from 1990 (the accepted consensus baseline so comparison can be made easily) to 2006 is that if you calculate what the change from 1990 levels is for the Canadian government proposal, it is actually a small increase, not the 20-25% decrease that is needed to put the world on a stabilization path for <2°C rise in temperature. This is unethical and dishonest, like telling the world that the average Canadian is 4 feet tall (head to knee only). The authors of the report know this is an unacceptably weak proposal and therefore looked at what was actually needed, a 20-25% reduction from 1990 levels. BTW, remember that if someone ever shoots a percentage off for you, ask for the baseline, check if this is standard.

Incidentally, the editorial pages of the G&M has not read its own report, or wilfully ignores all the good news while selectively playing up the bad news, geez, it’s like they have an agenda or something! The good news:

  • Canada CAN meet its climate goals
  • The effect on Canadian GDP growth is modest. Under the required goal of 25% reduction from 1990, GDP growth is about 3% below “business as usual” standards. Note that this year, GDP growth was negative, what percent is that?
  • Alberta, which would “suffer” the greatest reduction from “business as usual” scenarios still leads the country in growth. This is the scenario which the G&M concern trolls as a threat to National Unity
  • Jobs still grow, very few changes from business as usual scenarios
  • Significant Increases in energy costs. But money flows from carbon revenue to defray some of these costs, so actual costs to consumers are modest
  • Massive increases in the efficiency of cars, houses, heating, etc., means lower prices in the long run

Of course, the environmental, social and geopolitical costs of “doing nothing” are not enumerated. Are we prepared to face a world with melting polar ice caps, climate refugees, water wars and anger? Are we willing to take those Canadian flags off our backpacks and put Swedish flags on them? There is also a very good chance of incremental breakthroughs in electric vehicle technologies squeezing the demand out of oil and completely collapsing Alberta’s economy, making this entire decision moot. Things can change quickly, just ask anyone involved in the BC timber industry! My point is that unless you factor in the costs of doing business as usual, any change proposed will not compare favourably. The report alludes to the cost of doing business as usual, a 5-20% LOSS in global GDP over the century. But does not include this into the calculation of the business as usual scenario. Note that none of the changes envisaged here propose anything but “growth”.

The changes required are quite significant.

  • Capture and storage of carbon dioxide from the oil and gas industry and power plants (Ha!)
  • Reduction of “fugitive” emissions from the oil and gas industry and from landfills
  • Increased energy efficiency throughout the economy (e.g., in vehicles and buildings)
  • Increased production of renewable energy (e.g., wind power accounts for 18 per cent of electricity generated in 2020 when meeting the 2°C target)
  • Replacement of fossil fuels by cleaner electricity (e.g., for heating buildings).

When you are near the bottom of the pack when it comes to efficiency and per capita emissions, you do necessarily have to work a little harder. Most of these goals (except the first one which needs a major technological advance) are easily achievable and would put Canada more in line with European countries as far as energy efficiency goes.

What do the words of the mainstream media and the government mean? We are screwed. Canada has NO leadership or commitment to steer away from the cliff. We do not have a powerful enough constituency for climate change. We have a government and polity completely captured by oil interests. We will be dragged kicking, screaming and unprepared into a new, efficient and carbon constrained world. We may still turn out okay because we are a VERY rich country with very few people. But, be prepared for the backlash.

Note, more from the excellent blog greenpolicyprof ‘which makes some of the same points I made, but expands to include coverage of West vs. the Rest issues.

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