State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Around the world: Canada, Part 1

Periodically I’ll be taking a look at how countries other than the Big Four are faring in the fight against severe global warming, as commentators tend to focus on the United States, China, India and the European Union.

This is the first in a two-part post on Canada.

Oh, Canada!

Our enlightened neighbor to the north, right? Some folks (OK, liberals)  tend to mythologize Canada as a great bastion of progressiveness, with its its nationalized health care system, gay marriage and relatively easygoing stance on marijuana.  But on global warming the federal government in Ottawa has been little better than us.

OK, Canada actually signed the Kyoto Protocol, way back in 1998, but it has yet to pass a law mandating emissions reductions.  Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper hails from Alberta, the center of the country’s oil and gas industry, which leads all provinces in emissions despite having only the fourth-largest population.  Harper is understandably concerned about greenhouse gas (GHG) regulation’s impact on Canadian industry and jobs, and as such, subscribes to the goal of reducing emissions intensity. Intensity targets would require businesses to cut the amount of carbon that goes into each unit of production. But intensity targets put the focus on efficient emissions as opposed to emissions reductions.

The Conservatives’ goal is an absolute emissions reduction of 20 percent by 2020, and 65 percent by 2050.  But those reductions are measured from 2006 levels, which were 22 percent higher than Kyoto’s 1990 benchmark.  And how do Conservatives even know that emissions will actually be reduced, since intensity targets would seemingly allow for greater absolute emissions so long as firms are producing efficiently?  Not surprisingly, the Conservatives’ plan would result in emissions much higher than Canada’s 2012 Kyoto target.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper hails from Alberta, which emits more GHGs than any other province as a result of its oil and gas industry.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper hails from Alberta, which emits more GHGs than any other province as a result of its oil and gas industry.

But who’s in charge of Canada, anyway?  Opposition groups have united against Harper, whose party commands only a minority in the legislature.  To stave off or delay a mid-term topple, Harper shut down the House of Commons until next month.  But many are already predicting that the Liberals will be running the government come next year.

On GHG regulation, the Liberals will be in a funny position, as they lost to the Conservatives just a few months ago in part over a pledge to tax consumption of fossil fuels (with the exception of gasoline).  The proposal called for industries to face a tax of $10 per ton of carbon emitted, going up to $40 in four years.  The larger plan called for GHG reductions of 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050 (this is identical to President-elect Barack Obama’s goal).  Over four years, the tax was expected to generate $15.4 billion, which would have been offset by income tax cuts and increases in family support payments.  During the summer campaign, Harper said the tax would “screw everybody across the country.”  It’s unclear whether Liberals would renew their call for a carbon tax upon taking power, although the political terrain might be easier with fuel prices falling sharply from summer levels.

Canada signed Kyoto 10 years ago, but it will not come close to meeting its 2012 reduction target.  However, federal inaction has spurred innovative regulation in the provinces, which I’ll address in part 2 of this post.

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15 years ago

[…] talked about Alberta tar sands and Canadian climate politics here and […]