If you’re a Canadian waiting for your government to show leadership on climate change, don’t hold your breath.
In the opening days of the UN negotiations here in Bali, Canada submitted a written statement outlining a worrisome wish-list for the international climate treaty that will succeed the Kyoto Protocol in 2012.
The Canadian contribution to the negotiations may appear to be constructive on the surface, but a basic analysis reveals implications that are as controversial as they are troubling. Canada calls for a post-Kyoto treaty that will:
• “Balance environmental protection and economic prosperity, be economically realistic, and not unduly burden the growth of any single country”
Aha. We’ve heard this one before: The Economy versus Environment debate. But what exactly does it mean to be economically realistic? And why does Canada insist on presenting environmental sustainability and economic prosperity as mutual exclusivities? Is it really a zero sum game, where any efforts to address climate change must come at the cost of our economy? Even prominent economists argue that the worst possible prescription for our economy would be inaction on climate change.
• “Have a long-term focus – a new international framework must set the scale and timing of global emission reduction through to 2050. Canada believes we should aim to cut emissions by half over this period”
Cutting emissions is key, explicit timelines are essential, but there are several ingredients conspicuously absent from this recipe. First of all, who is the we? Canada? Industrialized countries? The international community? Oh, and what baseline levels are we using when “we” cut emissions by 50%? Let me guess, Canada is referring to 50% below 2006 emissions levels by 2050, even though the IPCC has clearly called for 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. Yeah… Nice try.
• “Be flexible, so that all countries can chose the tools and policies that suit their unique circumstances a new international framework must be able to accommodate a variety of commitments as well as multi-stage efforts by countries and sectors. A new framework should also take advantage of capital markets, and link and expand regional and sectoral emissions trading schemes, including sub-national and voluntary schemes”
Red Alert: Voluntary? That’s a deal-breaker, emission targets must be binding. The reference to national circumstances is also problematic, because it sets up a loophole for Canada to argue later on that the social and economic structures in the country are particularly inhospitable to emission reductions.
• “Include all major emitters – to be effective, a new international framework must include emission reduction obligations for all the largest emitting economies”
Now we’ve unearthed the really controversial stuff: the North/South debate. The subtext of this statement is that Canada doesn’t intend to accept binding emission targets unless large developing countries like India and China do so as well. If this sounds familiar, then you’ve probably heard George W. Bush speak on climate change… This raises a dilemma of trust: how can Canada ask developing nations to take on binding commitments when they’ve flagrantly and unapologetically failed to follow through on their own?
If we hope to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change, the world will need an aggressive plan. In order to meet our international (not to mention environmental) deadlines, that plan will need to be founded here in Bali.
Canada, time is running out…