BaliBuzz: Canada In Bali: Futile Climate Policy Debunked

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…


5 Responses to “BaliBuzz: Canada In Bali: Futile Climate Policy Debunked”

  1. 1 Derek Wall Dec 7th, 2007 at 12:42 pm

    Real economic progress is about putting local people in charge of the land and preventing enclosure, yet forest people have been excluded from bali

  2. 2 ty m e Dec 13th, 2007 at 3:08 pm

    I am a student at Rothesay High School and right now i am taking enviromental science and we are now learning about the Bali agree ment and at the thought that Canada could ask for a watered down target makes me ashamed to by Canadian. We need a government that wants our childrens life time to just like theirs and not govern just for the time that they are in office.

    Out raged teen

  3. 3 Kirk Dec 15th, 2007 at 12:28 pm

    Currently 80% of electricity in China is generated from coal. In order to meet the insatiable demand, approximately 550 new coal-fired plants are being planned; one new plant every ten days or less.

    India? 70% of electricity is generated from coal. Increased demand, in-efficiencies and zero alternatives are creating a future that will comprise 200 new coal-fired power plants.

    USA? The world’s largest polluter may build 70 new coal-fired power plants.

    How does this all equate and where are we now? Simply this:

    1) No official treaty exists to curb green-house gas emissions.

    2) By 2012, the USA, China and India will emit up to five times (2.7 Bn tons) as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as the Kyoto Protocol planned to reduce (0.48 Bn tons). This does not include the 350 coal-fired plants planned in all other countries combined.

    3) Bali comes up with a frame-work and hope for 2008 and beyond. What will it be? 20% cuts? 40%? What can the world achieve? Don’t harp on Harper for suggesting 20% from 2006 levels. This estimate may actually be an achievable target. No matter how far off it is deemed to be from the various targets or ranges suggested, it could be a good start.

    Considering that the world will build about 1170 coal-fired power plants within the next decade and scientists currently estimate that 500 new plants will push CO2 concentrations to a dangerous climate change level (400 ppm), any future climate change agreement MUST include the coal burning majorities of China, India and the USA. Regardless of the future advances in any alternative energy supply, the world must first act to minimise our reliance on coal and use new technology to reduce the emissions of future coal-fired plants for the next decade, 2010 to 2020.

    What can we do? I believe that all we can do is work towards establishing a binding agreement that is achievable in the future.

    Hopefully that is what happened in Bali in 2007.

  1. 1 Books News » Blog Archive » Canada In Bali: Futile Climate Policy Debunked Trackback on Dec 7th, 2007 at 9:13 am
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About Sasha

Sasha is a member of the Canadian Youth Delegation to Bali. A Vancouver native, she is currently pursuing a degree in Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Her interests lie primarily with the intersection of transnational challenges, human rights, and international policy, with an emphasis on African affairs. Sasha has been engaged with environmental issues on many fronts, working with the Office of Sustainability Programs to draft greenhouse gas emission reduction policies for the University of New Hampshire, collaborating on sustainable development projects in West Africa, and deploying as a disaster relief worker to New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. A self-proclaimed nomad, Sasha spent the summer of 2007 leading a backpacking expedition in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

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