Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Premiers' contribute mostly hot air to climate change

Climate change and energy were supposed to be the big issues when the premiers got together in Moncton.
And given all the enthusiastic talk about the importance of the global-warming issue to life on Earth, you might have expected them to do something.
But no. After two days, the best the premiers could do was agree to start keeping track of greenhouse gas emissions in a consistent way.
Weird, really. All this time they've been talking earnestly about reducing emissions by sector and setting goals and trading carbon credits.
And yet they don't even really know how much greenhouse gases are being produced by each province now, or how.
The premiers have been trying to stake out a bigger place in government. Since 2003, they've referred to themselves as the Council of the Federation, a name that's supposed to suggest - I'm not really sure what, actually. But the idea is the council speaks with some authority.
In real life, the council mostly mumbles. Like this time. Premier Gordon Campbell - along with his counterparts from Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba - were keen emission caps and a trading system. If a B.C. industry cut its emissions below the agreed-on level, it could sell the right to produce those emissions to some company in Nova Scotia that couldn't afford to install emission-reduction technology. The big benefit is that emissions come to have a cost. There is an incentive, beyond the vague notion of doing good or winning goodwill, for companies to cut emissions.
But Alberta, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan were opposed. They're afraid caps would hurt their energy industry. There was no agreement, which meant the no-caps side won. The premiers also talked about bringing in tough automobile emission standards to match the coming Californian regulations. Eventually, 12 of the 13 supported the idea.
But Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty nixed that proposal. The cost of meeting the California standards could add $2,000 to the price of a car. Fewer car sales would hurt Ontario's automotive industry. So the emissions didn't matter so much.
Individual provinces might still try to adopt the standards, but they'll have a tough time if automakers claim it's not worth producing special vehicles for a small market.
It wasn't a total bust. The premiers promised to produce an additional 25,000 megawatts of renewable energy by 2020 - figure about the equivalent of the production of 10 Revelstoke dams. They will include climate change in school curricula.
And the move to measure and report emissions is useful; the first step toward some sort of trading system.
"I'm not suggesting this is Earth shattering," said B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell. Right. "We've made some progress, though." Not much, really.
It wouldn't really be a premier's meeting without some grumbling about the federal government. Saskatchewan and Newfoundland are still angry because they say Stephen Harper broke his promise to exclude oil and gas revenues from the equalization formula. (Short verdict - they're right, Harper broke the promise, but it was a bad promise and bad policy.)
Some of the premiers were also fretting about the Conservative government might do.
Harper has said the government should be playing a smaller role in creating and supporting national social programs. The federal government should not be insisting on health-care standards or funding child-care programs, the argument goes. Those are areas of provincial jurisdiction, and the federal government should butt out.
The approach reflects Harper's view that the federal government should be smaller.
And it will score political points in Quebec. Premier Jean Charest has said he wants to start talks about a reduced role for the federal government. But other premiers are edgy, because they believe federal programs are needed to ensure equal standards and improving programs and they fear Ottawa government will cut back funding.
Still, based on the premiers' inability to make progress on climate change - supposedly a national priority - the prime minister doesn't have much to worry about from the council of the federation, grand name or not.


Blair said...

As an environmental professional (but not involved in the area of greenhouse gases) I’ve wondered for quite a while how long it would take for reporters to notice the big hole in the national plan to reduce greenhouse gases...that we really don't have an accurate number to use as a starting point. We read about Canadian CO2 emissions but most people don’t realize how soft those numbers really are. Quantifying greenhouse gase emissions is a huge task and even though Kyoto has been on the books for quite some time the actual methodologies for counting up greenhouse gas emissions were only completed in May 2006 (see http://www.csa.ca/climatechange/services/carbon/Default.asp?language=English). To actually expect our governments to have successfully managed to measure, report and verify greenhouse gas emissions in the short time since the standard was produced is to ask a lot. Heck the CSA hasn’t even finished their validation standards yet?

Anonymous said...

The outcome of this conference is unsurprising. Alberta is Canada's largest energy producer, and that production comes with some substantial greenhouse gas emissions. Ontario and Quebec are Canada's largest energy consumers, responsible for converting most of that Alberta energy production into greenhouse gases. Who's going to take responsibility for the emissions? Even if Alberta's energy industry stopped supplying oil to central Canada altogether, central Canada would continue to consume energy from another source and produce greenhouse gas emissions, so it's pretty obvious that some sort of consumption tax is necessary. And consumers being our usual selves, we're quite happy to advocate greenhouse gas reductions when it's an altruistic gesture that makes us feel good but outraged when we discover that it's going to cost us in some way. Add into this central Canada's odd conflation of global warming with air quality issues, and I'd say that the smart investor is going to be looking for industries that'll make money from helping people adopt to climate change...

Anonymous said...

I watched them planting a tree to offset their carbon emissions for air travel etc to the conference and thought "How apt is that!"

After all the hot air about their commitment to tackling climate change, they don't have the guts to lift a finger if it's going to inconvenience their big business/industry backers. All the arguments about protecting their provincial economies are pure nonsense. Even these bozos know full well that the cost to their provincial economies and to Canada as a whole will be far greater if they don't take serious action promptly.

But how much easier to leave the tough choices for their successors, knowing full well that the economic pain will be far greater if they can delay acting. Then they can blame Ottawa.

This is exactly why we need a strong federal government and why Harper's continuing to take us in the other direction. He's just as gutless as all the premiers.