Al Gore has famously and correctly characterized the scientific consensus about global warming as “An Inconvenient Truth”. In today’s Financial Post, Buzz Hargrove identifies another “inconvenient truth” for Canadian progressives: “it is impossible to achieve Kyoto targets in the time frames spelled out in Kyoto.”
Canada’s Kyoto commitment was relatively modest and achievable. However, after signing it, the Liberal government spent years increasing Canadian emissions faster than George Bush II increased American emissions. Now, our emissions are way above target levels and the target period (2008-2012) is only eight months away.
To the extent that Canada is allowed to meet its commitment through the Clean Development Mechanism, we should do so. We should also make a serious effort to reduce our own emissions. However, as I think most environmentalists have quietly concluded, Canada will inevitably blow our first-round Kyoto target. Since the consequence will be a more stringent second-round target, we should start taking serious action now.
The opposition Liberals have taken the hypocritical, unrealistic position that Canada must now meet its first-round Kyoto targets. Liberal MP Pablo Rodriguez introduced a bill to that effect. The other opposition parties understandably felt that they had to support this bill to keep their green credentials intact.
Theoretically, there may be nothing wrong with adopting an unachievable goal in order to prompt action in the direction of achieving it. As Robert Browning wrote, “a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”
Practically, the problem with this approach is that it leaves the door wide open for the Conservatives to point out, as they did this week, that severely reducing emissions in an extremely short period of time would entail significant economic dislocation. The hypothesized $195-per-ton carbon tax is far higher than needed to meet Kyoto targets in the medium term, but might be needed to get there immediately.
As long as the debate is framed in terms of meeting Canada’s first-round Kyoto targets, the Conservatives will win the argument. The debate is likely to remain framed in this manner as long as the Liberals succeed in pinning the other opposition parties to the Rodriguez position.
Progressives must reframe the debate as being about the costs of action versus those of inaction in the medium term, which is the more serious argument and one that the Conservatives cannot win. The only way to reframe the debate this way is for progressives to start publicly acknowledging what everyone already knows: that, as a result of Liberal inaction, Canada will inevitably blow its first-round Kyoto targets. We can then move forward with the reasonable, affordable measures needed to meet our second-round targets, such as a carbon tax closer to $25 per ton.
- Are Canadian investors headed for a carbon cliff? (April 12th, 2013)
- Climate justice and the political moment in BC (April 5th, 2013)
- Absolving our Carbon Sins: the Case of the Pacific Carbon Trust (April 2nd, 2013)
- Closing the Loop: Zero Waste, GHG Emissions and Green Jobs in BC (March 28th, 2013)
- Carbon bubbles and fossil fuel divestment (March 26th, 2013)