Misleading headline on the Harper climate change plan

Is this mischief on the part of the Globe’s editors or a simple mistake? The way I read the headline below is literally: that Harper’s newest climate change plan would “cut emissions 18 per cent by 2010”. Sounds good, right? The Tories must have seen the light and, while they would still miss the Kyoto targets, are aiming for a meaningful reduction in emissions just three years from now.

In fact, this is not the case, if you read the actual article. The Harper plan is for a 20% reduction by 2020, and will be 13 years late in meeting the Kyoto targets (6% below 1990 levels by 2025). The 18% number is an intensity-based reduction – that is, per unit of output – not a total decrease. The article makes this clear, so it must be the editor who is to blame for the headline. Let’s hope tomorrow’s paper gets it right and does not have this misleading lede on the front page.

For what it is worth, the intensity of Canada’s CO2 emissions fell by 13% between 1990 and 2005, according to Environment Canada. This was a time when our actual emissions went up by 24%.

The article also notes that the plan will cost $7-8 billion per year. To put this number into context, Canada’s GDP in 2007 will be about $1.5 trillion – that is trillion with a T – so the cost of the Tory plan will be 0.07% of GDP, a far cry from the 1% of GDP being called for in the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change.

Ottawa to cut emissions 18 per cent by 2010

Kyoto commitments abandoned as Tories target reduced greenhouse gas emissions, improved air quality


  • I strongly agree in principle, Marc – intensity limits are indeed a planet-destroying cop out since the goal is to reduce absolute emissions. Where this get tricky, however, is the issue of application at the firm vs sector vs more aggregated level. For a firm with constant production, an emissions intensity reduction and an absolute reduction boil down to the same thing – they have to cut the same amount. At the sector level, forestry would love a sector wide absolute limit since production is shrinking, which would allow surviving individual firms to actually increase emissions. Of course, growing sectors like oil and gas want intensity reductions since absolute emissions are growing fast. And then there’s the whole thorny issue of how not to punsih firms and sectors that got ahead of the pack and have started doing the right thing. The more I think about this the more I am persuaded that we need a carbon tax rather than regulatory controls – as Erin keeps telling me.

  • I’ve just glanced over a climate action network posting of immediate media reaction to the Baird announcement and you are absolutely right Marc…systematic and pervasive confusion between absolute and intensity reductions. Biaed’s headline number is in most of the headlines. Maybe they’ll get it right for hard print tomorrow. I guess we progressive economists should be offering remedial math for media courses.

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