When Canada’s credibility concerning performance on pollution and climate change is discussed on the world stage, it’s hard not to get irritated. Part of that irritation is that the critics do have a point: on a tonnage basis, Canada is in gross default of the commitments our nation made when we signed on to the Kyoto Protocols back in 1997.
Part of the shame of that default is that is was a Canadian — Maurice Strong — who organized the UN first world environmental summit in Stockholm in 1972. From that point, he dedicated his life to the diplomatic effort it took to see the first international agreement on greenhouse pollution and climate change at Kyoto, Japan, years later.
Canada agreed — just like 187 other countries — to reduce the production of several greenhouse gases to 5.2 per cent below the levels we produced them in 1990.
Well, we all know what’s happened since. We have neither reduced our total production, nor even the weasel-word “intensity” of our greenhouse gas production since.
And it’s no secret that our current government has no plans to change that. None at all.
Yes, you might say that hurts our credibility when we attend international conferences where climate change is discussed. Significantly.
But credibility cuts in all directions.
And when a nation with suspect credibility tells the truth — it’s still the truth.
People say Prime Minister Stephen Harper is damaging Canada’s credibility on the world stage, but he’s still telling the truth. What does that say of the credibility of his critics?
First, Canada could shut down all its industry, ban all motorized traffic and make all of us freeze in the dark — and global emissions of greenhouse gases would still rise. Significantly.
China alone has plans to open hundreds of coal-fired electrical plants over the next few years, and any three or four of them will dwarf the greenhouse emissions of Alberta’s tarsands industry. The accelerating heavy industrialization of Asia will make that area responsible for the majority of all the world’s greenhouse gas production, almost before the final communique of the 2012 United Nations conference on global warming in Denmark is massaged for release.
Forget the so-called industrialized nations cutting their emissions in half before 2050 in order to save the world; the emerging industrial powers in the East will already have eaten that gain and more by then.
So Harper has to be accepted on his point that a global accord like Kyoto is meaningless if its not truly global.
His second point must also be accepted, that a producer of commodities like Canada cannot make the sacrifice of greening its industry, when the same industries in emerging nations do not. It’s hypocritical to challenge Canada on the internationally-owned tarsands developers or mining firms on their so-called dinosaur technologies, when those same international investors form consortiums in other nations to employ technologies even worse. This will to force us to do worse ourselves, to compete, or go out of business.
Yes, it would be very nice for humanity to survive global industrialization. We’d also like to be there to see it ourselves, if the critics don’t mind.
The petroleum, gas, plastics, forest products and metals that come out of Canada are shipped around the world, and are used to make stuff that we buy back from China and other countries whose pollution rates will soon outstrip our own wasteful ways.
That’s not an excuse for us to do nothing — and that’s the only true measure of credibility here.
Canada is still at the table, and our government knows very well that Canadians are willing to accept some sacrifices to reduce our pollution impact. Get it started, already. But it’s a farce to make individual nations set targets for greenhouse gas production, while international business consortiums play profit games between them. And everybody buys their stuff. Everybody.
It’s hypocritical for critics to say Canada wears no clothes, while heading off to the mall to buy stuff made in China, from Canadian raw materials.
Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.