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Canada, the climate free-rider

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Canada has the worst greenhouse gas emissions per capita

Canada has the worst greenhouse gas emissions per capita

Canada needs to step up its climate efforts.

This would seem to go without saying. But a combination of three articles published today made it cruelly evident.

Carol Linnitt, in DeSmogBlog, reports on the faulty logic behind Premier Brad Wall statement that Canada, being a minor emitter of greenhouse gases, need not feel it needs to act.  Writes Linnitt:

At the premiers’ climate summit this week, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall brought up a statistic that has received a fair amount of attention lately: Canada’s emissions account for fewer than two per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions…Essentially, Wall appears to be suggesting that because no single action by itself will solve the problem, we shouldn’t take that single action.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne rejected Wall’s argument. “Yes, we are a small country in terms of our population and absolute emissions, but we are heavy emitters per capita and that actually gives us more of a responsibility to innovate and create technology that allow us to deal with the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions,” she said.

Wall’s argument has been repeated often, and it needs adressing: why, indeed, should we care? A bit of international context may be useful here. (And at least Wall is attending, which is better than can be said about Christie Clark.)

Today Brazil announced that its upcoming initiative will surprise many. From the article:

Brazil will increase the use of renewable energy, target zero net deforestation and push for low-carbon agriculture as part of its climate proposal, Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira said in an interview. In its proposal to the United Nations climate conference in Paris this year, Latin America’s largest nation will propose ambitious new targets to reduce destruction of the Amazon rainforest, boost reforestation and increase solar, hydro and wind energy.

Over the past decade Brazil has been one of the world’s protagonists in combating climate change, slashing its greenhouse emissions by 41 percent between 2005 and 2012, according to official data.

So Brazil will join Mexico in leading the pack, yet neither Latin American nations are as rich as Canada; yet they are doing their bit (and will probably create numerous jobs in the process). Mmmh, what is going on?

Even more eye-opening is this news from the Netherlands today:

Public hearings will take place in the Hague on Tuesday in the first case in the world to use existing human rights and tort law to hold a government responsible for failing to reduce carbon emissions fast enough… They will ask the judiciary to declare that the Dutch government must implement policies to reduce its emissions by between 25% and 40% below 1990 levels by 2020.

The lawsuit has been brought by the sustainability foundation Urgenda with 886 Dutch citizens acting as co-plaintiffs including teachers, entrepreneurs, artists and children legally represented by their elders.

Salto , who is an ambassador for WWF, said: “Everybody is waiting for the government to take action but the government has done so little. If the case succeeds, they will be forced to take action. If you look at Denmark, they’ve managed [to reduce emissions], so why can’t we? I want the Dutch to lead the way in this.”

So, let’s see. We have a number of developing countries who are a lap ahead of Canada. We have an advanced country sued by its own citizens because of its perceived slow-down in climate mitigation. We have a small country – Denmark – held as an example and as justification for that lawsuit.

I wish that Canada would take on the role of Denmark: a small country that leads by example. Instead, as Linnitt writes,

Alberta’s growth in emissions is actually un-doing the climate gains made in other provinces, such as Ontario’s phase-out of coal powered energy plants. That’s been allowed to happen because despite eight solid years of promises, Canada still has no national regulations on greenhouse gas emissions.

The debate about climate change isn’t merely a moral one. The cost of failing to act will almost certainly outweigh the costs of acting. Think: floods, heat waves, adaptation efforts, rising sea levels, water scarcity, lower crop yields and wildfires.

But that’s not the only issue. In school, students who don’t pull their weight in group work end up ostracised, isolated, and marginalized. At the level of relations between nations, this is the risk Canada is courting; in future agreements, free-riders risk becoming marginalized. Under Harper, Canada has accumulated dinosaur awards, and at climate talks is considered irrelevant. That’s is bad enough; time to change course. Enough already, Brad Wall, listen to your Ontario counterpart.


Written by enviropaul

April 16, 2015 at 8:48 pm

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