Better know your greenhouse gas emissions talking points

We’re pretty good at emitting

Global Warming Minnesota

In light of Stephen Harper’s self-declared frankness on climate change, David McLaughlin suggests environmental policy should be discussed the same way fiscal policy is.

Missing most of all has been a persistent conversation with Canadians on why this is important and what it will take to accomplish. That is striking, because when it comes to a similar inter-generational public policy issue involving tough, competing choices—deficits and debt, for example—those same politicians do not hesitate to speak so frankly.

The costs of eliminating the deficit are set out in the budget numbers while the costs of not doing so—higher taxes and reduced services for our children and grandchildren—are in the budget speech, like this year’s. “Financial prudence now leads to financial prosperity in the future,” it intoned. “When governments run prolonged deficits, they are spending money that belongs to future generations.”

The same model could, and should, be used for tackling climate change.

Meanwhile, here is the climate change adviser for Shell touting 10 reasons to adopt some kind of carbon-pricing mechanism.

At present, the Harper government doesn’t seem much interested in taking either McLaughlin’s or Shell’s advice.

So what does the government have to say for itself?

Our John Geddes has quibbled with the environment minister’s talk of greenhouse-gas emission reductions and now, PJ Partington, late of the Pembina Institute, quibbles with the government’s touting of its own coal regulations.

The Conservatives have also made some effort over the past month to remind everyone that Canada’s emissions amount to less than two per cent of global emissions. When you put it that way, it doesn’t sound like much. And perhaps that is something like the point.

For the record, when I asked Aglukkaq’s office to explain the significance of that figure, the response I received was as follows:

“Canada only accounts for less than two per cent of global greenhouse gases and, for this reason, Canada is pursuing a new international agreement on climate change that includes real action by all major emitters. In the meantime, our government is doing our part by taking considerable action to reduce greenhouse gases domestically. Since 2006, we have invested significant funds in more efficient technologies, better infrastructure and adaptation, and cleaner energy. We have also taken action on two of the largest sources of emissions in this country, namely, the transportation and electricity-generation sectors. Thanks in part to our actions, Canada’s 2020 greenhouse-gas emissions are projected to be about 130 megatonnes lower relative to a scenario with no action. Furthermore, Canada’s per capita greenhouse-gas emissions are now at their lowest level since tracking began. In contrast to our actions, the only plan the Liberals and NDP have to address climate change is to create a carbon tax that punishes hard-working Canadian families.”

But let us not be humble about our ability to emit. In 2011, according to this tally of 188 countries, Canada ranked ninth in total greenhouse-gas emissions, behind only China, the United States, India, Russia, Japan, Brazil, Germany and Indonesia. (Specifically, on carbon dioxide, we rank eighth.) In per capita emissions, we ranked 14th. For cumulative emissions from 1990 to 2011, we ranked eighth. And this tally of emissions between 1850 and 2007 puts Canada ninth overall.

For the sake of comparison, we would be basically happy as a country if we ever again finished so high in a Summer Olympics (we last placed better than 14th in the medals in 1992 and, not counting the year the Russians boycotted, we last finished among the top 10 in 1928). Conversely, we likely wouldn’t ever excuse ourselves from global affairs by pointing out that we represent just 0.5 per cent of the world’s population.

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