Thursday, January 28, 2010

Going Green: Let's Talk Climate Change

As Rick Mercer suggested recently, Stephen Harper's idea of going green is turning his caucus into potted plants.

But in the meantime, just like the Afghan detainee issue and the lobbying scandal that have been put on hold; climate change and what our government plans to do about it, is also off the table for now.

But I'm afraid waiting for this government to do something, will be a very long wait.

While keeping our own media on a 'need to know, but they don't need to know much', basis; he told Bloomberg's when he was in Korea that he will “…use Canada’s co-chairmanship of next year’s Group of 20 countries meeting to urge members to put economic recovery before efforts to protect the environment.”

So where does that leave us?

The other parties want action now. Elizabeth May, as we know, is an expert on the issue. Jack Layton, though he made me angry when he campaigned against the Green Shift, is now ready to accept a carbon tax; and the Liberals new environmental platform is being lauded by climate scientists. All this while Stevie is sabotaging any negotiations.

The Montreal thinkers conference, scheduled for March will include many experts in the field, and will help the Liberal Party expand and fine tune their environmental platform.

Climate change a problem in desperate need of leadership
The Liberals would stand out by presenting clear environmental policies to Canadians
January 21, 2010

It is now an accepted fact here in Canada and around the world that our country has gone from being an environmental leader under former prime minister Brian Mulroney to a laggard under the Liberals – and now a pariah under the Stephen Harper government.

The recent UN climate change conference in Copenhagen made this even more painfully clear as we were given the dubious Fossil of the Year award for the third straight time and dubbed a "corrupt petro-state."

Copenhagen demonstrated an important shift in global geopolitics with emerging powers China, India and Brazil at the main table along with the U.S., while Canada was not even in the room. This is not surprising given Canada's failure to address the most important issue of our time: climate change.

Canada is the only country to have ratified the Kyoto Protocol and then to wear its refusal to meet our international obligations under the agreement like a badge of honour. At first, the Harper government claimed we needed a "made-in-Canada" climate change plan (as if Kyoto precluded one when in fact it compelled one) and now it claims it cannot produce a Canadian plan without an international agreement in place. This hypocrisy undermines our credibility regarding environmental issues, but also other areas of international affairs, particularly as global warming affects the global economy and global security as well as the environment.

Canadians get it. A new survey commissioned by the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute found that Canadians believe climate change poses a significantly bigger threat to the "vital interests" of this country over the next decade than international terrorism.

Some provinces have responded to these concerns by putting their own plans in place to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This patchwork approach has pitted regions of Canada – particularly oil-producing Alberta and hydropower giant Quebec – against each other and has created great uncertainty for business.

This national leadership vacuum represents a real opportunity for the Liberal Party of Canada – provided it can get beyond its own uneven record on climate change.

Under the Jean Chrétien government, Canada signed the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 and then ratified it in 2002. The intervening five years of "consultations" were largely a wasted period of procrastination, equivocation and outright obstruction by the official Opposition.

The Liberals were strong on rhetoric and weak on action, as Chrétien adviser Eddie Goldenberg admitted in his book when he stated that the then-prime minister signed Kyoto essentially as a PR exercise. It was not until 2005 that a plan took shape under Paul Martin with Stéphane Dion as environment minister. This plan ("Project Green) was quickly discarded by the new Conservative government. Four years after their election, the Conservatives still lack a credible plan of their own.

This summer's meetings of the G8 and, in particular, the G20 – which comprise the world's major greenhouse gas emitters among both industrialized and developing countries – represent an opportunity for Canada to get global climate change negotiations back on track and, in so doing, reclaim our leadership on this critical issue. Although Canada will play host, the Conservative government is unlikely to take up this challenge because it does not want climate change on the agenda.

In anticipation of the G20 – itself the brainchild of former prime minister Paul Martin – the Liberals should present clear and compelling environmental policies to Canadians. This can be achieved by stating that Canada under a Liberal government would rejoin the international community and show leadership by working with G20 countries in forging a credible agreement on climate change.

Furthermore, a Liberal government would work with industry and the provinces to put real measures in place to reduce emissions. The Liberal party recently pledged to invest in green technologies, creating sustainable jobs for the future.

In contrast, the government's recent stimulus package missed a critical opportunity to make these investments (with Canada coming in second to last among countries that used stimulus funding to green their economies), while the EU and China made the most of theirs and the U.S. recently announced $2.3 billion in tax credits for clean energy technology development.

The goal should be clear: making Canada a green energy superpower. The Liberals have announced that they would use this period of parliamentary prorogation to consult on the economy as well as the environment. But Canada is well past the point of consulting on a climate change plan. The challenge now is to create buy-in from Canadians not for mere aspirations but for real action – starting with putting a price on carbon through cap-and-trade and taxing pollution.

The Green Shift fiasco of the 2008 election was rooted mainly in the Liberals' failure to communicate what should have been a straightforward policy: tax more of what you burn, less of what you earn.

The Liberal party must show Canadians that it can muster the massive political will and resources to successfully tackle seemingly intractable problems. The fiscal deficit of the 1990s provides a compelling case in point. The rationale presented was short-term pain for long-term gain – it would be irresponsible to leave such a burden on future generations.

The same logic applies not only to the ballooning fiscal debt, but to the ecological one. If Canada can mobilize around the fiscal deficit, surely we can make headway on the environmental deficit.

Désirée McGraw chaired the 2006 Liberal Renewal Commission's Taskforce on Environment and Sustainable Development. She is co-founder of Al Gore's Climate Project in Canada and lectures in international development and climate diplomacy at McGill University.

No comments:

Post a Comment