Canada needs to get serious about climate change: Editorial

Canada needs to get serious about climate change: Editorial – Toronto Star

Latest UN report on climate change challenges the Canadian government to adopt policies, including a carbon tax, that reflect the gravity of the threat we face.

The latest UN report says Canada needs to get serious about global warming.</p><br /><br /><br />


The latest UN report says Canada needs to get serious about global warming.

How much would it cost to prevent catastrophic climate change from threatening the planet with melting Arctic ice, rising oceans, extreme weather, pestilence and drought, wildfires, crippled food production, hotter, more polluted cities and the untold suffering all this would wreak? Not as much as some might fear.

The latest United Nations climate change report offers hope that keeping the atmospheric temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels can be an affordable as well as a necessary business. We can clean up our act without utterly sacrificing our living standards, the report concludes.

“Climate policy is not a free lunch,” acknowledges German economist Ottmar Edenhofer, who headed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change team that drafted the report. But “it doesn’t cost the world to save the planet,” he says.

By the end of this century the world’s $85-trillion economy will be three to nine times larger than today. Reducing our dependency on fossil fuels will trim something like 5 per cent from that growth, the report concludes. Estimates vary from 3 per cent to 11 per cent. But as a previous UN report also pointed out, global warming itself could knock global output back by 2 per cent. So we can’t avoid facing some costs either way.

This report is the third in a series that have shown that climate change is “unequivocally” caused by people burning fossil fuels and that it poses a dire threat to peace and stability. As the Star’s Raveena Aulakh reports, scientists warn that we need to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent or more by mid-century to avoid calamity.

Granted, forecasting is an inexact science. It’s hard to say how politics, global economics and new technologies may interact to affect climate change decades from now. And granted, big energy producers and consumers such as Canada face extra hurdles cutting back.

But this latest UN analysis bluntly challenges Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government to go where it hasn’t dared go before and adopt policies, including a carbon tax, that reflect the gravity of the threat we face. Canada and other big polluters need to get serious about mitigation, to adopt a single global carbon price and to throw all the technology we’ve got at the problem, the UN says. While no fix will be cheap the pain should be manageable, spread over decades. And the longer we wait, the higher the cost will be.

Recognizing all that, the UN, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have just urged the world’s finance ministers to adopt carbon taxes and to phase out fossil fuel subsidies to wean people off coal, gas and oil and to fund greener alternatives. These are ideas whose time has come.

Major oil firms including Royal Dutch Shell, BP and Statoil have signed the Carbon Price Communiqué calling for a “clear, transparent and unambiguous price” on carbon as a “central part of national policy responses.” Here in Canada, forward-looking firms are already prudently factoring a $30- or $40-per-tonne carbon price into their long-term investment strategies. Provincially, British Columbia and Alberta have implemented prices of $30 and $15 respectively. B.C.’s revenue-neutral tax adds less than 6 cents to a cubic metre of natural gas and less than 7 cents to a litre of gasoline.

Yet the Harper government has failed dismally to articulate a credible national policy to meet its own professed targets. Harper’s focus on pipeline building, energy exports and oilsands expansion are hard to reconcile with emissions cuts. Plus, Ottawa continues to temporize, looking to the United States for cues on carbon policy.

While the Conservatives say they are on track to trim greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent by 2020 from their 2005 level, Environment Canada is less optimistic. Last fall the agency reported that at the current rate we will achieve a mere 0.4-per-cent cut, a fraction of our goal. That’s not good enough, even by the government’s own unambitious standard.

The UN report challenges policy-makers in Canada to come up with a more robust, Earth-friendly approach that includes carbon pricing, better-managed energy development and incentives for greener technologies. So far, the Tories have just come up short.

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