Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Kyoto and how we got here (IV)

Some final thoughts on the state of climate policy in North America (for now).

Is it "impossible" for Canada to meet the Kyoto commitments, as the Conservative Government claims? Not really. It may be expensive but it is far from impossible. The main reason is that the Kyoto Protocol contains a number of flexible mechanisms designed exactly for Canada's predicament (previous post). The other is that the European nations understand Canada's difficult position and may be lenient – but only if Canada makes a genuine effort.

Under Kyoto, there are four means a country can use meet its emissions target:

1. Reduce emissions.

Yes, Canada must reduce the actual GHG emissions by over 30% in only five and a half years. And, yes, accomplishing the 30+% drop through domestic emissions reductions alone is almost impossible (especially with the expansion of drilling in the Alberta tar sands). But that doesn't mean you give up on the effort entirely. There is so much low-hanging fruit here it would be unconscionable to not to at least take a shot. Here are a few pieces of fruit, off the top of my head:

i) federal support for the proposed closure of coal-fired power plants in Ontario (this would pretty much achieve the Kyoto target for Ontario)
ii) similarly, the fed could support more hydro power in Quebec
iii) incentives for consumers buy fuel efficient vehicles and to drive more efficiently
iv) similarly, joining California in a lawsuit against automakers to improve fuel efficiency
v) supporting public transit (possible through the tax break on transit passes, but the program outlined in the budget could operated in a much more efficiently manner)
vi) incentives for energy efficiency in the home (unfortunately, these are being cut!)
vii) program to get businesses to shut lights at night (you laugh, but this would be a significant dent in the country's energy bill)

If you look at the province-by-province emission breakdown, what becomes clear is that had the development in the tar sands not taken off in the past decade, the Kyoto target would not seem so unattainable.

2. Purchase emissions credits

This is what the PM Harper means by "buying hot air" from overseas. Under Kyoto, emissions credits will be available from Eastern Europe. The collapse of the Soviet Union resulted in a shutdown of many industrial activities and drop in GHG emissions since 1990. As a result, Russia and maybe other nations will have reduced emissions beyond their Kyoto targets, and can sell "credits" to the slackers like Canada.

3. The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)

Under Kyoto, "Annex 1" countries, which are the developed countries like Canada and the European nations that agreed to an emission reduction target, can fund projects in developing ("non-Annex 1") countries, and claim the emissions credits. In other words, Canada can build a solar farm in Ghana and get credit for emissions savings. The effort to meet Kyoto should be (or have been) coupled with funding for projects through CIDA. Why more people were not talking about this, given all the screaming about increasing international aid, is a mystery to me.

4. Joint implementation (JI)

Under Kyoto, Annex 1 countries can also invest in emissions reducing projects in other developed or Annex 1 countries, and get credit for the emissions reductions. This is the least likely of the flexible mechanisms to be exploited.

So, impossible? No. Prohibitively expensive? Possibly. But if Canada puts a serious plan to get just part of the way on the table, the other Kyoto participants may be willing to renegotiate the target, perhaps to the 0-3% below 1990 levels Canada initally intended (PM Chretien lowered it to 6% at the last minute, upon word the Americans were going to aim for 5%. Ah, politics). It is in the other participants' interest to keep Canada a part of the international process. But the Canada - the government and the people - must do its part.

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