Saturday, December 08, 2007

It just had to be Bali

I visited Bali eight years ago, just as Americans were going to the polls. After three long flights and a full day wandering the maze of narrow streets, a sunburned, CNN-starved American tourist told me that Al Gore was the new U.S. President. It was not until finding a copy of the Jakarta Post a few days later that I learned that the U.S. was engaged in an electoral test of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle (for more of this story, see here).

With the crucial UN climate change meetings taking place in Bali, it is tempting, at least, personally, to conclude that things have come full circle. However, the dual realities in the U.S. and Canada, particularly over climate policy, continue. This schizophrenia hit an all-time high this week. The official Canadian and U.S. representatives in Bali are fiercely lobbying against mandatory GHG emissions targets in the post-Kyoto international agreement despite the fact that:

i) The U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed a bill requiring long-term cuts in GHG emissions, the U.S. Congress passed a progressive energy bill and the news media is a twitter about the guts of emissions policy like carbon taxes vs. cap-and-trade, auctioning permits, etc. (take a look at the Cleantech Collective for ongoing coverage and debate)

ii) The three opposition parties in Canada, which together have a majority of the seats in Parliament, strongly disagree with the Conservative government climate policy.

In essence, international climate policy is being sabotaged by North American politics. The subtleties in the reporting from Bali suggest, for one, that the world is falling for the policy ‘branding’ of the Bush Administration. Take this example from the Globe and Mail:

The United States says it wants to be part of the negotiations on a follow-up accord, but refuses to endorse mandatory cuts in emissions favoured by the European Union, choosing instead to focus on funding renewable energy projects and improving energy efficiency.

The Bush Administration has promoted this transparently false dichotomy that the international policy is a choice between mandatory emissions targets and investing in technology and energy efficiency, at international meetings for the past year. It is senseless. An international plan with mandatory emissions cuts would inspire renewable energy projects and improved energy efficiency. In fact, the national plans under an international emissions reduction framework are certain to specifically require funding of energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Yet the use of the language of false choice, reminiscent of “you are either with us, or you are with the terrorists”, by Bush Administration officials, and the parroting by the talking and blogging heads is affecting the policy debate. The Conservative Government in Canada seems to hoping for that degree of influence, trumpeting a "Canadian" approach, which is not only deeply flawed... it is not even a Canadian idea, more or less lifted from US policy.

This raises the obvious question. Are elections in the US and Canada the key to ensuring a future climate policy with real targets?

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