Friday, September 11, 2009

The problem with an intensity-based target for the oil sands

Earlier this week, the Toronto Star reported that the Harper government is planning to release a carbon trading system which will use intensity-based targets for the oil and gas sector. Yesterday, we took a trip down memory lane, looking at op-ed about climate policy from 2004. Let's look at one from 2006, where I warned that the Harper government will try to use the trick of intensity-based targets.

At first glance, the intensity concept is logical and appealing. It appears to address both economic growth and the climate by making the economy more greenhouse gas “efficient” over time. A couple minutes with a calculator, or a morning of Economics 101, will reveal a hole in the intensity plan so big you can drive a Hummer through it.

The math in my 2006 article was based on the Bush administration plan to reduce greenhouse gas intensity by 18% by 2012. My conclusion?

Canadians should be wary of any similar Conservative policy that uses words like greenhouse gas intensity and claims to address both economy and the climate. When the announcement is made, have a calculator handy.
A real emissions policy is one that addresses emissions. Canada may have failed to date in the implementation of Kyoto. But it is not too late to try.

There is still over five years to reduce emissions at home, to negotiate investments in emissions reductions in other countries and to purchase emissions credits from overseas. The other Kyoto signatories and the rest of the world will respect a concerted effort that comes up short more than a plan that can be debunked in two minutes with a $10 calculator.

The irony is had the Alliance-Conservatives not strongly opposed controls on greenhouse gas emissions over the past decade, the current Conservative government may not be in what they term an impossible position. That is the lesson of climate change: we all need to think ahead.

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