Monday, March 29, 2010

An update to the provincial greenhouse gas targets

Here's a more up-to-date version of the provincial greenhouse gas targets. The difference between this version and the previous chart is Saskatchewan, previously noted as a wild-card in the opt-in federal policy proposal.

The government of Saskatchewan is working on a greenhouse gas policy that includes an target of a 20% reduction in emissions below 2006 levels by 2020. That translates to a 31% increase over 1990 levels (the Kyoto / UNFCCC baseline), because emissions increased 63% between 1990 and 2006 due primarily to mining and resource development. The target on the previous chart was calculated using older information.

This demonstrates that choice of base year for a federal opt-in program could be contentious, as Saskatchewan is unlikely to participate if the minimum acceptable target in the federal program is calculated using a 1990 baseline.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Climate policy on campus: UBC sets aggressive greenhouse gas targets

This is an example of how a climate policy framework can inspire the motivated.

The University of British Columbia (my institution) just adopted very aggressive greenhouse gas reduction targets including a 33% reduction (below 2007 levels) by 2015.

Why? To set an example, for one. The other reason?

Under the province of British Columbia's system, all public institutions have to be carbon-neutral by the end of this year. That's virtually impossible for most institutions so UBC and other public institutions will be paying into a provincial offsets fund.

I do trust that independent of the BC climate policy, UBC is motivated to take action of greenhouse gas emissions. The policy gave the university the necessary nudge. That's the crux of my federal "opt-in" proposal. Nudge the willing.


The opt-in climate policy for Canada: Some details

Since people are asking, here's a little bit of background on my climate policy proposal in the Mark.

I trust that to many an "optional" climate policy smells fishy, like setting voluntary targets that companies or jurisdictions will then volunteer to ignore. There are three critical distinctions.

First, this policy is designed to mobilize willing participants.

The graph at right shows the provincial greenhouse gas targets that I discuss in the article. The majority of Canada has stated a willingness to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; several provinces, including Ontario, Quebec and Ontario, are seriously pursuing those goals.

Second, the provinces in the program will each have set binding, not voluntary, targets. The participation is voluntary, but once a province opts in, it is bound to the target.

Third, a point echoed nicely by Barry Saxifrage, the provincially revenue-neutral carbon tax means that participating provinces, though bound to the federal system, would otherwise have some freedom (financially) in achieving the target.

The current government is quietly awaiting a decision from the U.S. Negotiations are ongoing in the US Senate. There is no guarantee that any of the Senate bills will a) pass given current disagreements, b) be any more acceptable to the provinces with carbon-intensive industries like Alberta than any previous federal or international proposals, or c) gel with current plans in the more active provinces. And many of the programs in the existing Senate bills would not take effect for several years. Why not set a Canadian policy, one that mobilizes the very real and current enthusiasm for action in much of the country, now? If the US does eventually pass a Bill that is in the best interests of Canada and the climate, we can adapt our program to be compatible with that of the US.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Mark: A new climate change policy for Canada

My proposal for a compromise deal that could break the long stalemate between Alberta and the other provinces on climate change appears in the Mark.

The compromise solution is an “opt-in” federal climate change program. The program would include a range of existing and proposed policy instruments, like a carbon tax that is revenue-neutral at the provincial level, targeted tax incentives or rebates for efficiency measures, and feed-in tariffs for renewable energy. 

The key is that in order to join the program, a province would need to adopt an emissions target that meets or exceeds some minimum federal target. If, for example, the minimum was the U.S. target adopted by the Harper government, nine of the ten provinces would be eligible.

The level of access to the federal dollars in the program would be pro-rated to that province’s emissions target. Failure to achieve the target would lead to reimbursement of the federal program. If Alberta, or another province like Saskatchewan, elected not to participate, there would be no direct cost or punishment. Provinces outside the system could still negotiate targeted federal investments to support emissions reductions, like support for carbon capture and storage research.

Canada has been arguing about climate policy since the mid-1990s, and there is still no federal plan. This compromise could get the willing provinces working together to reduce emissions.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

The warmest, driest winter on record in Canada

According to Environment Canada, the winter of 2009/10 was the warmest and the driest since national records were kept in 1948. The country was 4.0 C warmer and 22% drier than "normal", which for those of you scoring at home, is the 1971-2000 1951-1980 mean.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Meditations on climate change "skepticism"

The radio program "Are we alone?" from the SETI Institute does a regular series on skepticism in science. This week's show looks at climate change skepticism and features a terrific interview with Steve Schneider, as well as some thoughts from Naomi Oreskes. Former Apollo astronaut Phil Chapman offers his reasons for being a "skeptic", including the rather crazy unscientific claim that the rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide may be natural. Rather than present climate scientist and skeptic as a journalistic he-said, she-said, the show lets the scientific experts on the subject explain where the less informed "skeptic" is wrong. As I've argued many times, it's worth thinking about the motivation behind skepticism and the genesis of skeptical arguments, faulty as they may be, in order to improve outreach and communication.

I'm on later in the program discussing coral bleaching and ocean acidification.