Friday, August 12, 2011

Canada's sham of a federal climate policy

In yesterday's Globe and Mail, Marc Jaccard wisely pointed out the gaping flaws in the Canadian pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17% by 2020. The pivot point is a proposed new coal-burning power plant in B.C.Alberta:

Stephen Harper can’t allow new coal-fired electricity plants to be built, such as the one Maxim Power is proposing in Alberta, and achieve his promise to reduce Canadian greenhouse-gas emissions 17 per cent by 2020. As a researcher of energy-economy systems, I say this with virtual certainty. I also know that any scholar in my field would agree with me, and that the Prime Minister’s expert advisers would tell him the same thing.

There are two stories here. The first is that Canada has made many emissions pledges but repeatedly failed to enact any plan to meet those pledges. This is not a partisan issue. It happened under majority and minority Liberal governments, and it is happening under minority and now majority Conservative governments:

In 2007, Mr. Harper committed Canada to a 2020 target for greenhouse-gas reduction but hasn’t implemented policies that would achieve it. Like Mr. Chr├ętien, Mr. Harper must know his scant policies will fail. Recently released internal government documents show he’s receiving information from civil servants telling him his current policies are not transforming the energy-economy system in the direction he’s promised.

The second story is that climate policy is ineffective and meaningless without short-term and long-term goals. With no short-term emissions target, we end up delaying shifts in the energy infrastructure, and in the case of the coal-burning power plant, committing to future emissions which make meeting the long-term goal more difficult if not impossible. Jaccard praises the approach taken by the Campbell government in B.C.:

In 2007, then-B.C. premier Gordon Campbell also committed to a 2020 emissions reduction target. But to convince people of his sincerity – especially after two decades of climate policy failure by all Canadian governments at all levels – Mr. Campbell acted very differently. First, he got an independent body to set interim targets for 2012 and 2016, so people would know within a political time frame if he were on track to keep his promise. Second, he asked his advisers what investments needed to happen in 2007, and every year thereafter, to meet the 2020 target. On that basis, he immediately implemented a zero-emission electricity policy, which caused the cancellation of two proposed coal-fired electricity plants that had signed preliminary supply deals with BC Hydro.

Granted this approach is certainly easier, and more politically palatable, in a jurisdication where hydro-power is abundant. Nevertheless, it is a good model to follow.


crf said...

Do you mean "Alberta" ~~>

"The pivot point is a proposed new coal-burning power plant in B.C."

Simon Donner said...

Whoops! Fixed.