This week WWF-Allianz released their annual scorecard in advance of the G8 negotiations in L’Aquila. Canada came 8th, under-performing both Russia and perhaps more embarrassingly, the US. The report cited increased efforts by the US such as Obama placing high priority on stopping climate change, and Russia’s recent moves to come to the negotiating table as an example of how Canada was now the bottom placed country.
As a reaction to these embarrassing news Canada’s Environment Minister Jim Prentice unsurprisingly disagreed: Speaking during a stop in Red Deer, Alta., he conceded that Canada continued to be a very prosperous and energy-consumptive country.
“But (emphasis added) (…) Canada is finalizing its policies on greenhouse gas emissions, is working to help develop a new protocol to replace the Kyoto accord and will continue to be a constructive player internationally. “
The WWF-Allianz report, is produced annually and the timing is no accident, designed to stimulate debates in the media about Climate change and to frame differences between the countries. Without wishing to diminish the report’s finding, it seems difficult not to believe that a political game of carrot and stick is at work with these reports. On many levels it’s about rewarding direction and momentum over actual policy, with a carrot, and punishing slow down or a reverse, with a stick. The question to ask is is it a fair reflection?
Consider firstly the US, who have now leapfrogged the Canadians. On the one hand, Obama and the Democrats must gain due credit for re-engaging America in the debate about climate change, and framing it in terms of jobs, energy independence, values that can have a cross-political appeal. Obama has also injected $60 billion of the stimulus into ‘green projects’, from renewable energy to weatherization. Furthermore, Obama’s team see this only as the start, with the stimulus providing the kick-start to both the economy and a new economic sector that can deliver to America jobs, energy and tackle climate change all in one. To top all of that, the Waxman-Markey bill passed its vote in the house, a land mark of climate change legislation that among other things would commit the US to a just below 20% reduction in GHG emissions by 2020 and unlock greater funding for renewables. President Obama has also been working behind the scenes negotiating climate change agreements, with China and now with Russia, ahead of Copenhagen.
For all this, the US has moved its position remarkably; but in terms of actual policy to date, Canada can be understood for treated unfairly. With regards to actual policy, the stimulus remains Obama’s only offering to the greens and the Waxman-Markey bill has yet to become a law as it prepares for a rough ride through the US senate which will almost certainly see it further watered down.
Russia, Canada’s other competition at the bottom, has a truly terrible climate position. With high emissions, numerous problems from Soviet-era severe management, lax pollution laws, gas-flaring etc. Worse still is Russia’s climate plan, that allows to increase emissions by 30%, on the grounds that much of the Soviet heavy industry in 1990 has disappeared, so this still amounts to 10-15% emissions reductions on the 1990 baseline. However to its favour Russia can argue that it is significantly poorer than the other G8 countries and secondly, and perhaps here the WWF-Allianz report may be playing politics, it is currently in negotiations with the US on emissions reductions.
So does Canada deserve its position? In G8 terms, there is evidence to think so. Despite remarkable leadership at a provincial level, with particular mention to British Columbia, Quebec and Ontario trail-blazing their way through, at a Federal level as Derek for Climatico has covered numerous times Canada has been remarkably weak, taking a back seat and surrendering leadership on the environment to the US. Most notable is an intransigence on behalf of the present Canadian government to make Alberta’s tar sands more sustainable offering only a meek “reduction in intensity” and with most funds allocated to emissions reduction in energy going to carbon capture for coal, they have indicated they see the tar sands as exempt from climate negotiations. But if a developed country of Canada’s stature there seems little hope of asking developing countries to take on serious cuts when at a federal level Canada is even willing to seriously discuss some of its own issues.