Following on from Derek Piper’s article on Canada’s proposed Cap and Trade system for this fall, environmentalists and policy makers will be left to wonder at whether Prime Minister Harper’s effort is part of a more serious effort to tackle green house gas emissions or simply keeping up with Jones’.

Some of the most far-reaching efforts have been initiated in Canada’s provinces: from British Columbia’s carbon tax to Ontario’s Premier McGuinty’s push for a transformation of domestic energy suppliers as renewable base. These efforts on the one hand, provide an idea on Canada’s potential to act as leader in climate change issues and, in stark contrast on the other hand, show the lack of leadership at federal level. The efforts of provincial leaders mean that the vast majority of Canada’s population and a majority of its economy are located in areas that face significant climate legislation. In addition, the British Columbia election, has shown that environmental legislation can endure beyond an electoral term. To put it plainly, Harper need only coordinate provincial efforts to turn Canada into a global leader for Climate Change policies.

Harper’s efforts however, have always been to manouvre Canada to around the middle of the developed countries pack. Harper has two rationales and if nothing else he has always been consistent with regards to climate change policy. His first rationale is that Canadian economic development is his primary aim and climate change targets will only be implemented where they don’t conflict with existing industries; particularly the EITE group industries “(energy intensive, trade exposed) which includes aluminium, cement, chemicals, iron & steel, lime, gas transmission, base metal smelting, iron ore pelletizing, pulp & paper, and potash companies”. The EITE industries are core areas of the Canadian export economy, and as might be expected have concomitant environmental impacts.

The sum of Harper’s latest move as Derek highlights, is keeping up appearances, with the US having passed the Waxman-Markey bill, (although probably not voting on it now until late Autumn and possibly watered down) and in the face of upcoming talks with the US and in Copenhagen in December. Canada will have little clout to influence the direction of global talks with its current policy widely derided as insufficient. The current proposal of Cap and Trade with plenty of opt outs allows for a generous fig leaf cover when going into negotiations. Harper has aided the undermining of Obama’s climate leadership from both stiff resistance from industrial lobbyists in the US and Republican opposition in Congress.

Where does this leave us? Harper’s efforts should not be taken entirely negatively; an actual Cap and Trade is still an improvement on the intensity based targets, although it will still fall short of the requirement that Canada cut its emissions by far more than 20% on 2006, the current emissions targets for 2020. Going into Copenhagen, Harper has left Canada positioned to be neither praised nor censured, perfect positioning for Harper, but woefully short of what a country of Canada’s wealth and status is capable of.

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