Clare Demerse: Stephen Harper government has no real plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions
By Clare Demerse
Let’s say that a friend told you that he’s determined to be a PGA golfer by 2020. Unfortunately, he has barely ever set foot on a golf course.
So you’d probably ask what he’s planning on doing to reach his goal. Daily practice? Hiring a coach? Hitting the weight room? After all, 2020 is not so far away when he’s starting from scratch.
If your friend’s response was “No, no real plans at all,” you’d have to ask yourself whether he’s serious. You might even wonder whether he’s telling the truth about this PGA plan, especially if he had a history of exaggerating his golfing prowess.
Unfortunately, this is not too far off the situation Canadians find ourselves in when the federal government talks about its national target to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Only instead of aiming for the PGA, our government is content to play for a tie in the neighbourhood tournament.
The Harper government’s first 2020 target, set in 2007, faced ongoing critiques that it falls short of what the science requires. In late January, the government weakened its 2020 goal even further, stating that the step back was needed to align with the U.S. target.
Canada’s national goal is now to cut its emissions to just over 600 million tonnes by 2020, a level equivalent to about two percent above the 1990 level. To put that in context, Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2007 were 747 million tonnes, or 26 percent above their 1990 level.
We’d love to see a more ambitious target. But without plans to meet them, targets don’t mean much: there’s little difference between wanting to lose three pounds or 40 if you decide to keep right on eating donuts.
As of today, there is virtually nothing behind the government’s target. No plan of any kind to meet it. No sign of policies strong enough to stop the growth in our emissions. And although there have been public investments, they barely scratch the surface of what’s needed.
There’s essentially no debate among experts about the solutions we need. It’s pretty straightforward: put a price tag on greenhouse gas emissions so that polluting options cost more than clean ones, use smart regulations to supplement that price signal, and invest in clean technologies.
Over the years, many studies have also looked at the economic impacts of putting those policies in place in Canada. The clear conclusion is that Canada can prosper while cutting our emissions, even if we act more quickly than the U.S. does. And the longer we wait, the more it costs to reach our targets.
Instead, the federal government says it won’t move until Washington does.
That’s not just timid; it also runs counter to our interests as Canadians. The U.S. Congress is engaged in an intensely political fight over climate and energy policy. There’s no guarantee that the end product of their feverish political horse-trading will be an effective plan. And with Washington lawmakers worried about local industries and U.S. jobs, it’s safe to say that Canada isn’t one of their priorities.
Of course the U.S. is one important element in shaping Canada’s approach. But it shouldn’t be the only one.
Strong climate policy now would give Canadian businesses the certainty they need to make green investments. It would help to restore our country’s tarnished image on climate change before we welcome the world to the G8 and G20 summits in Muskoka and Toronto this summer.
Ambitious green energy policies would also let Canada to take advantage of the growing clean energy economy, as Ontario has done with its support for renewable power—a policy that is already producing impressive new investments in manufacturing and green technology.
Instead, Canada’s federal budget invested next to nothing in green energy this year. President Obama’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year would outspend us 18 to one—per capita—on renewable energy like wind and solar. And the gap is growing: last year, the U.S. outspent us by a “mere” 14 to one.
Prime Minister Harper has chastised his Liberal predecessors, rightly, for making climate promises and failing to act on them. But he is now doing exactly the same thing—years later, and with a weaker environmental goal.
Clare Demerse is associate director for climate change at the Pembina Institute.