Kirsten Zickfeld: Pressure is on Canada to present credible climate action plan

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      This week, U.S. President Barack Obama announced plans to limit carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. This bold step demonstrates his administration’s commitment to tackling human-caused global warming. Together with the vehicle fuel efficiency standard, the Obama administration has now introduced regulations for 60 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. These measures put the U.S. on track to meet their target of a 17 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions over 2005 levels by 2020 pledged under the Copenhagen Accord.

      Although Canada followed its southern neighbor and major trading partner in setting the same 2020 greenhouse gas emission reduction target, the federal government has yet to deliver a plan about how to achieve these reductions.

      Prime Minister Stephen Harper boasts that Canada put into effect regulations curbing carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants two years ahead of the U.S. These regulations, however, affect only new plants, leaving existing ones untouched. More importantly, these regulations will have a relatively small effect on Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, as coal does not contribute as significantly to Canada’s carbon emissions as it does in the U.S. In Canada, emissions from coal-fired power plants account for 11 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions compared to 38 percent in the U.S.

      To achieve Obama-level cuts in carbon emissions, Canada has no choice but to address emissions from its biggest polluter: the oil and gas sector, accounting for 25 percent of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions. In particular, Canada must address the oil sands, the country’s fastest growing source of emissions. Though the Harper government has repeatedly announced that it would introduce regulations for the oil and gas sector, it has still to deliver on its promises. Without a serious commitment to regulate carbon emissions from the oil ad gas sector, Canada is bound to miss its Copenhagen greenhouse gas emission reduction target by far.

      As scientific evidence about the risks posed by global warming mounts, atmospheric concentrations of heat-trapping gases continue to increase. The consequences are already being felt worldwide, with rising sea levels, melting glaciers, and an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. The recent devastating floods in Serbia and severe drought in California are two current examples. As recently reported in the news, scientists have shown that the current level of warming will lead to the inevitable demise of a large section of the West Antarctic ice sheet, committing the planet to 1.2 metres of sea level rise. With a powerful El Niño building up in the equatorial Pacific, 2014 and 2015 could become the hottest years on record.

      The impacts of global warming will continue to worsen unless carbon emissions are reduced significantly. In Copenhagen in 2009, countries agreed to limit warming to 2ºC, regarded as a threshold beyond which the environmental and socio-economic of global warming could become catastrophic. Meeting the 2ºC target requires stringent emission reductions and is achievable only if global greenhouse emissions peak and turn around within the next few years.

      Heads of states will convene in New York in September to pave the road for a global climate agreement to be adopted at the United Nations climate conference in Paris in 2015. Reaching a strong agreement in Paris could be the last chance to avoid catastrophic global warming. With its plan to regulate carbon emissions from power plants, Obama has sent a stark signal to the international community demonstrating that the world’s second largest polluter is serious about tackling climate change. To have a measurable impact on the climate other big polluters will have to follow.

      The pressure is on for Canada, having vowed to harmonize its climate policy to that of the U.S. Obama has taken the lead, and it’s time for Harper to catch up and present a credible plan to reduce Canada’s greenhouse emissions and abide by its pledges under the Copenhagen Accord.

      Kirsten Zickfeld is a climate scientist and professor in the geography department at Simon Fraser University. Zickfeld's research focuses on the effects of human activities on climate. She has published 30 peer-reviewed articles in this field and has been a contributing author to the third and fifth assessment reports of the IPCC.


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      Jun 4, 2014 at 7:47pm

      Harper won't do anything, and as soon as Obama is voted out, the greenhouse gas reduction plan will be torn apart. Let's face it, no politician really wants to interfere with the oil sands or future LNG boom in BC.

      NDP tried to complain about the pipeline, and as soon as they did, public opinion turned against them and they lost the election. Even Justin Trudeau hasn't said much on the subject, knowing full well the repercussions of this.

      14 9Rating: +5


      Jun 4, 2014 at 9:56pm

      CO2 cools, only a little -- IPCC got it wrong, on purpose.
      Goal is de-industrialization and population reduction.


      Jun 4, 2014 at 10:59pm

      kirsten wants to keep her cushy job


      Jun 5, 2014 at 10:05am


      "NDP tried to complain about the pipeline, and as soon as they did, public opinion turned against them and they lost the election."

      This is a cozy little myth. If you have evidence that swung the election against them, please present it.

      In the polls I read, even among BC liberal voters, half are against the pipelines.

      12 9Rating: +3


      Jun 5, 2014 at 12:14pm

      Well, technically Obama won't be voted out as he can only serve two terms anyway, but that's not the issue

      9 7Rating: +2


      Jun 5, 2014 at 2:08pm


      “Our move on Kinder Morgan gave the Liberals a very helpful two-pocket pool shot that they played right through to the end of the campaign".

      This is a quote from a post election leaked NDP study.

      Matt Aquin

      Jun 5, 2014 at 3:22pm

      Kirsten Zickfeld definitely knows what she is talking about. While some people ignore the facts on climate change, those that are informed will stand idle as we continue to see sea levels rise and storms become more severe, even after modest actions to cut our emissions happen. We need to seriously consider cuts to our economy to help protect the longevity of our species, but that does not win elections. So those who are educated will stand back and watch the world burn. Damn. We had a good run I guess

      9 11Rating: -2


      Jun 5, 2014 at 3:49pm


      I thought as much. The "study" itself notes:

      "We didn't do polling to test how this new position on Kinder-Morgan would play out with voters, he noted."
      "It gave them an opening to turn our apparent inconsistency into a character issue about our leader..."

      There is no evidence that the public "turned against them" as a result of their pipeline decision. None. They present none in the study, and in fact say the problem with the pipeline stance was its "inconsistency" with their previous statement that they would wait for the outcome of an environmental assessment.

      And I think you know that. And you've been lying about it.

      13 5Rating: +8


      Jun 5, 2014 at 4:05pm

      From a poll around the time of the election:

      "A Mustel Group telephone poll of 502 B.C. residents conducted May 1 to 13 found 44.4 per cent support doubling the pipeline, 46.2 per cent oppose it and 9.5 per cent said they didn’t know."

      It's a safe bet the support for the pipeline was concentrated among people who would never vote for the NDP.

      9 13Rating: -4


      Jun 6, 2014 at 10:50pm

      @Bruce - I hope the NDP is against the pipeline in the next election too. They will lose it again. Now Defunct Party.

      7 13Rating: -6