Here’s your weekly Science Matters column by David Suzuki with Faisal Moola.
Do you remember the old axiom “think globally, act locally”? These
words are truer today than ever before, especially when applied to
Canada’s battle against climate change. To see real action on climate
change in Canada and the U.S., it is best to look at what is taking
place at the municipal and provincial levels in both countries.
I was recently in Seattle with former U.S. President, Bill Clinton
and via-teleconference, Ex-Vice-President Al Gore, as part of a U.S.
mayors’ conference. The mayors of the two largest American cities, New
York and Los Angeles joined the more than 150 mayors who attended the
gathering. What makes this so special? Those participants represented
more than 700 mayors who have signed an agreement promising to meet or
beat the Kyoto targets of 2012. All of them together represent over
one-third of that country’s population.
Those mayors want to reduce their cities’ greenhouse gas emissions by
80 per cent by 2050, but say they cannot do it alone. Although mayors
from both countries need help from their federal governments, they are
already joining forces to take action.
The Midwest Global Warming Pact, for example, includes nine Midwestern
states–including big polluters like Illinois and Michigan–and
Manitoba. They join two other groups of states and provinces that are
already working together on this cross-border issue.
In Seattle it was inspiring to see so many leaders get together to
think about ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It reminded me of
those old movies I saw as a child, when the heroes would band together
to defeat the villain. But as inspiring as this mayors’ conferences
was, other conferences are less so.
Take last month’s Commonwealth summit in Kampala, Uganda, for example
where the prime minister called Kyoto a “mistake” because it only
includes targets for wealthy industrialized countries. This was not
only an attack on the Protocol but on the Climate Convention itself,
which is the cornerstone of the UN’s multilateral efforts to prevent
This past September at the APEC meetings in Sydney, leaders of the
U.S., Australia and Canada, who had long questioned the reality of
human-induced climate change, announced a new path to meet the
challenge of global warming. Their three solutions? Aspirational
targets, technology and reduced energy intensity.
Previous Canadian governments sought to achieve reductions by
“voluntary compliance,” which differs little from “aspirational
targets”. Basically, this approach requires the government to politely
ask corporations to begin reducing emissions for the greater good. It
The second option is also great for leaders who want to delay action:
tell citizens not to worry because we’ll find some marvelous new
invention that will allow us to continue with business as usual.
Unfortunately, most forms of technology take years to mature and
usually create other, unforeseen problems. The final idea centers on
“intensity”, the total energy used per amount of production or widget
manufactured. Reducing intensity means using less energy per unit. But
if intensity is reduced while the amount of production continues to
climb, total emissions will increase.
None of these ideas is a serious attempt to reduce emissions.
And it looks bad on the world’s stage that Canada is seriously pushing
these approaches. As the only nation to have legally agreed to the
Kyoto target and then reneged on it, Canada enters the upcoming UN
Climate Change Conference negotiations in Bali with severely weakened
Canada will also arrive in Bali with an emission-reduction plan that
four independent analyses have found will not even meet the
government’s targets that it has substituted for Kyoto’s goals. Canada
remains one of the few holdouts in the industrialized world to avoid a
serious commitment on climate change. Any effort to persuade other
major emitters to take on new commitments will surely be hampered by
the government’s rejection of its own existing obligations.
Canada’s lack of real effort to reduce its own emissions means it is
ill-suited to lecture developing countries on their responsibilities –
especially countries with a tiny fraction of the wealth and emissions
per person that this country possesses. With help from wealthy
countries, developing nations can do more to shift to a low-emission
energy path. But coming from Canada, with its current record, this
message smacks of hypocrisy and will only harden resistance.
The Bali conference provides an unparalleled opportunity for the
Canadian government to bring its climate policies in line with its
rhetoric. Perhaps it’s time for the government to take some lessons
from its little brothers in the city halls and provincial legislatures.