Political climate needs a change

Another meeting, another set of targets for cutting greenhouse-gas emissions.

The setting this time around was the G8 summit in Italy. The agreed upon goal was to reduce emissions 80 per cent by 2050, though there was no base year against which to measure.

More revealingly, there was no talk of how to reach that figure, no interim steps set out to achieve the goal of keeping global warming to two degrees.

Given that we’ve heard this kind of talk before without any commensurate action, we can be forgiven for being skeptical.

It’s hardly an ideal run-up to the next climate change conference, set for December in Copenhagen. At that meeting, scientists and environmentalists tell us, all countries are going to have to set very firm targets to reduce global greenhouse-gas emissions before 2020 to stave off some of the harsher predictions about climate change.

Again, recent history tells us not to be optimistic.

Still, it’s something that the leaders of the world’s eight most industrialized countries made climate change a major issue at the summit. Prime Minister Stephen Harper, for instance, called for the meeting to focus on the economy, not the environment.

Harper stuck to his familiar refrain about the need for emerging economies such as China and India – far bigger polluters than Canada – to come on board, arguing our efforts would be somewhat fruitless otherwise.

It’s true that the big players are doing most of the damage. Canada’s contribution to total greenhouse gas production is about two per cent. Even if we shut down our entire economy, we’d have a negligible impact on the problem. That’s not an excuse, however, to do absolutely nothing.

With Harper at the helm, Canada’s international reputation has taken a pounding, as the country is seen as a roadblock to agreements on limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

Harper has, of course, shunned the Kyoto protocol. While other options have been floated, to date he has no intention of agreeing to any targets.

It can be argued Kyoto and the subsequent follow-ups are a waste of time: more a feel-good photo op than anything concrete. That’s especially so in Canada’s case: any targets we set would be a drop in the bucket if the real culprits – the U.S., China, India and Russia – refuse to play ball.

Perhaps it’s time to move past the rhetoric and actually start doing something. Even climate change skeptics – those who argue the changes are naturally occurring, not manmade – can’t argue the fact we’re polluting the only home we have.

Measures designed to improve the environment can only improve our own health and quality of life down the road.

Those opposed to fighting greenhouse gas emissions often cite economic reasons, saying we’d kill the economy by cutting back on energy production and manufacturing.

This stance ignores many realities. First off, resources such as oil and coal are finite – we’re going to run out of them eventually. In that dilemma lies an opportunity to develop alternatives, to make Canada a supplier of technology that will replace dwindling resources and help protect the environment. Technology that can be sold to the major players, where greenhouse gas reductions will make a difference.

Uninterested in global warming, Harper should see the business possibilities of moving away from conventional energy ideologies and embracing what is needed for the future. That would be leadership.

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1 comment
  1. The emissions (CO2, methane) produced at these summits is more than 10x damaging to the environment than all of their recommendations put together would save.

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