Toronto Star | Ottawa’s mind closed on carbon
Published On Mon Nov 09 2009
With time running out, the pace has become feverish: Last-ditch talks in Madrid last week have set the stage for a final round of climate change negotiations in Copenhagen next month. European leaders are making extraordinary efforts to bridge the gap, while the U.S. Congress has resumed a complex debate on curbing emissions.
But in Ottawa, the silence is deafening: no plausible policy, no detailed road map for attaining objectives, no statement of the costs – and benefits – of putting a price on carbon. Worse, that uncharacteristic Canadian silence becomes a roar when anyone dares to broach the subject.
Environment Minister Jim Prentice, who has had almost nothing of substance to say on the issue, is quick to shout down any informed debate about the costs of doing something – and the price of doing nothing. Prentice lapsed into hysteria last month after publication of a report by two respected environmental groups that painted a picture of how the government’s nominal targets would impact provincial economies in 2020.
With funding from TD Bank Financial Group, the Calgary-based Pembina Institute teamed up with the David Suzuki Foundation to map out likely scenarios. As spelled out in an article in yesterday’s Star by the Pembina Institute’s Clare Demerse, they found major economic challenges and, not surprisingly, opportunities.
Runaway economic growth in Alberta’s oil sands would be tempered by the costs of continuing to spew carbon into the atmosphere. Alberta would still grow by a robust 3.3 per cent annually, versus 3.7 per cent under a theoretical "business as usual" scenario, which is no longer realistic. Nationally, growth would still be 2.2 per cent a year, down from the 2.4 per cent that it would otherwise grow in an imaginary world where carbon emissions never exacted a price.
Prentice fulminated that the report was "irresponsible and divisive and the economic costs unacceptable." The adverse impacts of Ottawa’s stated greenhouse gas goals are avoidable "if this is done in an orderly way," he argued.
But there is nothing orderly or remotely coherent about federal Conservative policy on climate change. When the George W. Bush administration stalled, Ottawa idled. Now that the Barack Obama administration is moving forward, Ottawa is standing pat until further notice.
And Ottawa is saying nothing. While heaping abuse on the Pembina/Suzuki report, Prentice has so far hushed up the government’s own internal predictions of the economic impacts of curbing greenhouse gas emissions. This is a bizarre case of the minister shooting the messenger, while withholding his own data from the public.
Predictably, Prentice’s doomsaying against the environmental truth-tellers – including mischievous cheap shots against TD Bank for having the guts to fund serious public policy research – found an echo in the provincial government in Alberta, which also piled on the report. The Albertans would rather see no environmental evil, hear no environmental evil, and continue speaking environmental nonsense.
But give credit to the environmental groups that are willing to come clean about the unavoidable costs of curbing carbon. At a time when the rest of the world is engaged in a vital debate about how to deal with the environmental challenge of our times, and Washington is fully immersed, our own politicians continue to bury their heads in what’s left of the permafrost.
Increasingly, Canada looks like the sick man of the environmental movement, out of sync with the world – and out of touch with its own economic data.