Monday, November 30, 2009

Are Quebec's Climate Change Targets Ambitious? Est-ce que les cibles Québécois sur les changements climatiques ambitieux?

Now that the dust has settled after Jean Charest's fiery speech at CORIM (see blogpost dated 23 November) where he announced that Quebec will reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 20% between now and 2020, many are asking whether this target was the easy way out. After all, Quebec is "blessed" with abundant hydroelectric power and therefore a target of -20% reduction is not such a big effort. As well, the Kyoto targets which calls for a 6% GHG emissions reduction between 2008 and 2012 (1990 baseline) has not been achieved in Quebec (except as projected for 2012). Some achievement.

The problem is that many people living in urban centres, where the majority of the population resides, do not visually see or feel the impact that climate change is having on their daily lives. But the reality is that record floods, record fires, loss of evergreen forests in Western United States, people living in low-lying countries/regions, such as in Bangladesh who are already moving more inland, and pine beetle impacts due to the warmer climate in Western Canada which is devastating forest cover, are real examples which demonstrate that a threat to the future of civilization is already occurring. How can the population at large be forced to change their behaviour which is to reduce their consumption of fossil fuel? Do cities and municipalities have a large-scale plan to tap into geothermal energy and build smart grids which would truly drive sustainability? It is important to change the light bulbs but what is much more important is to change the laws and policies which, compared to other Western industrialized countries have gone way further than where Quebec stands at this point (Sweden -40%; Norway -30%; United Kingdom -34%; Japan -25%; Germany -25%). The key players at the summit have also agreed to arrive with targets and timetables.

Over the last few years, several countries have witnessed the emergence of innovative new business groupings to offer support for a progressive public policy agenda on climate change. These include the Corporate Leaders Group in the UK and EU, the US Climate Action Partnership (US CAP) and Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy (BICEP) in the US, Empresas pelo Clima (EPC) in Brazil and Climate Change Business Forum (CCBF) in Hong Kong. The debate that will undoubtedly emerge in the next few weeks is what the public policy priorities should be, post-Copenhagen, to speed delivery of the low-carbon economy. In Quebec, the it appears that the business community, led by the CPEQ, was misquoted in Le Devoir (see 23 November blogpost) as they do not endorse any targets for Quebec. The Quebec Minister of the Environment, Line Beauchamp, endorsed Quebec's position in Poznan last year, as supporting a global target based on scientific consensus which demands that the international community control a temperature rise by 2 degrees Celsius and therefore supports a global target of -25% (IPCC). So it begs the question: how did Quebec come up with its -20% target? Based on what? What would happen if the target were -40%? Is the CPEQ showing sufficient leadership? Any leads to solving these mystery questions is requested!

From an investment perspective, climate change may also present opportunities. Investors are starting to look more closely at companies in order to ensure that they have clear strategies for responding to climate change and reporting on risk assessment processes. Investors are also playing a much more proactive role in public policy debates on adaptation to the effects of climate change, highlighting a need to develop long-term policies which enable companies to plan and invest appropriately.

It is expected that many world leaders will be attending the Copenhagen summit to negotiate a new deal. So what needs to happen for success? Expectations have been scaled down, not surprising, due to the challenging situation, feet-dragging and inertia. A likely scenario is that near-term reductions and simultaneous instructions to country negotiators to complete a new deal will be handed out in Copenhagen for final completion at the next meeting which will take place in Germany in March 2010.

News has it that Obama will attend the summit and that he will further put a reduction number on the table. And both India and China have recently accepted to commit to binding targets.

Back on the farm, Canada continues to not take this issue seriously and, as a result, it affects our country enormously. The Canadian government has been so focused on the economy that it has practically shunned the environment debate. It doesn't hurt to remind our federal leaders that Kyoto is an international law that is binding on all signatory countries, including Canada. But the federal government continues to believe that efforts to reduce GHG emissions will destroy the economy. It is many years since Sweden has implemented its carbon tax and their economy is thriving. And they stand at 8% below 1990 levels!

Under international and US pressure, Prime Minister Harper has agreed last week to attend the Summit. PM Harper needs to provide moral leadership. This is what distinguishes Canada from a host of other countries. What is at stake is not just our global reputation (let alone our national symbol, the red maple leaf) but also our economic prosperity (France has indicated that it will penalize Canadian products due to carbon dumping). We have brought the Montreal Protocol and UN Peacekeeping to the international fora. The trade-off between short term profits (i.e.: the tar sands) and the risk factors to a dire crisis is not a suitable trade-off. In Al Gore's new book, Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis, he noted that gas derived from tar sands gives the Toyota Prius the environmental footprint of a Hummer. And the risks to Canada's North has already begun (see Globe and Mail, 28 Nov 2009, A10).

We need to deal with this problem now as the consequences, as predicted by all the top scientists, will be dire. If we fail, the problem will be handed over to the next generation to solve.

Let's start by tackling the root case: our excessive use of fossil fuel. We have the opportunity to embark on a truly sustainable path and personally, I believe in human ingenuity and resilience. How will you act?

1 comment:

  1. Hello Grace,

    My first comment is relative to the easiness for reaching the announced -20% from 1990 by 2020. Sorry, but your statement is false, because the already installed hydroelectricity facilities and the other ones that will come won't be used to convert businesses from fossil fuels, but to reimburse Quebec debt through additional electricity sales. So, where will this cut come from? From industrial sector, which has already made its effort by reaching Kyoto target according to MDDEP statistics, while transport sector will continue to emit more and more GHG up to 2015.

    My second comment is relative to moves from individuals to cut GHG emissions, relatively to the urgency feeling they don't have until it touches them directly. It's a consequence of the Maslow pyramid. There is a good article on "The Skeptical Market Observer" blog covering exactly this point for your personal information.

    My third point is relatively to the choice of the target of -20% from 1990 by 2020. In my mind, it's clear this comes from Quebec engagement to WCI which says obligation to meet -15% from 2005 by 2020, which is equivalent to the announced target. I would add that the Commission on Transport and Environment has only been formed on this subject to fake listening, since the target was already chosen. A clue for this affirmation is the few number of days between the end of the hearings and the announcement of the target. Not much time to really think to it.

    Finally, to answer at least partially to your interrogation for "why not a higher target", I would suggest you to consider the strong possibility of carbon and industrial jobs leakage for other provinces or countries in the case where target would be too high, frightening all investors to come or stay in Quebec, with all collateral job losses, maybe even yours.