Monday, January 15, 2007

Will John Baird adopt policies to fight climate change?

Canada’s Report on Demonstrable Progress Under the Kyoto Protocol, p.8

Total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Canada in 2004, expressed as CO2 equivalent, were 758 Mt. This represents a 26.6% increase over the 1990 total of 599 Mt and 34.6% above Canada’s Kyoto target. [page 8]

Emissions rose further in the last two years and to adhere to our international obligations as signatory of the Kyoto Protocol a cut of about 40 percent is required within the next 4 to 6 years (2010-2012). Being realistic, this obviously cannot be achieved within Canada alone, which leaves the massive purchase of emission credits - which are not without problems - coupled with domestic measures. Emission credits are obtained by paying other countries to install clean sources of energy. The massive budget surpluses Canada has been running for years could provide the funds, at least partially.

Given that "Canadians use more energy than all of the 760 million inhabitants of Africa" cutting back on the use of fossil fuels without affecting the quality of life negatively is one option but don't hold your breath about oil sands projects actually being cut back even though the economy in northern Alberta is running in overdrive. The Mayor of Fort McMurray, former premier Peter Lougheed and even Preston Manning, among others, suggested slowing down the frantic pace. He talks about the notion of "green conservatism," that is, applying market principles to environmental questions. I don't believe anything will come out of appeals like that or Manning's approach. It is the market after all that leads to some costs ("externalities") not being reflected in prices.

Scroll down at the previous link and look at the per capita energy consumption of other industrialised countries.

Obviously these credits only make sense if actual GHG emissions are reduced by building wind generators for instance or by planting trees. (Otherwise they would just be another gambling venue.) However, projects planting trees in this context have not all gone well. Besides, an accurate way of measuring the offset emissions has not yet been devised. Trees return the carbon they store to the atmosphere when they die. Therefore planting trees is only a temporary measure. But there are other methods.

"Under the Liberals, Ottawa pledged $10 billion to meet Canada’s Kyoto target of reducing carbon emissions to six percent below the 1990 level by 2012. Anywhere from 35 to 75 percent of that reduction was expected to come from the purchase of carbon credits by industry and government."

There are a number of exchanges where credits are bought and sold. One example is the Chicago Climate Exchange where "continuous electronic trading of greenhouse gas (GHG) emission allowances and offsets began on December 12, 2003. CCX reduction commitments and trading apply for years 2003 through 2010." Here are examples this exchange lists as offset projects. In early January 2007 a ton of "CO2 equivalent" traded for US $ 4.- at that exchange. A number of interesting links can be found here.

The European Climate Exchange in partnership with the Montreal Exchange was a sister company of the Chicago Climate Exchange but is no longer a subsidiary of the Chicago Climate Exchange.

The European Union Emission Trading Scheme (EU ETS) is the largest multi-national, greenhouse gas emissions trading scheme in the world.

Links to other exchanges are here.

A useful site to visit.

Some call the approach of emission trading obscene and ineffective. Kevin Smith, a researcher with Carbon Trade Watch, writes "Market-based mechanisms such as carbon trading are an elaborate shell-game of global creative accountancy that distracts us from the fact that there is no viable 'business as usual' scenario." He quotes Tom Burke, visiting professor at Imperial College London, who observed: "The reality is that applying cost-benefit analysis to questions such as [climate change] is junk economics... It is a vanity of economists to believe that all choices can be boiled down to calculations of monetary value."

Criticism from a Trostkyist source pointing out weaknesses and fallacious assumptions of this approach is here.

The David Suzuki Foundation appears to approve of it, at least as a partial solution.

"Purchasing high quality carbon offsets from projects such as wind farms also helps support the transition to a sustainable energy economy by providing an additional source of revenue to developers of renewable energy. While voluntary offset programs should not be seen as a substitute for comprehensive government regulations to reduce greenhouse gases (e.g. through implementation of the Kyoto Protocol), they are a step in the right direction, and an opportunity to demonstrate leadership on climate change. ... [As a matter of fact] the David Suzuki Foundation has implemented a carbon neutral program in its offices. ... [But] due to the many problems with tree planting projects, the David Suzuki Foundation only purchases offsets from energy efficiency and renewable energy projects."

Check out some of their cool links (pun intended :) ).

David Suzuki was interviewed on CTV's Question Period on Jan. 14, 2007. He said that Rona Ambrose - the former Environment Minister - got in touch with him and his foundation within days of her appointment. John Baird - who replaced Ambrose - "telephoned within a couple of hours of the announcement of his appointment, ... to say that he was committed to working with environment groups because climate change was a serious problem that, if anything, was being underestimated by scientists."

Suzuki said that Ambrose sounded very reasonable and interested in fighting climate change at the meeting but left researchers at the foundation flabbergasted afterwards with her comments. Baird apparently also sounded very reasonable but when put on the spot about how to achieve the reductions in GHG emissions this country agreed to, he became very vague and political. David Suzuki did not sound very hopeful that the Conservatives are really serious about our commitments pointing out among other things that only a few years ago Stephen Harper did not accept that warnings about global warming had a sound scientific basis. Two days before that interview Suzuki published this article making more or less the same arguments.

"Last year, I cleaned up government," Mr. Baird said. "This year, I'm going to clean up the environment." (Globe and Mail Jan 5th 2007) This sounds like boasting to me.

Only time will tell and this writer does not believe the Conservatives are really trying to put the measures in place that would get us at least partly towards the goal our government accepted within the framework of an international treaty. I also think the NDP walked into a trap the Conservatives set by supporting the Clean Air Act saying they wanted to improve it. For their sake, I hope I'm wrong.