Sunday 17 May 2005; p. A15
By Lorne Gunter
Liberals' Kyoto plan full of hot air
$10-billion boondoggle could have been worse. It could've been effective.
Remember those souvenir shirts that read "My parents went to (Vegas/Hawaii/Disneyland) and all I got was this lousy T-shirt?" Well, if Ottawa's Project Green plan for meeting Canada's Kyoto emission-reduction commitments were a souvenir, it would have to read "My government spent eight years designing this plan, and all it came up with is this lousy mirage."
"Moving Forward on Climate Change: A Plan for Honouring Our Kyoto Commitment," isn't a plan so much as it is a wisp of smoke that seems to have shape until you actually try to touch it.
It's full of talk of reducing Canada's so-called greenhouse emissions by 270 megatonnes by 2012, just seven years from now - a one-third reduction from current levels. And it puts numbers on where Ottawa intends to achieve reductions - a 75 to 115 megatonne reduction from the Climate Fund, 55 to 85 megatonnes from the Partnership Fund, 45 megatonnes from Large Final Emitters, GHG Reduction Programs (up to 40 megatonnes), Carbon Sinks (30 megatonnes), Renewable Energy (15) and so on.
But while it prattles on for over 50 pages about all Canadians playing "their fair part in helping Canada honour its Kyoto target" and facilitating "Canada's transition towards a low-carbon economy," the document doesn't actually say much about how these targets will be achieved.
Simply stating a target doesn't make it a reality. Nor is a plan anything more than a fantasy without a credible implementation strategy - and Project Green doesn't have one.
Frankly, I am relieved.
Sure I hate this "plan." I hate it's price tag ($10 billion). I hate it's indigestible mix of bureaucratic fudge and environmental nuts and flakes.
But it could have been worse - a lot worse. It could actually have been serious.
Yes, it will be ineffectual. No, this outline will never help us meet our Kyoto targets. True, that makes the money spent a huge waste (a bigger boondoggle than the gun registry according to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation).
I think in the end, the only way in which this might edge us near our Kyoto commitments is through the purchase of carbon credits from developing nations. Under Kyoto, industrialized nations can buy what could be called "pollution indulgences" - after the medieval Catholic practice of letting sinners pay the church in cash in advance for a pre-authorization to sin.
Much of the $10 billion set aside in Project Green will likely be sent to the national treasuries of countries such as Russia that are under their Kyoto levels to pay them for their unused emissions.
No emission reduction is achieved this way (and thus no warming will be prevented). We will still be emitting at our current rate. Russia won't have to reduce its current emissions by the amount we paid for. It will just sell us emissions quota it wasn't using anyway. But at least we will have appeased the Kyoto gods while indulging Russia's need for hard currency.
So Ottawa's Kyoto plan is a triumph of symbolism over substance - the appearance of doing something to combat climate change, reinforced by scads of money to prove how "committed" everyone is. But without any clue of how it will actually reduce worldwide emissions.
Still I am relieved. If the Liberals were truly to try and reduce our emissions by one-third over the next seven years - rather than just shipping boatloads of your money and mine to Moscow and claiming victory - it would devastate our economy and collapse our way of life.
They only way Ottawa could meet its Kyoto targets in the short time remaining before the treaty runs out in 2012 would be to mandate emission reductions. It would have to dictate the shutting down of factories, or at least restrict their hours of operation. It would have to shut down perhaps half of Alberta's oil and gas production, double or even triple the cost of gasoline, limit electrical generation and perhaps even restrict the distant and duration you could drive your car.
You would very likely have to restrict how you heat and light your home. And there's a good chance you would lose your job if you work in an emissions-heavy industry such as manufacturing, transportation or natural resources.
So it's easy enough to see how, after eight years and perhaps half a billion spent on devising a Kyoto plan, Ottawa was able only to come up with this lousy mirage.
At one point the feds had 14 separate stakeholder committees working on a Kyoto implementation plan. That was in the late 1990s. Their mandate was to devise a plan that would achieve the reductions we had signed onto at Kyoto in 1997, but without harming the economy.
Despite the work of hundreds of economists, business leader, bureaucrats and climate scientists, no way was ever found to achieve both. After three years, the effort was abandoned. Nor has anyone in Ottawa found a way since to balance the benefits and the pain.
That's why this plan, instead of being all things to all people, is nothing to any one.
Just be grateful Ottawa's only taking your money to satiate it climate change fantasy, and not your job and lifestyle, too.
Columnist, Edmonton Journal
Editorial Board Member, National Post