Yesterday’s speech by Canada’s environment minister in the COP17 high levels comes amid great international disgust for the country’s climate policy. Here is a brief analysis of the speech.
Yesterday’s speech by Canada’s environment minister in the COP17 high levels comes amid great international disgust for the country’s climate policy. While the minister extolled fabrications of Canada’s domestic environmental policy and international charity, the speech was silent on many points of outrage buzzing amongst other parties. At the heart of this speech is an ideologically-driven understanding of the climate crisis, which seems to inform the minister’s claims of political and scientific reality. Here is a brief analysis of the speech.
The minister begins the speech asserting that “reasonable Canadians” are people that note climate change as requiring “global solutions”. Though seemingly inane, this moment perhaps reveals most clearly the minister’s message. Here – a quick aside to discuss this claim of rationalism – within the history of modern politics, in absence of a religiously-driven structure of politics, states have often sought to discipline regime-threatening narratives through claims to sanity; insanity – of course, is then deemed as inferior, just as religious “good” is set apart from “evil”. The logic of this claim is that to be rational (or sane) is to think that climate change requires international solutions. The message then is that Canada is no more responsible for the crisis than any other party, and to think otherwise would mean that you are not a person who’s opinions is worthy of being valued by society. This is a pretty stark opening.
The minister then refers to Canada as a “willing partner” in managing climate change. This seems deliberately vague. One could equally be a “willing participant” waiting in line to use the toilet, it is a statement that holds no substance. However, if this is meant to reference Canada as negotiating cooperatively, “willing” could not be farther from the truth. Beyond the complaints by least developed country parties to the South African High Commissioner in Ottawa of being “strong-armed” by Canada with aid out of the Kyoto Protocol, there is the obvious fact that Canada has announced its intention not to cooperate in a second phase of the Kyoto Protocol, and will not deny that it plans on leaving the first one. Canada has also been lobbying the United States and the European Union to weaken fuel quality standards, and has been linked to the failure of the EU to adopt a stronger 30% emissions targets (up from 20%) in the past few months. With help from the United Kingdom, Canada has also helped sabotage a recent vote on the EU fuel quality directive that was supposed to be voted on last week, but was pushed to January. Beyond this, Canada is the only country that signed and ratified the legally-binding Kyoto Protocol to formally back out; Canada does not even seem close to achieving its already woefully inadequate new targets.
Canada then says that it wants a deal with commitments from all major emitters. With the fallout of an increasing number of countries from any legally-binding agreement, Canada is refusing to jump on any of the initiatives currently being given. Instead, they are following the lead of the United States who is only willing to accept voluntary targets. This has a cascading effect. India has then stated that they do not want to enter a legally binding agreement because it thinks this should not be the responsibility of developing countries. Canada could intervene; as a country with tremendous influence on the United States through its energy supply it could back a China or EU-lead initiative and try to pressure them in. Initiative and leadership is cumulative and contagious, but Canada is too scared (or not serious enough) to take this leap. Though the leadership must be genuine – the minister’s statement today, that they are willing to sign onto a legally binding agreement by 2015 must not be mistaken as such leadership. There is nothing new to this claim other than it sets a specific date. There is also nothing to suggests that targets will be ambitious or equitably administered. Both the United States and Canada sing praises about the outcome of the Copenhagen Accord as if it was some breakthrough, however it was a co-opted and deliberately weakened version on the similarly named Copenhagen Accord proposed by the small-island state party of Tuvalu in 2009.
The minister expressed concern for the weakness of the current KP and any subsequent periods as the basis of its not participating. This misses the spirit of the protocol completely. When first established, it was only meant to act as a simple first-step. A second period is only intended to be a gap-free transition period while moving towards a more comprehensive, ambitious and legally-binding agreement. The failure to make this weak protocol work shows an egregious lack of concern for the IPCC scientific findings as well as international leadership.
Canada then mentions that the “national circumstance” of individual countries must be taken into account when considering an approach, which KP supposedly does not allow. This is another deliberately vague position, because how could one argue this one way or another. Despite the meaninglessness of this statement, it does not in any respect justify Canada not accepting a second period or backing out of the first. If “national circumstance” were to imply that each party’s capacity to mitigate should be taken into consideration then Canada is among the most capable to meet its KP targets. There was a tone of austerity resonating within discussions during COP17, as countries – especially the EU, confront a rolling series of sovereign debt crises. Canada, however, has no excuse. With tremendous solar, wind and geothermal potential Canada should be able to make a just transition to a green energy economy fairly easily. Furthermore with relatively stable monetary regulation on some aspects of financial markets, it emerged from the global economic recession far better than other countries. In fact given the highly inflationary effect that developments in the oil and gas sectors of Canada has had on the dollar and living costs, Canada would probably benefit from easing, if not eliminating, subsidies on the industry. Public investments in sustainable infrastructure such as high-speed rail would create more jobs, therefore reducing Canada’s high and rising debt-to-income ratio. Furthermore if Canada is concerned for the national circumstances of climate-vulnerable nations that already face challenges of IMF debt and multinational export-oriented foreign investment, then it would not be offering adaptation financing in the form of loans! Speaking more tangibly though, if “national circumstances” were to mean protecting national interests, then one might not think of a more salient interest than that of mitigating the environmental hazards caused by climate change and fossil fuel extraction. To consider national circumstances more aptly ought to involve keeping the global average temperature rise below 1.5C. If global temperatures rises above this, small island states and low-laying costal areas are likely to be inundated by rising sea levels. There is no greater way to express concern for national circumstance than to ensure that the nation remains in existence physically!
The minister then discussed claims of domestic progress on meeting its targets. In 1997 Canada signed on to the Kyoto Protocol committing it to reduce its emissions to 6% below 1990 levels between the period of 2008 to 2012, which was ratified in parliament on the 17th of December, 2002. As two different ruling political regimes failed to operationalize these legally-binding commitments, the Government of Canada decided to violate international law in 2006 by stating that it would decide not to comply with the emissions targets. After this, Canada played around with different ideas of how it would get out of having to have solid targets all together, following cues from the United States it tried to pass a series of intensity targets that would allow emissions to be tied to the country’s GDP, allowing overall emissions to continue rising close to business as usual. Amid intense political pressure, and it no longer being politically possible to deny the existence of human-caused climate change, the Government of Canada pledged that it would follow a voluntary emissions target of 17% below 2005 levels by 2020. Compared to its original targets that it is still legally obliged to fulfil, the voluntary targets will bring Canadian emissions roughly 3% above 1990 levels by 2012. Worst of all is that Canada is still far away from accomplishing these targets. The Government of Canada claims that it is around a quarter of the way to meeting its targets, this is based on Environment Canada’s 2009 estimates that Canada was at 690Mt of CO2e. This way of representing Canada’s emissions is misleading. The Government of Canada chooses 2005 as the base year, which is the highest CO2e emission on record in Canadian history. They then use 2009 levels to suggest where it is at in meeting its weak targets, which is the lowest year of emissions since 2005 mostly because it was following the global economic recession, which had a serious impact on Canadian industry and transportation as evident from that year’s lower level of emissions intensity. Reports keep coming out from the scientific and nongovernmental community that projections of Canada reaching its weaker targets is highly unlikely considering that projections do not count for the accelerating growth of the Alberta tar sands, which currently accounts for 10% of Canada’s gigatonne gap by Environment Canada’s own numbers.
Canada claims to be reducing emission through a “sector-by-sector” approach, which means that it will focus on one industry at a time to identify opportunities to reduce its emissions. This approach is completely unnecessary, and excessive in terms of cost and time. The only reason the Government of Canada chooses this approach is so that it can delay having to regulate the tar sands, Newfoundland and Labrador’s offshore oil, and exploration in arctic drilling. Some estimates are measuring that the Government of Canada subsidizes fossil fuel industries in the order of $4 billion per year, with $1.4 billion going directly to tar sands development on top of the 100% tax break on all capital gains until 2015 that they receive as well.
The minister also claimed that there were reductions in the transportation sector, but there has not been any additional vehicle emissions standards since 1999. Canada actually has lower vehicle emissions standards than developing countries such as China. Canada also does not seem to be taking any leadership on negotiating a deal to regulate bunker fuels used in international shipping.
Possibly the worst aspect of the minister’s speech (as well as Canada’s negotiation priorities by extension) was his announcement of Canada’s commitment to the development of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies. The insidious claim that CCS will be part of Canada’s emissions reduction strategy is a serious setback for Canada. CCS involves scrubbing, capturing and compressing CO2 and injecting it in deep geological formations, or the capture of methane gas to be combusted for energy production. The mechanics of CCS are about as physically absurd as tar sands production. It requires far more energy to sequester, compress and submerge the emissions than it would take to simply transition to renewable and sustainable sources of energy. Furthermore, the leakage risk that storing carbon in the ground presents strongly jeopardizes Canada’s emissions reductions.
Canada also reaffirms its commitment to dirty hydro electricity as a renewable source of energy, assuming that it reduces carbon emissions. Dirty hydro is not an option for a low-carbon future. Research presented over the past decade by organizations such as International Rivers has suggested that hydro electric reservoirs can emit just as many greenhouse gasses as conventional fossil fuel combustion. The process of striping land of vegetation, mounting concrete barriers and flooding ground where organic matter is able to decompose anaerobically produces massive amounts of carbon dioxide, methane gas and nitrous oxide. Furthermore hydro development, just like strip mineral mining or tar sands production, almost always violates the rights and sovereignty of Indigenous peoples. It also contaminates water with methyl mercury, which is bioaccumulative, concentrating environmental toxins in large mammals, rendering them health hazards to consume. This threatens the food security of Indigenous, isolated and northern communities most prone to the impacts of climate change.
At the end of the speech the minister announced Canada’s commitment of $1.2 billion dollars to the fast-start financing programme to help cover immediate mitigation and adaptation needs. It also claims that it will contribute to the Green Climate Fund, but has not announced any solid amounts and has only contributed $300 million (in USD) to date. This contribution is woefully inadequate considering the international need for $100 billion per year by 2020. Furthermore, much of Canada’s financial commitments will be given out as loans to be allocated by the World Bank. This is disappointing as it indicates the Government of Canada’s ignorance of human development needs, instead opting for commercial development, from which Canada will likely gain financial benefits. The Government of Canada, the Green Climate Fund is a business plan to develop the Global South.
The minister claimed that it wants to operationalize the Cancun Agreement, an agreement it singlehandedly blocked for most of COP16 until Canada was severely pressured and it was weakened sufficiently enough for Canada to grudgingly accept it.
In the end, the minister claimed that “Canada is carrying [its] weight and doing [its] share”. For the reasons described above it is evident that this claim is patently false, and Canada is in fact doing everything in can to further burden the international community and defer its share in the crisis to poor countries.
Yesterday’s speech by Canada’s environment minister in the COP17 high levels comes amid great international disgust for the country’s climate policy. Here is a brief analysis of the speech.Read post →
Halfway through COP17 and one critical point of contention has yet to be resolved: the role of market mechanisms…
Halfway through COP17 and one critical point of contention has yet to be resolved: the role of market mechanisms in financing and facilitating climate solutions. This factor is absolutely essential in determining the future of the Earth’s biosphere. What I would argue is that possibly a worse outcome than the entire UNFCCC process collapsing, would be an outcome based on market mechanisms. Canada, already a global climate pariah seems determined bring about both outcomes.
Business and Industry Nongovernmental Organizations (BINGOs), have been calling for “low carbon prosperity”. The idea behind this is that somehow the prosperity of private enterprise can be reconciled with a global reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Part of me would like to give the benefit of the doubt to the international business community about such intentions and just call it a misinformed bad idea; but as a longtime anti/alter-globalization researcher and activist, I have experienced how such ideas are patently false, they are also dangerous and violent.
The false assumption that the private creation of wealth can be made combined with greenhouse gas emissions is particularly evident in the creation of carbon markets. At COP17 there has been a lot of discussion about clean development mechanisms, carbon trade and private sector in the Green Climate Fund. The reason why such programmes predicated upon market mechanisms are so dangerous is because it seeks to take what is originally open common resources and lands and turn them into commodities to be owned by polluters. The basic logic behind carbon markets is that the Earth’s atmosphere and forests can be divided up into discrete and consistent units that can be bought and sold by polluters in order to offset their emissions. Beyond the absurd assumption that carbon can be consistently quantified, it is particularly dubious that international political and industrial elites want to fix the problem of environmental destruction – founded in the drive to colonize, develop and industrialize the world, by further colonizing and trading the few remaining common resources left on Earth. Rationalized this way, market-based mechanisms reveal that for the richest countries advocating such institutions the UNFCCC is simply a carbon casino.
It is especially a casino when one considers how carbon markets work. First, there is the dilemma of determining what counts as carbon for trading. This means that the international community needs to come to a consensus on what is in fact human-cause emissions, what is already accounted for by carbon sinks, and what reduction are actually caused by market intervention. Second, there needs to be certainty about what projects count as fixing carbon. Finally, in order to be effective emission reduction targets need to be ratified by party states, then certified emission reductions (CERs) need to be securitized as financial commodities for trade.
All of these points present a tremendous amount of risk. If soils are counted as a carbon sink, or agriculture as a source of emission to be offset – which some parties are advocating for – it would flood the market for offsets possibilities crashing the value of CERs. If party states fail to set effective emission targets, which is not something that seems likely, then the carbon market will do nothing to lower emissions. Riskiest of all factors is how emission offsets will perform in the deregulated torrent of international financial institutions. In fact the political and economic similarities between the creation of the subprime mortgage system and the emergence of international carbon markets is quite frightening.
We cannot afford to gamble with our biosphere. If forests, such as through REDD become commodified and sold internationally, a bubble collapse of carbon markets (which is inevitable with any new financial innovation) would flood global markets with cheep forests that could be bought by multinational corporations seeking lumber, minerals and property to develop. This would threaten the sovereignty and capacity of communities (especially of Indigenous peoples) to withstand the already devastating effects of climate change and neoliberalism. Furthermore it would allow polluters to continue to increase their emissions and concentrate wealth. Hell, they’ll probably make a profit off of it through hedge funds also.
We cannot afford to let global elites use climate negotiations as their own personal casinos. We need to put a stop to carbon markets and all market mechanisms.
Halfway through COP17 and one critical point of contention has yet to be resolved: the role of market mechanisms…Read post →
As the only major emitter to outright refuse any of China’s conditions, Canada is literally the greatest block standing in the way of an internationally agreed upon and legally binding set of emissions under a second KP period.
Over the weekend China revealed a potential way forward on bringing global greenhouse gas emissions to a level that will keep average temperature rises under 2C. China, now holding the highest proportion of any party state of global greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) has presented to the press conditions under which it will accept legally binding emissions reduction targets in a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. These conditions have yet to be discussed in bi-lateral negotiations or presented in plenary but they are suggested to be composed of the following:
1) EU and “other countries” need to sign on to a new legally binding targets under KP
2) $30 billion of the fast start financing be delivered for the 2010-2012 period
3) There needs to be an overall increase in GCF of $100 billion per year by 2020
4) There needs to be a tightening up and collation of smaller policy commitments called for under Copenhagen and Cancun Agreements
5) There needs to be a scientific review be conducted by 2013 to determine the extent to historic responsibility and capacity for reductions
These ambitious demands would act as a serious start bringing about the necessary emission reductions called for by the consensus of climate scientists internationally. However their remains one snag, which is that major emitters – inferred from “EU and other countries” – need to be on board. This by far seems to be the most difficult thing to try and arrange in order to make such an outcome possible.
Of notable concern is the stance of Canada towards commitment to a second KP period. At a press conference yesterday in Durban, Canadian Environment Minister Peter Kent suggested it will not be swayed by China to sign on to a second commitment period. When asked this morning in the Canadian Delegation briefing Ambassador Guy St. Jacques suggested that they anticipated the actual demands from China before taking a serious opinion of them. But when asked whether the release of such details would sway Canada to being committed to a second phase of KP the ambassador deferred his response to the same speaking notes repeated since the beginning of the COP that they are looking for an alternative arrangement. Such an arrangement one can guess would be far weaker in ambition and based on voluntary targets and pledges.
This puts Canada in a seriously disappointing position. As the only major emitter to outright refuse any of China’s conditions, Canada is literally the greatest block standing in the way of an internationally agreed upon and legally binding set of emissions under a second KP period. With only a suggested six years to peak global emissions before the window on keeping global average temperatures under 2C, Canada’s failure to negotiate in good faith with the international community shows their intention to put polluters before people, especially communities downstream from the Athabasca tar sands, which Minister Kent has openly expressed his commitment to defending at COP17.
As the only major emitter to outright refuse any of China’s conditions, Canada is literally the greatest block standing in the way of an internationally agreed upon and legally binding set of emissions under a second KP period.Read post →
About the authorChris Bisson
Chris Bisson is a member of the Canadian Youth Delegation and a Masters of Arts candidate in the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario.