Alberta’s climate change initiatives don’t go nearly far enough

Timid decision-making will not pull us away from the brink of catastrophe


 climate change  climate change

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CALGARY, Alta. Jan. 24, 2016/ Troy Media/ – Alberta’s climate change proposals and the outcome of the historic Paris conference thrilled many. But much more has to be done if the world is to avoid catastrophe.

Indeed, the Alberta Climate Leadership Report says as much. It admits that even if every jurisdiction in the world adopted its recommendations, global temperatures would still increase by more than the 2 degree Celsius that scientists believe is the maximum tolerable. Other analysts have said the same thing about commitments made in Paris. The laws of physics don’t negotiate.

So we are being set up for failure. But why?

It can no longer be ignorance. I believe it’s timidity, in part because decision makers’ reading of the public mood is holding them back. Yet in times of global crisis, they are morally obliged to lead courageously.

One possible reason for leaders’ failure to step ahead of the pack is, as Alberta Climate Change Advisory Panel chair Andrew Leach says, “Until the rest of the world has policies which impose similar costs, you’re not actually reducing emissions to the extent that you think. You’re just displacing the emissions and the economic activity to other jurisdictions.”

This is true, if the step ahead is wildly out of synch. But this approach can easily become “we can take only baby steps until everyone’s on board.” Of course, it’s not an all or nothing proposition. We could follow significantly stronger policies than Alberta’s without committing economic suicide. The world community is starting to move, so setting a strong example won’t leave us isolated for long.

In any event, is it up to technical experts to decide what the trade-off should be? It’s a political judgment and, arguably, the Leach panel should have treated their report as a public education exercise, objectively laying out the magnitude of the problem and showing what has to be done for the world to stay under the 2 degree increase. For example, perhaps a range of carbon prices and their most probable impacts could have been identified, so democratically elected representatives, instead of the panel, could decide how much they can sell to the voters.

Of course, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley’s government does not want to be a one-term wonder. Perhaps it remembers former U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s call for energy conservation as the “moral equivalent of war” or the lamentable failure in Canada of Stephane Dion’s Liberal “Green Shift.”

But the world faces an existential crisis. Nearly every year seems to be the hottest on record. Sea levels are rising and within a century significant areas of Florida, Bangladesh and some of the world’s great seaports could be inundated. Changing weather patterns could turn the southern Great Plains of North America into desert while the north gets wetter. Some predict that hundreds of millions of environmental refugees will flow inexorably across the world.

More the story: [popup url=”” height=”600″ width=”600″ scrollbars=”0″]Syria: The world’s first climate change refugees[/popup] by Mike Robinson

This may seem like hysterical speculation, but credible entities like the U. S. government and its navy are starting to worry about these issues.

At least Alberta’s government is establishing a policy framework that can be ratcheted up when current policies prove their inadequacy.

And that’s good, but what would a courageous government do?

First, acknowledge that at least two-thirds of fossil fuel resources can never be burned. It follows that oilsands production should be frozen, which removes the need for controversial new pipelines since present levels are already getting to market. Instead, the government (not the Leach panel) made a huge error in announcing a greenhouse gas emissions cap 40 per cent larger than present levels.

Second, increase the recommended carbon price – perhaps by 10 or 15 per cent. And plan for the oilsands’ gradual decline in production (over 40 years, say) because as carbon prices across the world shoot up and demand decreases, high-cost production will be the first to go.

Third, eliminate fossil fuel subsidies. In their place, develop a sophisticated set of tools, including major research efforts, to encourage a crash conversion to a renewable energy system with wind, solar and geothermal production. Market forces will help, but depending too much on them has brought us to our present dilemma.

How Notley’s government reacts to these challenges and opportunities, in the next couple of years, we will determine whether Alberta is governed by the NDP or the oilpatch.

Phil Elder is Emeritus Professor of Environmental and Planning Law with the Faculty of Environmental Design at the University of Calgary. Phil is included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.

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The views, opinions and positions expressed by all Troy Media columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Troy Media.

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One Response to "Alberta’s climate change initiatives don’t go nearly far enough"

  1. Tom Harris - Executive Director, International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC)   January 25, 2016 at 2:15 pm

    Climate change activists such as Professor Phil Elder are unwittingly supporting one of the greatest moral travesties of our time: the valuing of people yet to be born more than those suffering today.

    Rather than focus on the need to help vulnerable people adapt to real climate change in the present, activists promote mitigation, trying to avert hypothetical events that may, or may not, someday happen.

    The UN said that funding for mitigation and adaptation should be approximately equal. But the Climate Policy Initiative demonstrates that only 6% of the more than $1 billion/day spent on climate finance across the world goes to adaptation. The rest is spent on mitigation because of the common but unjustified belief that we can control our planet’s climate merely by reducing our carbon dioxide emissions.

    People of all political stripes are starting to recognize that allocating more importance to the possible problems to be faced by future generations than to the known and serious issues faced by those suffering today is immoral.

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