It was deeply disappointing in the last week to see the contrast between the state of climate science in the world and the state of climate policy in Canada.
While the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was telling the world that global warming is undeniable and that the implications for humankind may be severe, indeed, new Canadian Environment Minister John Baird, inset, was telling Canadians that any effort to meet Canada’s international Kyoto commitments would devastate the Canadian economy.
It is dangerously late in the game to start defending or criticizing the Kyoto agreement – flawed though it may be. It is also disingenuous to try to blame Canada’s current economic challenge in that regard on clever Europeans who outsmarted us at the negotiating table. The truth of the European position is that they have taken climate change seriously, while we have not. Per a report recently prepared by researchers at the University of Toronto, they have been implementing social and tax policies for more than a decade while Canada still has no plan whatsoever. In fact, the Harper government has only just begun to admit that climate change is a reality.
Now the government has moved to a more realistic position on the science, Minister Baird is counselling hopelessness and despair. There is a better path. Another group of academics – sustainability experts brought together by the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario – released another report Friday pointing out the potential benefits of innovative tax policy, and the considerable risks of continuing to do nothing. If Canada – with its abundant natural and intellectual resources – finds a way to apply itself to solving the challenges of climate change, it can easily take a leading role in the world. Given our privileged position on the planet, that is nothing less than what we should be doing. But there is also money to be made by moving forward ambitiously as a technology leader.
If, on the other hand, we continue to drag our feet, to pander to Alberta oil interests and to wring our hands in despair, we will wind up an international pariah that has to buy new technology from the other countries that are actually moving on this file.
In removing the former environment minister, Rona Ambrose, and appointing Baird, Prime Minister Stephen Harper seemed to be suggesting that he had got the message from Canadians: climate change is real and we don’t want to continue embarrass ourselves on the international stage by denying it. But now, instead of embracing innovation – instead of turning corporate Canada’s incredibly resourceful attention to this issue by crafting an ambitious climate change plan, Minister Baird looks like he is getting ready to defend the bad old habits of an industry that refuses to join the 21st century.
We can do so much better if only the government chooses to show a little leadership.