Motivating Canada on Climate Change

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Saskatchewan might be picking a fight with Uncle Sam in the latest wierd chapter of Canadian climate policy – or lack thereof.

Oil-producing Alberta and Saskatchewan just told Ottawa they will not tolerate a federal carbon system with anything more meaningful than “intensity-based” reduction targets.

No wonder. These provinces collectively have only 14% of the Canadian population yet crank out close to 45% of the emissions. So called “intensity” targets would keep the petroleum party going by allowing absolute carbon emissions to balloon for decades into the future.

Meanwhile, the Canadian government is finally being forced to draft meaningful climate policy – only because the US will impose trade sanctions if we don’t. With that ultimatum looming over Canada, the provinces presumably expect Ottawa to pass their ultimatum on to the Obama Administration.

Good luck with that.

Many lawmakers in the US might be hard pressed to find Saskatchewan on a map, let alone water down American cap and trade legislation for the benefit of a Canadian province with the same population Rhode Island.

“Depending on what comes out of Washington, the reality is the Americans may have the whip hand on this stuff,” observed Environmental Lawyer Doug Thomson. “And if they do, it’s not going to be a matter of keeping all sides happy but reflecting the reality of the situation. … We may have no choice.”

All this means Ottawa may have to deviate from the long-standing Canadian tradition of caving to pressure from regions or provinces. It also seems to be the unlikely and ignoble way in which Canada will finally get serious about climate change.

Alberta and Saskatchewan are gamely demanding that they be exempt from absolute carbon reductions – instead relying on “intensity targets” – something that not even John McCain is in favor of. Under this scheme, absolute carbon emission can and will continue to rise. The window dressing is that emissions per barrel of oil will ostensibly come down even as absolute emissions go up.

It is something akin to flapping your arms as you fall from a plane – it gives the appearance of action without significantly altering the outcome.

Of course the atmosphere doesn’t care about anything as esoteric as emissions per unit of energy. Global CO2 concentrations have been marching upwards like conga line on an escalator.

Given that Obama’s credibility depends on delivering absolute carbon reductions in the unfolding climate legislation moving through Congress, it is somewhat laughable to think that Saskatchewan, Alberta, or Ottawa will have much influence throwing their weight around.

And even if the new cap and trade bill is derailed, there is always the option of existing laws such as the Clean Air Act. The EPA just listed CO2 as a pollutant opening the door for regulation of carbon no matter what happens on the Hill.

Canadian oil interests of course do not like it, but as Sam Cooke famously said, Change Gonna Come.

Their past experience with intensity targets will not help their cause.

The Alberta government brought in such a scheme in 2002, aiming to reduce carbon intensity by 50% by 2020. Sounds good – except that by their own numbers, absolute emissions would climb by 33% over the same period. In fact Alberta’s emissions are rising even faster than that.

Canada’s current policy also allows Alberta tar sands emissions to almost triple between 2006 and 2017.

it is this record of success that Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ottawa are bringing to their fight with Washington.

Good luck guys. 

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