Economic analysis

Harper's Copenhagen fantasy

To the Conservatives, the Copenhagen target is a dream, and they'd really prefer you not ruin it with hard questions

Emissions“Just close your eyes, dream but don’t ruin it by asking any hard questions.” Those words, spoken by Prime Minister Harper, were not addressing Canada’s Copenhagen target and what measures might be imposed to meet it, but they might well have been.  For, you see, Canada has committed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020—a target that Environment Canada and anyone else who has taken a serious look at it will tell you we will not meet. Everyone, that is, except the Conservative government. To them, the Copenhagen target is a dream, and they’d really prefer you not ruin that dream with hard questions—questions like, “When might we see regulations for the oil and gas sector first promised in 2006?” Or, “Oil and gas regulations are unlikely to generate sufficient reductions to meet the target, so what’s next?” Or even the most basic, “Is the government still committed to the Copenhagen target?” Those, it seems, are off-limits and don’t deserve an answer.

In his B.C. speech, Prime Minister Harper chastised the Liberals for an attitude of, “If you want something from the government, whatever you want, they’re going to tell you you can have it. Don’t worry about how it’s going to be paid for.”  Well, Prime Minister, recent analysis from Simon Fraser University’s Mark Jaccard showed that we’ve waited so long to enact any policies that what once could have been accomplished with policies equivalent to a $100/tonne price on carbon would now take policies at least twice as stringent. Perhaps Mark Jaccard is simply a liberal elite? Perhaps the Prime Minister would prefer the analysis completed for the now-defunct National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy (headed by former chief of staff to the late Jim Flaherty, David McLaughlin)—analysis requested in a reference by Minister Peter Kent—which said basically the same thing. Unless you want to force companies and individuals to do a lot of costly things, either through providing them with financial incentives, by imposing financial penalties, or through regulatory actions, you are just not going to get close to meeting Canada’s target. Perhaps, Prime Minister, it is better if we don’t worry about how it’s going to be accomplished and simply assume that the government will take care of it? One might also ask why our government committed to a target which would have required some of the most stringent policies imposed anywhere in the world, but we best not. We wouldn’t want to interrupt the dream.

Perhaps, to borrow from another of the government’s favoured talking points, the Prime Minister believes that the targets will simply meet themselves? Unfortunately for us, that’s largely what’s happening south of the border. President Obama has taken some significant steps on climate change, but other factors have led to much larger reductions in emissions. Most notably, the shale gas revolution, along with tighter regulations on air pollution, have made it uneconomic to build new coal-fired power plants in the U.S. and seen the shutdown of significant coal-fired generating capacity. In their most recent report to the United Nations, the United States stated that it “plans to meet its commitment to cut GHGs in the range of 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020 and make additional progress toward forging a robust international response to this global challenge.” Canada, on the other hand, seemed to feel that others would take care of the problem, and stated that, “in light of strong economic growth (meeting our Copenhagen commitments) could be challenging.” What was the federal government doing to address this challenge? According to our submission to the United Nations, “the Government of Canada is working with provinces to reduce emissions from the oil and gas sectors while ensuring Canadian companies remain competitive.”

Basically, if it happens it happens, but we’ve got other priorities.  Now, do you have any other questions?



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