Should we meet Kyoto?

There’s been a lot of talk about whether we can meet our Kyoto targets.  This is a silly question.  Of course we can.  It just gets increasingly more painful to contemplate the longer we wait.

There is a more sensible question about whether we should.  This is not a question about whether we should eventually meet the 6% reduction targets that were set by the Kyoto protocol for Canada.  We’ll clearly have to do a lot more, on the order of 80-90% eventually.  The sensible question is whether it is wise to do so within this Kyoto period now that we’re in the awkward position of being so far away from our goals.

First of all, there is a great deal of misunderstanding about what “meeting the Kyoto targets” means.  A lot of people see the 6% figure, they know the Kyoto period ends in 2012 and figure “we need to reduce our emissions by 6% over the next 5 years.  If that were all that was asked, the question would be ludicrous.  We should be expecting to reduce a great deal more than 1.5% annually if we want to reach any sensible ultimate target, so Kyoto would be the cakewalk it was meant to be.

Unfortunately, to begin with, the target is 6% below what our emissions were in 1990.  Our emissions now are at least 30% higher than they were in 1990.  So our Kyoto target is 36/130 of today’s emissions, or about 28%, more than a quarter of our emissions.  That’s a lot harder to envision in a 5-year period.

But it’s actually a lot worse than that, because the Kyoto targets are for an average of the 5 year period between the beginning of 2008 and the end of 2012.  So if we have a steady decrease in emissions over the period, we need to hit the Kyoto target right in the middle of the period, at the end of June, 2010, and continue decreasing to about 55% below today’s levels over the next 5 years.  That’s about 11% of today’s levels every year for 5 years. Kyoto wasn’t designed to be addressed this way.  When we agreed to 6% reductions below 1990 levels, we weren’t thinking that our emissions would continue to grow in the lead up to the Kyoto period.  Nobody imagined you’d have to have these preposterous cuts so far below the Kyoto target just to meet the target over the whole period.

Renovating the automobile fleet with cars that have higher emissions standards takes more than 5 years.  Subway tunnels take longer than 5 years to build as do rail infrastructure and trains.  If we put every lick of determination into it, we could just maybe retrofit 20 percent of our building stock in that time.  It would take massive increases in fuel prices, and a lot of bus transit and carpooling, hunkering down in reduced living quarters, massive energy devoted to building up wind turbines and so on.  Basically, we’d need to have a war-time economy.  This might even be appropriate to the crisis at hand.  The problem is that this level of commitment to reducing emissions is not being done anywhere else in the world,.  In some countries, it’s because they’ve got their heads in the sand.  In others it’s because they’ve made the emissions cuts more sensibly over the last decade or more.  But in either case, a commitment to such massive cuts would mean constricting the Canadian economy in a pretty harmful way.  That kind of constriction is unlikely to receive political support unless it’s done globally, and would probably result in a political backlash.

Meeting Kyoto is “fair” in that it delivers an average emissions profile over the Kyoto period that brings Canada in line with other Kyoto nations.  In fact it is even generous to Canada because our high emissions in the leadup to this period are not counted against us.  In compensation, I suppose, we would end this Kyoto period so far below all other countries that we would be making up for our bad behaviour in the past.  As the graph below shows, we would end up so far below the target to meet our Kyoto obligations that we could conceivably find ourselves able to permit emissions to rise again, depending on how serious the emissions reductions targets were for the period following 2012.

Sensible versus Canadian Kyoto strategy

Reductions of 11% of today’s levels annually would not be the way to meet our Kyoto obligations either, if we were determined to meet them.  Because after 4 years of reducing 11% of today’s emissions, we would have gone down to 56% of today’s emissions and we’d have to shave 11% off that.  11/56 is almost 20%.  So as cuts were getting harder and harder to achieve, we would have to be doing proportionally more.  The way cuts are usually calculated is with a steady percentage reduction below the previous year’s rate.  So you start with a higher reduction to begin.

I’ve gone through the trouble of figuring out what that number would be for a number of emissions reductions scenarios, and graphed the results below.  So badly have we messed up as a nation that the Kyoto targets turn out to be the most ambitious targets for 2012 even though they were initially envisioned as a very modest start.  To meet Kyoto targets we would have to reduce our emissions by 16.29% every year below the previous year for each of the next 5 years.

So does it make sense to meet this now very ambitious target, or is it wiser to make still massive cuts and accept a penalty of making greater emissions reductions in the next period?  Well, an assessment of what’s a reasonable restriction to impose now has a lot to do with what your eventual targets would be.  Until a couple of years ago, most governments were looking at eventual reductions of some 60% by 2050.  Clearly reducing our emissions by 55% off today’s levels in just 5 years is not a sensible strategy if that’s our ultimate goal.  We would then have 38 years to reduce our emissions by the last 14% of today’s levels we’d need to shave off (31% off that year’s levels).  So it would be tremendous pain now, followed by a very relaxed pace for decades afterwards.  It would make a lot more sense to accept a modest penalty and avoid the agony.

The Kyoto targets are progressively less crazy if we’re looking for eventual targets of 70%, 80% or 90% by 2050.  But they’re still pretty crazy.  However, there’s reason to believe that all of these targets are too modest.  George Monbiot, in his 2006 book “Heat” suggests that 80% global targets need to be achieved by 2030 because the IPCC targets are far too modest to prevent catastrophe.  And because he cannot imagine imposing the same high percentage targets on people who are already emitting very little, he assesses a target for every person and works toward that goal.  So the average Canadian needs to reduce emissions by 94% (of today’s emissions, 92.2% of 1990 emissions), and by 2030, by his calculation.

When I plot out Monbiot’s targets on the graph with the other emissions reductions projections, I get something a lot closer to the Kyoto targets.  To meet Monbiot’s projections, we would need to reduce our emissions by 12% annually.  So if that’s what we were working toward, it might make sense to work a bit harder, meet our Kyoto targets, and have the satisfaction of a job well done, followed by a bit of a respite when we wouldn’t have to work quite as hard.

When Monbiot’s book came out just last year, it was a bit extreme.  With evidence rolling in to indicate that climate sensitivity is a great deal higher than the IPCC predicted (I’ve posted a number of such studies on this blog under “scaremongering“), he no longer seems especially extreme at all.  In a recent talk, Thomas Homer Dixon suggested global emissions reduction targets of 80-90% over the next decade or two.

So here is the graph showing all the emissions reductions scenarios I’ve looked at.  The Kyoto line is the dark blue one.

Comparison of Canadian carbon emissions reduction strategies

If we are aiming for lower or longer targets (such as the 80% of 1990 levels by 2050 agreed on by all 3 opposition parties), there are still 3 good reasons to make greater proportional cuts now than the graph shows–to approach the Kyoto line, even if we don’t meet it.

First of all, approaching our current Kyoto targets reduces the penalty for the next period of cuts.  Second, the objective is to reduce the total carbon in the atmosphere, and slow reductions mean we spend more time spewing before we reach our ultimate objectives, destabilizing the climate more than if we achieve the same cuts more quickly.  Finally, if we continue to find that climate change is progressing more quickly than we had imagined and more drastic actions are necessary, we will be in a much better position to meet them if we’ve made more substantial cuts already.  For those who don’t think this is a significant concern, keep in mind that the prospect of facing sudden and dire cuts is the subject of this blog entry.  The handwringing over Kyoto is happening exactly because we failed to act fast enough to begin with.

Remember, it’s the total carbon in the biosphere that’s at issue.  That can be visualized as the areas accumulating below the lines on the graph.  It should be apparent that a lot more carbon ends up being released as the targets get more modest or the dates for meeting them go further out.  I’ve converted the total carbon numbers into a bar graph below to highlight this difference.  If we follow the trajectory for 60% emissions by 2050, at the end of this period we will have emitted almost 3 times the carbon that the Monbiot trajectory proposes.  Even the 90% target (which is only very slightly more modest than the 92.2% off 1990 levels that Monbiot proposes) results in almost a doubling of carbon emissions if dragged out to 2050 rather than being achieved by 2030.  So for the good of the planet, doing more sooner is a good idea.Total emissions to 2050

Finally, a note about what “not meeting Kyoto means”, because it can mean different things in the mouths of different people.  When Elizabeth May suggests that perhaps meeting Kyoto is no longer the most sensible approach, she means doing a lot to dramatically reduce emissions and going to the table willing to meet much more serious targets for the next period.  When Stephen Harper says we can’t meet Kyoto, he means that not only will emissions reductions not meet the Kyoto targets, but that emissions won’t be reduced at all, and not only that but they will increase, and not only that but they will increase at a higher rate.  The only thing he hopes he will achieve, but again, he’s not promising, is that we’ll manufacture proportionally more stuff for the emissions we’re responsible for.  And the concern is that he will use the opportunity to legally withdraw from the Kyoto process entirely when he has a chance to next year.  No other leader of any other party is likely to do so.

So after all is said and done, do I recommend that we meet our Kyoto goals?  Yes, but only if we can get the rest of the world on board, and at this particular moment, that doesn’t seem to be happening.  If enough countries participate in drastic reductions, we can maintain a degree of competitiveness, and Canadians won’t resent their hardship if everyone else is also cutting back.  Sinking our own economy out of virtue when our humongous neighbour to the south refuses to do so would be an exercise in stupidity.  But shutting down the tar sands would certainly help bring down our emissions, and might force the US to start making reductions whether they want to or not.  We can make fairly serious cuts even if we don’t meet our Kyoto targets, we can start putting the wheels in motion to build up our rail and transit infrastructure and start retrofitting buildings.  We can gear up for more dramatic reductions in the years to come, and we can push for more aggressive global targets.  If the world participates, dramatic reductions are more palatable.

7 responses to “Should we meet Kyoto?”

  1. Ron M writes:

    Don’t the Ontario Greens support some carbon tax?… something along the lines of Ross McKitrick, associate professor of environmental economics at the University of Guelph.

    https://www.csmonitor.com/2007/1203/p09s02-coop.html
    Like Ross points out, some questions remain about carbon effect on climate change but regardless a frame work is needed to get started.

    Even if we could agree on a limit for GHGs, the Kyoto mechanisms don’t get us there and delegates in Bali are pushing for more of the same.

    “And like climate change itself, this sobering truth is best faced sooner rather than later ”. Ruth Greenspan Bell – What to Do About Climate Change.

    https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2006-05-01/what-do-about-climate-change

    WAKE UP PEOPLE.

  2. Adriana Mugnatto-Hamu writes:

    Yes, the GPO (Green Party of Ontario) promotes carbon taxes. So does the GPC (Green Party of Canada) for domestic policy.

    I would love to have a global carbon tax at source. This is what I think Canada should push for internationally. Some of that tax could go back to the producing country as an incentive to agree to the strategy. Some of it should be set aside to be used as a fund to cover the tremendous costs of dealing with climate disasters which will be coming our way. This is a pet idea of my own though. I don’t know that anyone at Bali is proposing it.

    Getting broad agreement on a working plan is more important than the details. Having a great plan that no one supports is useless. On the other hand, as you point out, having a plan that doesn’t work is useless even if you get everyone to agree to it.

    What’s critical at Bali is to negotiate hard aggressive targets, and to get as many countries on board as possible. Carbon taxes are simply the easiest way to meet such targets. Any country that’s serious about its commitments is likely to discover this.

    Kyoto has failed primarily because countries like Canada and the US have not been serious about their commitments. This cannot be remedied by any plan that has different mechanisms for us to ignore. As citizens, we need to demand that our governments live up to their international responsibilities.

  3. Ron M writes:

    Thanks for feedback.

    I note per the Green Party of Can web site that the GPC proposes a hybrid of both cap & trade and carbon tax. I’ve meanwhile come cross a discussion on the pros and cons of cap & trade vs. carbon tax at

    http://grist.org/article/cap-and-trade-more-effective-than-a-carbon-tax/

    Now it’s up to each of us to assess both approaches.

    While I’m not an economist, I’m inclined to think that there are important issues that each of us must contemplate simply because we are human beings. If a child dies every 5 seconds on account of famine related illnesses, are economics failing the world’s poor? Into whose pockets and out of whose pockets will the $dollars flow under these mechanisms? For this vantage point, it looks like business as usual which isn’t very assuring.

    “What’s critical at Bali is to negotiate hard aggressive targets, and to get as many countries on board as possible”.

    Per the Center for Global Development:
    https://www.cgdev.org/
    “Rising carbon emissions from developing countries would threaten the world with severe climate change within a single generation, even if the rich countries were to stop their own greenhouse gas emissions tomorrow, according to new CGD research”.

    This begs the question: what is the point of setting targets on the developed nations when China and India are not committing to targets?

    “Kyoto has failed primarily because countries like Canada and the US have not been serious about their commitments.”

    Canada has committed to cut GHGs by 20% by 2020. That’s ~ 10% higher than the Kyoto commitment that the Liberal government made. Given our growing population from newcomers and increased exports, emissions can be expected to go up. But Canada is not doing nothing. The ground work is being laid. Ontario’s coal plants are to be shut down by 2014 achieving about 80% of Ontario’s share of the Kyoto target. Quebec now expects to achieve its share.

    The Russians were bribed into signing onto Kyoto. They stand to earn a fortune by doing little. The Europeans also gave themselves lots of room to pollute. Still the EU hasn’t met their commitment either.

    India now says that because the developed countries have not meet their commitments in round one, India is not required to agree to any targets in round two. And others accuse Canada of scuttling the talks!

    Canada can fine tune the target and what ever mechanisms we adopt along the way. Greater total reductions in GHGs can be achieved by helping India and China adopt cleaner technology vs. pushing for expensive deep cuts in developed nations.

    To answer your question, without India and China agreeing to targets, Canada meeting its Kyoto target is symbolic. There’s little comfort in that as the globe heats up.

  4. Adriana Mugnatto-Hamu writes:

    Hi Ron,

    I’ll answer your concerns as best I can.

    This begs the question: what is the point of setting targets on the developed nations when China and India are not committing to targets?

    China and India are Kyoto signatories. That puts them a step above the United States. They have indicated a willingness to reduce their own emissions under specific, reasonable circumstances. That puts them ahead of the current Canadian government as well.

    Those politicians who point fingers at China and India either fail to grasp or deliberately ignore the historical conditions that created the different treatments for industrialized and developing countries.

    To understand this, you need to go back to the Montreal protocol negotiated in Canada for the elimination of ozone-depleting chemicals. When this international instrument was negotiated, it was recognized that the problem had been created overwhelmingly by developed nations who also were in the best position to develop the technologies to solve the problem. So in the first phase, only the developed countries were targeted. Once the technology developed to eliminate ozone-depleting chemicals, the developing nations embraced it and the problem was solved.

    Kyoto was modeled on this experience. Once again, the developed countries are responsible for the vast bulk of carbon already in the atmosphere, and once more they are theoretically in the best position to deal with it.

    But developed countries have been much less inclined to embrace the Kyoto protocol than they were to accept the Montreal protocol. The reason is that there is no simple way to reduce emissions that will leave the economy essentially intact by simply changing to a slightly different technology. Reducing greenhouse gases essentially requires reducing energy use. And reducing energy use restricts economic growth.

    We should be recognizing that we haven’t delivered the promised good example to the developing nations. Instead we point to them as if somehow it’s now their fault. The average Chinese is still responsible for less than a fifth of the emissions of the average Canadian. Let’s drop our emissions below 20% of what they are today, and then pick on the Chinese rather then tell them they need to turn off their lightbulbs now so we can continue flying.

    There is another reason to stop pointing fingers and get our own house in order. About a quarter of Chinese emissions are attributable to exports to developed countries. So really China’s entire emissions growth over the last decade can be attached to our own appetite for cheap manufactured goods. We’d just prefer to blame the Chinese for it.

    The solution to this is to stop exporting industry to countries with fewer restrictions by applying the carbon tax to imports as well.

    I agree that rising emissions from China and India are a problem. I agree it’s important to get them to agree to emissions reductions in the next period. That’s going to be a lot easier if we’re not allowing our own emissions to grow. The point of addressing our emissions regardless of what the Chinese do would be sevenfold:

    1. To fulfill the responsibilities we agreed to.
    2. To help develop the carbon reductions technologies we agreed the developing nations needed from us in order to reduce their emissions.
    3. Because cutting off your nose because someone else is cutting off your toe is not a wise strategy.
    4. To set a good example.
    5. To put ourselves in a better bargaining position with China, whose per-capita emissions continue to be a fraction of ours.
    6. Because our wealth makes it easier for us to reduce emissions first.
    7. Because reducing emissions is a moral responsibility. Because if our emissions can be determined to have been responsible for the deaths of 100 Bangladeshis or 10 Sudanese, it should be no comfort that Chinese or American emissions are responsible for even more.

    Canada has committed to cut GHGs by 20% by 2020. That’s ~ 10% higher than the Kyoto commitment that the Liberal government made. Given our growing population from newcomers and increased exports, emissions can be expected to go up. But Canada is not doing nothing. The ground work is being laid. Ontario’s coal plants are to be shut down by 2014 achieving about 80% of Ontario’s share of the Kyoto target. Quebec now expects to achieve its share.

    I’m not sure whether by “higher” you mean “better” or “worse”. The commitment of the current government would actually leave Canada falling 11% short of its Kyoto targets a decade after the first Kyoto period. Mr. Harper has convinced the public that he’s doing something with a shifty numbers game. He uses a 2006 base instead of a 1990 base. Between 1990 and 2006, Canadian emissions rose 27%. So a 20% reduction, if we meet it at all with the feeble efforts of this government, would still leave us well above the 1990 base year, never mind getting into the needed reductions. Kyoto targets are almost 30% below today’s emission rates. By 2020, our targets should be at least 45% below today’s levels, even if we choose very modest ultimate goals. And failing the first period would require us to accept steeper emissions targets in the second, so it will probably be even higher. Our government’s goals fall at least 25% short of where they should be, probably a lot more.

    Nor am I impressed with Ontario’s performance. Premier McGuinty promised a coal phaseout in 2007 during the 2003 election. That was extended to 2009, and then, during this last election, to 2014. I note that 2014 is conveniently beyond the current term.

    At this point, Mr. McGuinty has also made the coal phase-out conditional on getting alternatives on line. That in itself makes a lie of the 80% figure. Yes, we could achieve 80% of the required Kyoto cut if we replaced our coal plants with nothing. Replacing them with natural gas would reduce the impact of closing coal plants to just 50%. Adding on additional natural gas would make the cut even less impressive. And all of this will occur about 4 years too late, if it happens at all.

    Actually, in a roundabout accounting way, Premier McGuinty may well achieve the 80% cut, but not in a way that actually helps the Earth. Rather it should make us hang our heads in shame and frustration. I’ll explain.

    After spending billions of dollars replacing our coal plants with natural gas plants, Mr. McGuinty is probably aware that recently Natural Resources Canada has announced that we can “look forward to” 7-15% reductions in natural gas deliverability over the next 2 years. The situation is unlikely to improve afterwards. So we are very likely to discover that our natural gas plants, negotiated to be profitable to the operators even if they never run, will sit around idle while we find that to remain even marginally competitive (not to mention to continue heating our homes), we’ll have to instead import coal-generated electricity from Ohio with as much as 30% transmission losses, thus effectively reducing Ontario’s emissions from coal-fired generation to nothing, but actually increasing the global emissions our electricity is responsible for.

    If the groundwork were being laid, we’d see a new building code such as the one Germany is adopting, which eliminates the need for heating systems through passive heat gain and generous insulation. We’d adopt vehicle efficiency standards used even now in Europe or Japan or California. We’d tax new vehicles and inefficient vehicles even more. We’d be tolling roads to make motorists pay the costs of driving. We’d be requiring products to be recyclable or require manufacturers to take them back. We’d be investing massively in public transit systems. We’d replace the coal plants with conservation and efficiency measures, and we’d invest more in renewables. We’d start a massive building retrofit program. We’d allow ZENN, which manufactures electric cars in Canada for a US market, to actually sell their products here. We’d stop subsidizing the fossil fuel industry to the tune of billions annually. We’re not really being very serious at all.

    We cannot let immigration be an excuse for rising emissions. The climate doesn’t care how many people live in Canada. Emissions must fall if we want to preserve a livable planet.

    I wish I could give you better news. I’d like to think Canada is doing better than it is. But the reality is rather grim.

  5. Ron M writes:

    Tks for reply Adriana.

    We agree that it’s important that India and China manage emissions in the next period otherwise we are only delaying the inevitable by a decade or two. We should be sending the message to India and China that they also have to agree to targets AND that we are prepared to help finance their growing energy demand with clean technology. If the world can spend $3 billion a day on militarization, we should be able to help finance environmental causes in developing nations. There is no easy fix for GHGs like there was for ozone.

    You have suggested that oil gets taxed at source. And why not? The mid-east oil nations are artificial constructs of the British. Why not nationalize all oil wells while we’re at it? And if most of the CO2 was produced by rich nations in the past, then apply a tax on those who hold the assets. That tax should be separate from a consumption tax.

    Yes Ontario pays lip service to smart growth. Are the GTAs new sub-divisions self- sufficient wrt energy and waste? Many children now have respiratory diseases. The gas plants don’t help. Environmentalists helped McGuinty sell his gas plants to the public. Coal use has been reduced by renewables like wind, new hydro and conservation. New power lines from Quebec and Manitoba are being built to tap into renewable energy supplies from the north. But still energy demand will go up. There is a limit to what we can conserve and the growing population doesn’t live on air.
    Players are pushing their own agendas. We need to give thought to the fixes being prescribed considering Ontario, Canada and the whole world. $dollars need to be put to best use. That requires co-operation and planning between nations vs. nations unilaterally setting targets and letting free marketers loose. The free market is bringing us those cheap goods produced by polluting industries in China. And now we are going to count on the free market to solve the climate change crisis.

    ALSO the burdens have to be shared in a socially just manner. While the average Canadian produces 5 or 10 times more emissions that the average Indian or Chinese, there are 100 million people in India and China who leave a large carbon footprint and who are in a better financial position than the average Canadian. They can afford to pay for their own damages and help their own countries.

    We shouldn’t be expecting the working poor in Canada or anywhere else to pick up the tabs of others.

    Meanwhile, dare to dream.

  6. Adriana Mugnatto-Hamu writes:

    Hi Ron,

    I dare to dream. My dream is indeed a very daring one. It is that we reduce emissions enough to leave a livable world for my children and grandchildren. Given historical patterns, this dream appears to be wildly optimistic.

    When you say that energy demands will go up, I worry, though. It was my hope a couple decades ago that we would be able to find clean new energy sources, or that existing sources would become economical and widely available. After decades of enormous government subsidies into research for carbon-free fuels, it is apparent that we cannot wait any longer to imagine we’ll miraculously get our cheap energy fix.

    Every plan for achieving responsible emissions reductions targets over the next decades includes an enormous contribution from conservation and efficiency. Emissions cuts from conservation and efficiency are quite simply more economical and quicker to achieve than building new generation. Energy demands will surely decline if we meet the aggressive emission reduction targets required.

    Canada has immigration to contend with, but our birth rate is low. Overall, Canada’s population growth rate is very modest by world standards, with the majority of countries growing faster. If we allow every country with a growing population to increase emissions, we might as well give up. China’s population is growing much more quickly than Canada’s, although the growth rate is slightly lower because they begin from a much higher base population.

    Note, however, that China’s aggressive population control measures are responsible for China’s slightly more modest rate of population growth. If we believe that increasing the population makes emissions targets harder to meet, then we should make attempts to decrease the population, as the Chinese are doing, rather than increase it as we do. I’m not advocating this track, just pointing out that the population argument against reducing emissions doesn’t really make any sense.

    I don’t think the Chinese, Indians or even Americans would object to emissions reductions if other nations paid for them. That’s not what Mr. Harper is proposing, though, when he says China should reduce its emissions. He objects to the economic costs of bringing down our own emissions, never mind attempting to solve China’s problem.

    Of course, China is an excuse. Whatever the economic costs have been in European countries, most have reduced their emissions and remain economically competitive. They are also in a much better economic position to face expected fossil fuel depletion. Mr. Harper cannot be unaware of this. Throwing up China as an intransigent economic adversary unwilling to play the game is distorting the facts to generate fear among Canadians and to build support for the do-nothing approach. There is nothing so very economically threatening about reducing our emissions unilaterally, if necessary.

    Yes we should push China, India and the United States to reduce their emissions. But we should do that primarily for reasons of planetary health, not economic competitiveness. It makes no sense, if you’re worried about the planet, to say “If you don’t cut down your emissions, we’ll increase ours, too.”

    If I were negotiating for Canada, I’d push for a carbon tax at source. I’m happy if anyone steals this idea and actually promotes it someplace where it matters. But dreaming isn’t going to make that happen.

    Realistically, there are two basic proposals on the table in Bali. One involves internationally binding targets with developed countries shouldering the bulk of the burden. The other involves Canada “leading the way” to an agreement where every country agrees that they wished emissions would magically disappear. The first is clearly preferable to the second.

    Mr. Harper says Kyoto didn’t work. By this he means that some big polluters weren’t brought on board. That’s not how I would judge whether an emissions reduction treaty worked. I would try to figure out if it succeeded in reducing emissions over the alternative scenario.

    Funny, for most countries who signed on to Kyoto, it worked just fine, with Canada being by far the worst example of failure. So I would conclude that getting other countries on board for this important agreement would be a good goal.

    Instead, Mr. Harper defines a successful agreement as one in which big polluters participate, even if we have to allow emissions to rise in order to secure this participation.

    Clearly, maximizing emissions reductions globally involves a combination of high targets and high participation. I have no problem agreeing with this.

    But if you’re serious about making emissions cuts a priority, then you go to the table advocating for high targets. Then you negotiate with holdouts about what it would take to bring them on board, and calculate whether their participation would make the necessary lowering of targets worthwhile.

    Instead, our government is going to the table with a stated introductory position that expectations must be low. This is not the stance of a serious negotiator. This is the position of an entrenched adversary of the whole process, someone who will be throwing up stumbling blocks throughout the negotiation process. Someone who should be praising China and the United States for giving him the excuse to do nothing himself, which is clearly what he would do regardless.

    I agree entirely with you that the working poor shouldn’t bear the brunt of the necessary changes. Carbon taxes in general affect the rich more than the poor, because there is a close correlation between income and emissions. But we do have to worry about low income Canadians who spend a disproportionate amount of their budget on home heating and necessary personal transportation to work.

    That’s why both the federal and provincial Green Parties propose a revenue-neutral tax shift, in which taxes collected on carbon are used to reduce income and payroll taxes. Both parties advocate subsidies for energy retrofits and investment in public transportation. The Green Party of Canada further proposes a Guaranteed Annual Income, which obviously needs to be set at a level that can cover the true costs of energy.

  7. Adriana Mugnatto-Hamu writes:

    Ron, I know that in a private email I explained the cap-and-trade and carbon tax combination the Green Party of Canada advocates. I’ll do it here again publicly. You can ignore this if you’re bored.

    The carbon tax is great because it affects everything. And if we’re going to be hitting emissions reduction targets of 80-90%, we’re pretty much going to have to shave everywhere. Every other party wants to hit primarily big industrial polluters with cap-and-trade. The Green Party is the only party advocating for carbon tax, though many Canadian scholars advocate a carbon tax as well. Most are politically unaffiliated but Michael Ignatieff is with the Liberal Party.

    So how does it work? Basically it’s a tax shift. It’s revenue neutral so you can theoretically live as you did before, assuming you’re an average Canadian. You get to keep more of your earned income, but you spend more on gas and home heating fuel.

    But if natural gas is high in price, insulation becomes more economical to install because you can pay back the cost in fewer years. You also start out with more money in your pocket, so insulation is easier to pay for. The choice remains with the individual. There are other choices you can make to reduce home heating costs, like moving or shutting off parts of large houses.

    The same happens with automobile fuels. You can choose to continue paying the higher prices with the higher take-home pay, but other, smarter options will suddenly become more attractive. So you might choose to carpool, move, ride a bike, take public transit, work from home or buy a more efficient vehicle. All of these leave more money in your pocket, which is a great incentive to do the right thing.

    Carbon taxes affect everyone – businesses, industries, cities and individuals. It would impact on emissions in areas people haven’t even thought about. It would create incentives for ingenuity to address every place carbon is used. And it would do so relatively painlessly, because overall taxes would be the same.

    The reason the Green Party of Canada adds on the cap-and-trade that other parties advocate is that big polluters are economic giants compared to citizens. They can more easily leverage long-term loans (for eventual retrofits, for example) and temporarily go on emitting just as before by absorbing higher fuel costs. And they emit a significant proportion of Canada’s share. So making sure our emissions go down overall could potentially hit people worse. And that would be a bad thing.

    Cap-and-trade applies to the big polluters. The Green Party advocates it so that big polluters as a group keep their emissions down within strict limits. Some big industrial emitters may be able to continue to emit more, but only if others cut down even farther below their own quota and sell them the credits.

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