Lifting PM Harper’s fog around climate change

If you believe Stephen Harper is actually interested in combatting climate change, read this history of some of his statements. [Link broken, but here’s a similar list and yet another timeline.]  Even more significant to me is the fact that in Mr. Harper’s history, he solicited money to fight against the Kyoto protocol.  That ties him firmly to a base of support with an entrenched interest in defeating meaningful progress.

Recently, Mr. Harper announced that he was signing onto the Asia-Pacific Partnership.  He presented this as progress on fighting climate change.  The Asia-Pacific Partnership is a club of large emitters that don’t want to meet any sensible climate change targets.  Mr. Harper claims that he will work from within to make them agree to firm targets.  Unfortunately, the targets he proposes are distant and paltry and there is no reason to believe he will succeed in getting agreements even on these.

The real reason Mr. Harper wants to sign on to the Asia-Pacific Partnership is that next year he will have an opportunity to withdraw from the Kyoto protocol.  In an environment where he has learned that actively and visibly opposing action on climate change gets him more enemies than friends, he’s learned to greenwash his actions, and even to make some limpwristed attempts at reducing emissions.  So rather than say he’s joining the club opposed to meaningful action, he says he’s joining a club with more “realistic” goals and that he’s helping to tighten those goals.

The truth is that Kyoto was too little too late.  We knew that at the time, and climate science since then has only made the projections seem more dire than they were.  A more “realistic” plan would involve a hyper-Kyoto.  Something on the order of a 50% reduction by 2020 and a 90% reduction by 2050.  Leaving a liveable world for our children depends on it.  So we need our Prime Minister to be tightening the targets within the Kyoto process, not whitewashing a weaker version outside it.

Mr. Harper has recently been rebuked by our own National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy for systematic exaggeration about the progress his government is making on climate change. Every one of his emissions reductions programs was given a failing grade.

That same sort of exaggeration is at play when he presents his intention to enter the Asia-Pacific Partnership as a positive step to reducing climate change.

As to the doomsday economic consequences that Mr. Harper paints for meeting Kyoto targets, please read the Stern report on the economic consequences of dealing with climate change.  Here is a link to the summary, which concludes that

The costs of stabilising the climate are significant but manageable; delay would be dangerous and much more costly.

Keeping global warming to a global average increase below 2% C, which would require putting Kyoto into hyperdrive, would involve a global decrease in GDP averaging something like 1% per year.  Failing to do so would involve long-term reductions of between 5-20% of GDP every year.  Furthermore, these reductions would be irreversible.

But I’ve never liked the economic arguments, because they don’t put a price tag on human suffering.  The more important part of the report to me is the part that states

Hundreds of millions of people could suffer hunger, water shortages and coastal flooding as the world warms.

Hundreds of millions of people.

To spare us the inconvenience of learning to live more gracefully within our lifetimes.

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