The Federal NDP Climate Change Plan

Having already discussed several approaches to climate change, I’d like to look at the Green Agenda for Canada [see also NDP Kyoto plan].  Everything indicates to me that this plan would be outrageously expensive and would probably fail to accomplish its fairly ambitious goals.

The NDP recognizes the problem of global warming and sets more reasonable targets than the plan rolled out by the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy.  The Round Table targets just 60% emissions reductions by 2050.  At the other extreme, George Monbiot suggests a 90% reduction by 2030 in industrialized countries (94% in Canada, a particularly wasteful society).  That may well be what is necessary.  Still, the NDP target of 80% by 2050 is aggressive compared to some.

Unlike the Round Table plan, which divides up emissions reductions into wedges, each achieving a portion of the total target, the NDP plan is unclear about how much each point of their plan could accomplish.  While it is understandable that the NDP could not invest the same amount of work as this large and partly independently funded public agency, it’s important to point out that there is no fallback plan if the measures the NDP proposes fail to achieve the desired targets.  One of the beauties of the carbon tax that the Green Party advocates is that it allows us to continue increasing the costs of using carbon right up to the point that the targets are reached.

The NDP approach would be expensive because it simply throws money around at incentives without fixing the perverse price signals that have developed our energy-hungry economy.  While Jack Layton has stopped arguing for cheap energy prices directly, the provincial and federal NDP are tied together and the provincial arm continues to push for lower energy prices.  If you coddle the addiction to cheap energy, any investment in incentives is a very expensive way to fail.

Finally, the support for the auto industry is disturbing and throws into serious question the NDP commitment to dealing with climate change.

The plan has 5 component sections, which I’ll discuss one by one: homes, communities, transportation, industry, world.

The first is Greener Homes Strategy.  This section is a reasonable beginning.  It proposes to impose much stricter standards on new homes, appliances and lighting.  Depending on just how stringent these are, the effects could be significant, and could be delivered at very little cost.  An interesting detail is the mandatory proof of compliance to this code which the NDP would require to qualify for a CMHC Mortgage.  Unfortunately, the only way that older homes are addressed is through the reinstatement of the EnerGuide program, which, positive as it was, was hopelessly inadequate for the problem at hand.

Greener Communities Strategy is a lot of throwing money around in the wind.  Money for efficiency projects, for solar thermal development, for retrofits, for renewable power, through tax incentives, funds, government support, grants, low-interest loans and write-offs.  No new regulations are proposed.

Greener Transportation Strategy is an affront to common sense that could well result in emissions increases.  Of the 7 points in this section, 5 deal with making more energy-efficient cars.  One deals with pedestrian and cycling infrastructure and the last deals with encouraging rail transport.  Had we started working on reducing emissions 20 years ago, this focus on automobile efficiency might have been appropriate.  At the time, there were hopes for a technological breakthrough, and reducing the emissions of our cars would have bought us time to redesign our communities.  However, there are no plans here to fundamentally change the way people move, no way to improve or support public transit or to encourage walkable communities.  What the NDP plan is is a big bonus to the car industry.  Of the 5 points that deal with automobiles, one involves mandatory vehicle emissions standards, the rest are government handouts to encourage the manufacture and purchase of more cars.  Without a requirement that older vehicles be retired to qualify for tax incentives, GST rebates and other giveaways, what we would be doing is keeping all the existing cars on the road and adding more besides.  We would be encouraging a car culture, and at this desperate point in time, that is the last thing we want to be doing.

Car companies should build to high and constantly improving emissions standards.  They should be required to take back old vehicles and recycle the component parts.  Their compensation should be the ability to stay in business at all.  It is appalling how the NDP criticizes the oil and gas industry while so shamelessly supporting the car industry.

The Greener Industry Strategy has a chance of working.  I’m not sure why the NDP proposes waiting until 2008 to introduce emissions caps, but the 50% reduction targets by 2030 are in line with the broader plan.  If the caps are firm and emissions traded, this will work for the industrial sector.  It needs to be noted, though, that by trading emissions, you essentially raise the price of energy, at least for any energy requirements above the cap.  If the cap is based on prior emissions, it also introduces the problem of rewarding inefficient industry with higher caps while punishing responsible users today with lower caps.

Finally, the Greener Canada and the World section proposes a lot of funding for renewable power, and government investments in retrofits and other greening of Crown Corporation facilities.  It’s expensive but probably necessary, though it would be much more economical if emissions were treated as an expensive privilege, rather than a right.

It’s questionable whether some of the points would achieve any emissions cuts, too.  For example, the installation of solar heating technology on all new government buildings might just correspondingly reduce the total target for solar thermal systems introduced under Greener Communities.  I support the proposal to reinforce the east-west electrical transmission grid and understand that it would make it easier for Canada to meet tough new emissions reduction targets by delivering clean hydroelectric power from Manitoba and Quebec primarily to Ontario.  Unfortunately, this would be accomplished by denying that same power to the traditional purchasers south of the border.  Depending on what they replaced this power with, we could end up with an overall rise in emissions globally, and the climate doesn’t care whether the emissions originate in Ontario or a few miles south of the border.

2 responses to “The Federal NDP Climate Change Plan”

  1. Adriana Mugnatto-Hamu writes:

    The NDP Kyoto Plan, which I just discovered, is somewhat better than their Green Agenda for Canada. It even throws in some support for public transit along with the same focus on making cars somewhat greener. It also explicitly argues for “stabilizing energy costs”, which must mean artificially lowering them.

  2. Charlie Halpern-Hamu writes:

    The 2006 Green Agenda for Canada has been pretty thoroughly scrubbed from the web, but the NDP 2006 election platform is still available.

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