Canada's shame

By Ray Grigg, July/August 2015

If Vladimir Putin is politically “troublesome,” Stephan Harper is his environmental equivalent.

The agreement by the G7 nations to completely “decarbonize” their economies by 2100 is a watershed moment that deserves qualified celebration. While the details are sketchy and the language vague, the declaration is nonetheless official recognition by the world’s largest economies that the continued burning of fossil fuels is ecologically unsustainable and must end.

This is good news. The science is unequivocal and the political pressure for such a declaration has become so palpable that even the most recalcitrant of leaders had to make some responsive gesture. The major initiative for action came from Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel who wanted complete decarbonization by 2050. Her country has been working hard on this objective and she believes it is technologically possible and climatically imperative to keep the global temperature increase below a critical 2°C.

Unfortunately, her ambitious objective was subverted by Japan and Canada—Japan because of energy insecurity caused by the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and Canada because of Stephen Harper.

Canada’s Prime Minister has developed a reputation for consistently subverting climate talks and diminishing mitigation targets. This has been the case internationally and nationally. After nine years of promises he has yet to address the huge carbon emissions from Canada’s oil and gas industry. This country still has no climate mitigation strategy, and habitually falls far short of reaching its United Nations’ carbon emission obligations.

At the G7 summit, according to a CBC report, Canada’s Prime Minister described “Russian President Vladimir Putin as a disruptive force whose former role in the [G8] organization inhibited co-operation.” Mr Harper is quoted as saying, “Mr. Putin makes it his business to be deliberately troublesome.” But this is precisely the reputation Mr Harper has developed in all climate negotiations involving him—greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions would invariably be higher and emissions lower without the Prime Minister’s involvement. If Mr Putin is politically “troublesome,” Mr Harper is his environmental equivalent.

Nonetheless, the G7’s Declaration is significant, stressing that its members be “mindful” of the “latest IPCC results” while emphasizing “that deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions are required with a decarbonization of the global economy over the course of this century.”

As a member of the G7, Canada has been forced to recognize the principle and the target of a decarbonized economy. Mr Harper may be correct in assuring existing businesses that, “Nobody is going to start to shut down their industries or turn off the lights. We have to find a way to lower carbon emitting energy.” His obvious hedging leaves him pushing the proverbial river. The trend to green “industries” and zero carbon energies is unstoppable.

The G7 has identified its North Star and can now navigate to its destination. Any detours and deviations will be more obvious. The tar sands, LNG projects, coal exports and any development involving fossil fuels will henceforth be subject to new levels of scrutiny and censure.

Yes, 2100 is 85 years away. But a United Nations’ Climate Change Conference (COP21) to establish new binding GHG reductions will be held in Paris this December. More G7s will follow. And, as global climate change becomes increasingly disruptive and costly, Mr Harper’s contribution will be judged as stubborn, anachronistic and irresponsible.

Ray Grigg is the author of numerous books on Taoism and Zen and numerous articles on environmental issues. He lives on Quadra Island.