Corporate Canada's change of heart on global warming

Better late than never. Like St. Paul seeing light on the road to Damascus, Canada’s business leaders last week demanded tough action from the federal government on dealing with climate change.

"The world must act urgently to stabilize the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and minimize the global impacts of climate change", proclaimed a letter to Prime Minister Martin from such Canadian corporate giants as Alcan, Bombardier, Falconbridge, and Power Corp.

This conspicuous corporate flip-flop in advance of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Montreal is a welcome change from previous foot dragging from the business community.

Just three years ago the “Canadian Coalition for Responsible Environmental Solutions”, including the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Canadian Council of Chief Executives and 40 other business groups began an on-line petition to the Prime Minister opposing the ratification of the Kyoto protocol.

The corporate epiphany last week may simply be a realpolitik admission that action on climate change is inevitable and it is more seemly to catch up to the bandwagon before it gets too far down the road.

However, it might also be a genuine recognition that climate change menaces the entire world, including the business community, their families and their children.

Whatever the reason, this latest development now only leaves one significant interest group that needs to demonstrate their commitment to dealing with climate change: the federal government.

Canada has the ignoble distinction on ranking dead last in the G8 in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. That shoddy record may be difficult for Paul Martin to gloss over as he hosts the United Nations in Montreal, where our filthy linen will be on display for all the world to see.

Canada has pledged to reduce greenhouse emissions by 6% below 1990 level by 2012. They have instead risen by 24%. Ottawa spent over $3 billion of taxpayer’s dollars on various voluntary compliance programs to achieve this negative result.

One reason for our lack of progress is that Canadian government is both sucking and blowing on fossil fuel consumption.

While publicly proclaiming the urgent need to reduce emissions, Ottawa shovels $1.4 billion of your tax dollars annually to the oil and gas industry. This is much more than current government support for sustainable energy technologies that will no doubt become the cornerstone of our future economy.

It is impossible for the Canadian economy to move in a progressive direction when Ottawa intervenes in the marketplace with such antiquated, expensive, and perverse subsidies.

Meanwhile other governments around the world are seeing Kyoto as an opportunity to become global leaders in emerging energy technologies. The UK for instance has already managed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 15% below 1990, while their economy grew by 36%.

Germany has become a world leader in wind-power generation – a rapidly growing sector now worth over $28 billion worldwide. Like other renewable energy sources, it produces no pollutants to cause smog and diseases such as childhood asthma. In Europe alone, the wind power industry employs more than 80,000 people.

Here in BC, the World Energy Council has estimated that our province has the greatest potential for wind power in the world, yet we have not built a single commercial wind turbine here. Country-wide, Canada currently produces less than 0.1% of its electricity from wind power compared with 20% in Denmark.

The sad irony is that climate change actually presents a fine opportunity to improve our economy and our quality of life. A recent study by the David Suzuki Foundation showed that investing in clean renewable energy could actually contribute $9 billion to Ontario’s economy by 2010, while creating 25,000 jobs new jobs.

With this newfound support from the business community, the Canadian government should now join the global movement towards sustainability. Improved emission standards for vehicles, clear and enforceable caps for industry, progressive tax reforms that encourage innovation and investment in emerging energy technologies are just some of the policy tools that already working elsewhere in the world.

Canada risks being left behind in this shifting world economy. A recent example is the wind turbine prominently installed on Toronto’s waterfront. There are currently no Canadian companies producing such technology and the city instead had to cut a cheque for $1.6 million to a Danish company that is no doubt doing a brisk business around the world.

What is driving this global transformation is a remarkable consensus that climate change is real, it is happening now and it is very dangerous. It is not just another political hot potato to be “managed”; it is a global emergency that will define this century.

The Canadian business community should be applauded for it’s recent change of heart regarding climate change. Now that the captains of industry have seen the light on the road to Damascus, there is a serious challenge for Mr. Martin. He no longer has any excuse for inaction.

Published on The Tyee, in Nov. 2005

No comments: