Harper's Climate Performance

Stephen Harper seemed positively grumpy last week as he described the implications of his government actually doing something about global warming.

In a year-end interview with CBC, Harper said "As soon as you're dedicated to actually reducing emissions, that imposes costs on the economy...Once we start [and] these things start biting, the criticism we're going to be getting is that we're doing too much."

Harper seems like a man bragging to his neglected wife that if he ever made love to her, she might die from exhaustion.

In fact, the Harper Conservatives have done so little on climate change that the short-term economic implications are the least of our worries.

Under his watch, Canada is the only signatory to Kyoto that openly abandoned commitments to reduce carbon emissions. The same week he was elected, he committed to the US a five-fold increase in production at the Alberta tar sands.

Not surprisingly, Canada’s carbon emissions have skyrocketed under the Harper regime - even more so than under his liberal predecessors. He also worked hard behind the scenes at the Commonwealth conference in Nairobi and the UN climate conference in Bali to ensure the final agreements had no binding emissions targets.

Rather than bemoaning the economic downsides of reducing carbon emissions, Harper should be embracing the opportunities they create. A recent study from the University of California at Berkley projected that Schwarzenegger’s efforts to wean California off fossil fuels would create 17,000 jobs and add $60 billion to the state gross domestic product by 2020.

Of the course the other side of the debate ignored by Harper is the enormous cost to the economy of doing nothing about global warming. The findings of such studies range from gruesome to apocalyptic.

Last year, former chief economist of the World Bank Sir Nicholas Stern released his seminal study on the economic implications of climate change. He found that ignoring climate change could shirk the world economy by 20%. By instead choosing to act now, we could avert this calamity for a cost of only 1% of world GDP. I’m no economist but that that seems like a bargain to me.

More recently, Harvard University economics professor Martin Weitzman developed an economic theory to calculate the cost to the economy of far greater (but plausible) temperature increases than those considered by Stern.

The paper is not yet published by the scuttlebutt is that the news is not good. According the New Scientist Magazine, "When you take into account extreme temperature rises... [Weitzman] says, they dominate all other options and effectively demand that investment aimed at stopping them be made now".

I realize that Mr. Harper is not a big reader but I am sure those studies are available should he choose to peruse them. As an economist himself, he might find them enlightening.

So before Stephen Harper starts bragging about his eventual performance around climate change, he should take some advice from Elvis Presley: a little less conversation, a little more action...

This ran on DeSmog Blog on December 22, 2007.

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