Friday, December 18, 2009

It's not perfect - but it's a start -Thanks to a last minute push by Obama

It has been an interesting month. As we awaited the UN Copenhagen Climate summit it seemed like nothing could go right. The David Suzuki Foundation together with Pembina Institute and funding from the TD bank actually completed the first comprehensive economic study that examined the impact of CO2 emission regulation on Canada's economy. The study was mostly good news, and it was ready early enough to affect a vote on bill C-311, which would have forced the Harper government to commit to real reductions in GHG emissions in advance of Copenhagen. Unfortunately, Ed Stelmach and the federal conservatives immediately stole the headlines with a categorical refusal to honor any regulations that would limit Alberta's potential for unrestrained economic growth and the uncontrolled environmental destruction that goes with it. Bill C-311 was pushed into committee before the 3rd reading and final vote - thanks to Iggy and the liberals. Then the TD bank came out with a review of the report and that should have gathered more coverage in the media - but for some reason, it did not. On the other hand, when the Canada West Foundation released their critique of the economic study,right in the middle of the Copenhagen Summit, it received massive attention in the media.

Then came the hacking of the East Anglia Climate Research Unit computers. Fragments of emails quickly appeared on the internet in attempts to discredit the scientific consensus around global warming. From what I read, it certainly looks like the researchers believe that global warming is real, and they were doing everything they could to ensure the message was being delivered to the public in as clear a manner as possible. Unfortunately, in their zeal, it appears they did what they could to suppress alternative views. To the credit of the scientific community - the information that was initially censored did eventually get published in peer reviewed journals. From my background in the geosciences, this sort of scientific prejudice and imperfect behaviour is not all that unusual. Scientists are people too - with all the ego and bias that goes with our human condition. Nevertheless, this "revelation" about global warming science made headlines with Fox News and conservatives in the blogoshere - as well as in the US congress. Most recent polls in the USA suggest that about 70% of Americans don't believe that humans bear any responsibility for climate change.

The Copenhagen Summit started in the midst of this charged environment. Right from the start there was tremendous pressure between countries with developed, developing and undeveloped economies. No one wanted to give. Then came revelations about massive fraud in the EU cap and trade system. Then someone leaked an early draft of a possible agreement. Nothing seemed to go right.

In the second week, Canada's own Jim Prentice had his chance to speak and he attempted to look like a hero by offering a compromise agreement that everyone could sign - because it didn't make any real commitments to do anything that would slow economic growth and the accompanying emissions.

At the last minute, Obama came into town. As everyone was declaring the conference a dismal failure, somehow he managed to salvage some sort of agreement. It is far from perfect - countries make their own reduction commitments, it is not legally binding, etc. However, it does make an abstract commitment to keep temperature increases to 2 degrees C or less. This could have some binding power eventually (we can only hope).

Even more importantly, Obama did get China to sign on. This may not seem like much, but loss of face is a very big deal in China and I believe it will have a strong influence on the leadership. More importantly, I really believe that Obama "gets it". In his post-conference press interview, Obama spoke about how important it is for America to become more energy efficient. He spoke about the potential for green collar jobs and the importance of improving energy efficiency in building stocks and transportation. This is where he is showing true leadership - and who knows - maybe he will spark some kind of a green race, in the same way that Kennedy and the Soviets embarked on the space race. If China and America put their resources and competitive rivalry into becoming the most energy efficient economy, that would certainly make a huge difference.

We can only hope.

So - it is far from perfect - but all things considered - it is a miracle that this much was finally accomplished.

Obama brokers a climate deal, doesn't satisfy all - Yahoo! News

Obama brokers a climate deal, doesn't satisfy all - Yahoo! News

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