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This is no time for defeatism

Canada
The Gazette
03/08/2010
Henry Aubin

Just because the U.S. Senate killed Obama’s climate-change legislation is no reason for the rest of us to give up. “My fear is that the U.S. inaction on climate change risks discouraging politicians like Charest and Tremblay.”

From the attention the news media have given it, you’d think the worst environmental setback of late has been the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. 
Getty Images Ships assist last week in cleanup and containment near the source of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. As an ecological disaster, however, the Gulf spill might not match the defeat of climate-change legislation in the U.S. Senate.

But I would argue that the collapse of climate-change legislation in the U.S. Senate two weeks ago, which the New York Times reported on Page 15 and which most Canadian media ignored, will prove far more important in the long run.

The spill’s biological consequences could afflict the Gulf Coast for decades. But the Senate’s inaction brings us closer to what many scientists say could be an openended future of runaway heating of the planet. That’s because the longer the world delays in cutting greenhouse-gas emissions, the more severe the necessary cuts would have to be, until eventually they’d become unrealistically severe.

The bill’s failure means President Barack Obama’s goal of cutting U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions by 17 per cent by 2020, a timid target anyway, is almost certainly out of reach.

Obama’s Democrats appear likely to lose seats in Congress in this fall’s elections, so the chance of enacting any plan to cut emissions is probably nil for several years.

This all but ensures that Canada, along with China and India, will continue to let their emissions rise. Why, they will continue to ask, should they make real sacrifices if the U.S. – source of more than 20 per cent of the planet’s emissions – does not?

It’s likely that smaller fry, including Quebec and Montreal, will be asking themselves the same question.

Up to now, Quebec’s political leadership has been far in front of the Harper government when it comes to making plans to cut emissions. In Copenhagen last fall, Premier Jean Charest said Quebec would reduce its emissions by 20 per cent by 2020, topping Obama’s goal. And Mayor Gérald Tremblay has an ambitious transportation plan to help Quebec achieve this.

But success may prove elusive. Political rhetoric aside, we’re already going in the wrong direction. We learned several months after Charest’s lofty Copenhagen declaration that, largely because of the increased number of cars, Quebec’s greenhouse-gas emissions rose by a disturbing 3.7 per cent in 2007, the last year for which figures are available. (This came after a three-year decline in emissions.)

What’s more, the main elements in Tremblay’s transport plan, proposed in 2007, are stalled. Its new métro extensions, trams and airport train would cost the hardpressed Quebec treasury billions of dollars.

My fear is that the U.S. inaction on climate change risks discouraging politicians like Charest and Tremblay who at least sound virtuous. They might say, “If most of the rest of the world is saying to hell with it, why should I ask voters to sacrifice? We might as well join the crowd.”

I’d argue that this is no time for defeatism. If national governments won’t act, provinces, states and cities can.

It might take some kind of environmental calamity to do it, but some day the major emitting countries could well wake up and thrash about for solutions. This is where smaller jurisdictions can be useful. They can have already tested certain ideas.

For example, in an enterprising step last month, Quebec joined Ontario and British Columbia, California, and New Mexico in planning a cap-and-trade system for large industrial emitters, starting in 2012.

Will the scheme succeed? Or it will it show that cap-andtrade is too cheater-friendly and bureaucracy-intensive, and that a simple carbon tax would do better?

At the same time, however, the Charest government is working to increase, not decrease, Quebec’s reliance on fossil fuels. It wants the exploitation of the so-called Old Harry field of hydrocarbons under the Gulf of St. Lawrence (which is said to have twice the Hibernia oilfield’s potential). And it is just as eager to see drilling for natural gas on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River, from Longueuil to the Gaspé.

Quebec is acting with stunning incoherence. It is simultaneously resisting the carbon economy and embracing its expansion.

The failure of the Democrats’ climate initiative means a further decline in the pressure on Quebec to take steps of its own. If Quebec is ever to get consistently serious, the electorate would have to compensate for that decline by mounting pressure of its own.

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El contenido de las noticias que se presentan en esta sección es responsabilidad directa de las agencias emisoras de noticias y no necesariamente reflejan la posición del Gobierno de México en este u otros temas relacionados.

    

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