STANDARDS  /   Shouldn't this country do something to justify its
international reputation by getting serious about greenhouse gases?

On global warming, Canada is full of hot air

By David McRobert

Canada has worked hard over the past few decades to portray itself as an international leader on environmental issues, and a recently released U.S. government pamphlet confirms that, when it comes to global warming, Canada does indeed lead the world. Unfortunately, we lead in the production of the "greenhouse" gases that cause the problem. The appearance of the glossy pamphlet, titled America's Climate Change Strategy: An action Agenda, coincided with the beginning of the first three United Nations-sponsored sessions planned for this year in which delegates from more than 130 states will negotiate the framework for an international treaty on climate change.

The publication is significant because it suggests that the (G.W.) Bush Administration is now willing to recognize global warming as an ecological threat. It also contains several multi-colour charts and graphs that provide a comparative track record of different nations on matters such as energy conservation and emissions of greenhouse gases. Draped over many of the charts is the maple leaf, illustrating with unmistakable clarity that Canada is the global leader in the following categories: emissions of carbon-dioxide per unit of gross domestic product (GDP), energy consumption per unit of GDP and growth in carbon-dioxide emissions between 1973 and 1988. Canada is also shown to have the lowest improvement in industrial energy conservation between 1977 and 1986.

In short, Canadians are painted as energy gluttons, and our fossil-fuel consumption is leading to large per capita emissions of carbon-dioxide, the most important greenhouse gas.

In making Canada's opening statement to the climate-change negotiations, the head of the Canadian delegation, Barry Macwhinney - a senior lawyer in the Department of External Affairs - spoke glowingly of Ottawa's new Green Plan and the measures it proposes to fight global warming.

Despite such praise, the Green Plan, released in December, is disappointing on the global warming issue. It commits Canada to stabilize its emissions of carbon dioxide at 1990 levels by the end of the century, and outlines vague measures on conservation and energy efficiency that will not even meet this target. For this reason, the plan has been justly lambasted as long on rhetoric and short on action.

Meanwhile, countries such as Germany and Australia that already use energy more efficiently have made significantly stronger commitments, agreeing to cut carbon-dioxide emissions by as much as 25 per cent.

Clearly, Canada can do much better. Studies have shown that improved energy efficiency and conservation could take Canada most of the way to a 20 per cent cut in carbon-dioxide emissions by 2005. Many of these studies demonstrate that such measures would save consumers billions a year in energy bills and reduce many types of environmental destruction associated with energy production and distribution.

Even so, Environment Minister Robert de Cotret has said that Canada will not move beyond the stabilization target until the entire international community does so. This may appease certain corporate interests, particularly those in the energy business, but it is clearly not international leadership.

Canadians shouldn't get their backs up over the US pamphlet. Rather we should realize that our international reputation as environmental advocates far exceeds our accomplishments at home - and do something about it.

David McRobert co-ordinates research and advocacy
on global warming for Pollution Probe in Toronto.

From: The Globe and Mail, Monday, February 18, 1991.