Canada Beyond Kyoto
Date: Thursday, November 02 2006
Why Canada must step up to the climate-change plate
by DAVID RUNNALLS
"The conclusion of the Review is essentially optimistic. There is still time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, if we act now and act internationally." —Sir Nicholas Stern, author of the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change
While pessimistic stories about the dire consequences of climate change may grab the headlines, they do little to help Canadians understand the more complex issues. Recent reports about the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change focused so much on future economic disaster that they virtually ignored the practical, achievable and ultimately affordable recommendations. They also missed much of Sir Nicholas's crucial point: The sooner we act — governments, industry and the consumer — the less costly it will be for all.
Known for his pragmatism rather than alarmist speculation, Sir Nicholas, the World Bank's former chief economist, takes the purely logical argument that not taking action on climate change will be a lost economic opportunity of global proportions. By removing the emotional "save our planet" approach and focusing on the substantial financial cost of doing nothing, Sir Nicholas appeals to those who have yet to be swayed. And by focusing on the economic benefits of investing in carbon sinks, emissions trading and renewable resources, he offers Canada an opportunity to lead the way.
From a Canadian perspective, though, is it not the case that a transition away from fossil fuels would represent a threat to Canada's economic future, given that so much of our economy is dependent on coal, oil and gas resources? Well, no. Canada does have major oil and gas projects on the go. The Mackenzie Valley Pipeline is likely to go ahead, we will continue to develop the tar sands on a major scale, and coal will very much be part of the power solution in provinces such as Saskatchewan and Alberta.
But that does not mean we cannot do something about the carbon emitted from these projects and, by doing so, ensure our role as a global leader in carbon solutions, not problems. We can develop the technologies for redirecting carbon emissions from the air into the ground (known as carbon capture and storage). What makes this so interesting from a Canadian perspective is that we have an opportunity to be a world leader in these technologies. Carbon capture and storage will be a critical key to the global climate- change puzzle, particularly in the economies of major developing countries, such as India and China, that continue to rely on coal for development.