Credit-Where-Credit-Is-Due Dept.

Peace tower leafedHere’s Environment Minister John Baird’s full op-ed sketching out the Conservative government’s climate-change plan. It is inconceivable that the Tories might have produced such a thing six months ago. Subject to seeing the whole thing — the full release is promised for tomorrow — it strikes me as the work of a government that is concerned about business and the economy but believes firmly that human-induced climate change is a serious problem that deserves serious action.

Baird doesn’t propose to meet Canada’s Kyoto Accord targets (or even to match British Columbia’s greenhouse-gas reductions, for that matter), pledging only a reduction in emissions of 20 per cent from today’s levels by 2020. The good news is that that’s an eminently meetable goal; the bad news is it’s not the kind of ambitious target that could prompt a green revolution in Canadian industry. It doesn’t make Canada a world-beater, it makes Canada a follower.

But least it puts us in the race. Last fall, the Conservatives were insisting it wasn’t worth running.
For industry, Baird says companies can:

  • take advantage of domestic emissions trading,
  • purchase offsets,
  • use the Clean Development Mechanism under the Kyoto Protocol, and,
  • invest in a technology fund.

The “Clean Development Mechanism” is what the Tories used to call buying hot-air from overseas, so planning to let Canadian businesses take part in it is a significant step down from a position they used to proclaim from the rafters. It’s also incredibly sensible, letting Canadians achieve the same effect — a reduction in the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions, which is the fundamental point — potentially less expensively than they could if businesses were permitted to look only at their own operations.

Later on in the piece, the minister talks about taking “take action to help make common consumer and commercial products — such as dishwashers, refrigerators and air conditioners — more energy-efficient,” which it’s hard to argue with, and he preserves the Tories’ original commitment to drastically reducing smog and other “traditional” air pollution, without saying how.

As always, it’s the “without saying how” that worries me. What I’ll be looking for in Baird’s full plan is how much breathing-room industry will be able to derive from buying offsets and “investing in a technology fund,” which are ways of turning penalties for not meeting targets into something productive. They are not real emissions-reduction measures. So the Tories could just build a giant escape hatch into their climate-change plan by making offsets and technology credits incredibly cheap. I hate to not give them the benefit of the doubt, but I can’t yet say they’ve earned it.

Still, though, my bottom line is that six months ago, the government was scorning the sorts of policy measures it’s now promising. I’m encouraged.


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