Canadian Left Views on Climate Change

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Climate and Capitalism previously featured Confronting the Climate Change Crisis, which was first published in the e-zine Socialist Voice. The following articles reflect the views of three other Canadian left-wing groups: the International Socialists, the New Socialist Group, and the New Democratic Party.

International Socialists
From Socialist Worker, February 13, 2007

Will Kyoto Be Enough?

As we approach the tenth anniversary of the Kyoto Protocol, Brian Champ explains why we should defend it, and why we need to go much further.

On February 8, Tory Environment Minister John Baird testified before a special Commons committee meeting on Kyoto targets:

“To achieve that kind of target through domestic reductions would require a rate of emissions decline unmatched by any modern nation in the history of the world,” he said. “Except those who have suffered economic collapse, such as Russia.”

One day earlier, Stephen Harper announced that, by 2010, Canada’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will be 46 per cent above the targets set for Canada’s Kyoto commitments.

These targets were a small step in the right direction: to reduce emissions to 6 per cent below 1990 levels by the year 2012. At this rate, however, Canada could miss its Kyoto targets by over 50 per cent.

The Kyoto Protocol is almost ten years old. As global average temperatures continue to rise and the signs of shifting climate trends become more obvious, it is important to evaluate what the Kyoto Protocol represents and how to relate to it.

Although warnings about global warming had started in the 1970s, it wasn’t until the 1992 Rio Earth Summit that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – an international treaty intended to reduce GHG emissions – was signed.

In Kyoto, Japan in 1997, the Kyoto Protocol was put forward with targets for countries to reduce GHG emissions or to participate in emissions trading. Canada and 169 other countries signed the agreement, which came into force on February 16, 2005, following its ratification by Russia. The US and Australia are notable non-signatories to the agreement.

There are strengths to Kyoto: it specifically targets industrialized nations like Canada, the US, Japan and European countries that have contributed overwhelmingly to the problem of climate change.

The expectation was that developed countries would develop solutions that could be shared with developing and underdeveloped countries.

But there are also weaknesses to Kyoto: the targets agreed upon were chosen, not on the basis of the science of climate change, but on international political wrangling.

“Flexible mechanisms” built into the agreement allow economies to trade GHG emissions internationally with other economies that remain below their emissions targets.

Such an approach might be politically expedient but the Earth’s planetary systems will continue to react to the increasing amounts of GHG no matter how much money is paid to avoid reducing emissions.

Nevertheless, in the current context, with the Tory government’s walking away from Canada’s commitments to reduce GHG emissions, and instead following the US model that calls for “intensity-based” reductions, we must consider what Kyoto means to ordinary Canadians in order to build a broadly based fight-back against the environmentally destructive policies of both governments.

By engaging the struggle against climate change, we are pitted against the most powerful industries in the world. This brings us back to the Tory government’s policies on climate change. Currently, there are no policies whatsoever because all the previous government’s programs were cancelled.

The Tories insist that it is impossible for Canada to meet its Kyoto commitments by 2012, but they are proposing to introduce their own (undisclosed) targets while embracing “flexible mechanisms” such as carbon- and emissions-trading and carbon offsetting.

The government continues to ignore the evidence that much of the increase of GHG emissions over the past decade has been accelerated by the development of the tar sands in Alberta.

The Tories propose regulations calling for GHG reductions to be applied evenly across all industries. But this proposal is inadequate because the tar sands must be targeted as a special case.

On February 9, Baird and other government officials met with oil industry executives in Calgary. The details of this and other meetings are not known but it is increasingly clear where the Tory government’s interests lie: increasing the profits of polluting corporations while claiming to tackle climate change. With this kind of approach, future generations will surely pay the price.

The Kyoto Protocol by itself is not enough to solve global climate chaos. Until decisions about economic production and environmental stewardship are made democratically and in the interests of the vast majority of people, climate chaos will only get worse.

Effective solutions will not come from the boardrooms of corporations or from government cabinets where profit and the bottom-line inform all decisions.

Ultimately, the social movements must address the question of how modern capitalism, which is fundamentally anti-ecological and unsustainable, is destroying the planet. The solution is to dramatically re-organize society on terms that favour the environment.

Together, everyone who cares about a sustainable future for the planet must organize to demand action on fighting climate change now. In the process, we must strengthen our capacity to organize from the grassroots.

In the short-term, our immediate demand should be clear, even if it is only the first step: Canada must honour its Kyoto commitments and, to do that, the tar sands development must be stopped.

New Socialist Group
This editorial will appear in the Spring 2007 issue of New Socialist Climate change is officially no longer what Prime Minister Stephen Harper has called an “emerging science.” February marked a turning point in the politics of climate change denial with the release of a report by scientists from 113 countries. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that there is a 90 percent probability that climate change is caused by human activity. A “massive reduction in emissions” on the order of 70 to 80 percent is required to prevent the arrival of a catastrophic climatic “tipping point.” This is far more drastic than the terms of the Kyoto Accord.

Climate change will lead to diverse consequences around the world, including increased temperatures, rising sea levels, and increases in disastrous weather, drought and famine. Canada’s Arctic is a focal point, since climate change is happening faster and with more destabilizing impacts in this fragile environment. Ironically, the Arctic is also the current frontier for oil and gas development. The proposed Mackenzie Valley Pipeline is slated to carry gas reserves to northern Alberta, to be used to refine Alberta’s oil sands – one of the globe’s worst producers of greenhouse gases.

Meanwhile, the energy sector is reaping greater profits than ever. This is why corporations like ExxonMobil have, until recently, been silent financial backers of more than 30 climate-change-denial front groups. Recently, the Globe and Mail predicted that Canada ’s largest energy company, EnCana, is “set to report the biggest annual profit in the country’s history.”

Clearly, corporate greed is the main culprit in the ongoing increases in greenhouse emissions. Yet the same market system that is the cause of the problem is being touted as a solution. The “cap and trade” system is enshrined in the Kyoto Accord. Corporations can buy credits (caps) for carbon dioxide emissions, and/or purchase unused credits from other companies (trade), or even acquire credits by investing in “green” projects in poor countries.

This is a license for the richest corporations to continue polluting. And the policy focus on the greening of the poorest nations is another disguised form of imperialism. It provides a new vehicle for austerity programs that victimize the world’s poorest people – those least responsible for emissions and most affected by climate change.

The environment has returned to the top of the political agenda in Canada. In an attempt to win a majority in the House of Commons in the next election, Harper is attempting to banish the ghost of his previous incarnation as a climate-change denier and staunch opponent of Kyoto. He still maintains that Canada’s 2012 Kyoto targets cannot be achieved. But Environment Minister John Baird affirms that the Conservatives “have no plans to get out of Kyoto.” However, this is not even remotely close to the strong measures suggested by the IPCC report.

Mainstream environmentalists and politicians have long tended to shift responsibility for environmental sustainability onto individuals. A new fad in academic and government circles is promoting theories of “adaptation” and “resilience.” According to a recent article in Nature magazine, “The obsession with researching and reducing the human effects on climate has obscured the more important problems of how to build more resilient and sustainable societies, especially in poor regions and countries.” Again, the focus is on the world’s poorest nations as objects of imperial social engineering. Governments love this approach as it provides tools for coopting resistance to the depredations of global capital.

Is climate change bad for capital? Some pundits predict it will lead to a shrinkage in the global economy of up to 20 percent. But a new report by Barclays Capital predicts that the need to expand energy capacity while reducing dependence on hydrocarbons will lead to an “energy revolution” similar to the late 20th century “technology revolution.” The report’s author argues that the energy sector is poised to reap the biggest rewards from this technological change.

Barclays is pointing to the possibility of a global restructuring of capitalism in response to climate change. If this happens — and it is by no means certain that it will — workers and the poor will suffer terribly, much as they have in previous rounds of capitalist restructuring. Even if a huge shift to new technologies does take place, the profit-driven capitalist system — the root cause of the global ecological crisis — will continue to wreak havoc on nature and humanity.

We need to fight for deep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions immediately. We need to support the building of an anti-corporate wing within the environmental movement. But the real solution, the real “energy revolution,” will require a social revolution that replaces capitalism with a system of production whose priorities are environmental sustainability and human need — what some call ecosocialism.

New Democratic Party

Getting Canada on track:
NDP’s proposed amendments to the “Clean Air Act”

From the NDP Website

Canadians want immediate action taken to reduce pollution so their families have cleaner air to breathe and so that Canada does its part in world-wide efforts against global warming.

The re-writing of the government’s ineffective and inadequate Bill C-30, the Clean Air Act by the special legislative committee provides a significant opportunity to get Canada on track to reduce pollution and to combat climate change.

With a new Bill, Parliament can ensure meaningful and immediate action is taken so Canadians can see improvements to the quality of the air they breathe in their lifetime as well as to protect the planet for their children and grandchildren.

The NDP is proposing a series of comprehensive changes to Bill C-30 that re-commits Canada to meet its Kyoto Protocol commitments in the short-term, and ensures a comprehensive plan to meet science-based and internationally recognized medium and long-term goals as well.

Leading-up to and throughout the special committee’s work, the NDP will continue to seek input and additional amendments from environmental experts and individual Canadians.

The NDP’s Proposed Amendments

  • Legislate through the new Act, rather than regulations, short-, medium- and long-term targets for absolute greenhouse gas reductions by requiring Canada to meet:
    • its Kyoto Protocol 2008-2012 target;
    • a science-based 2050 target of 80% below 1990 levels; and
    • interim targets at five year intervals between 2015 and 2050.
  • Legislate in the Act, rather than in the Notice of Intent, an earlier deadline for regulating the industrial sector. These regulations to be in place by 2008.
  • Legislate in the Act, rather than through regulations, a hard cap on greenhouse gas emissions from the industrial sector of at-least 45 megatonnes per year.
  • Legislate in the Act a requirement to develop mandatory standards for “criteria air contaminants” within one year of the new Act’s passage, along with a plan to meet these standards that include mandatory emission standards for large industrial facilities.
  • Legislate in the Act, a requirement for a vehicle fuel efficiency standard, in line with leading North American jurisdictions, to be published by 2008, to be in place for the 2011 model year in order that vehicle manufacturers have due notice in advance of the expiry of the voluntary Memorandum of Understanding. This would be accompanied by a new authority for the government to establish a just-transition fund for the automobile sector.
  • Legislate in the Act, a requirement for the government to establish a cap and trade carbon market system in Canada.
  • Eliminate key tax incentives to the oil and gas sector, in particular the accelerated capital cost allowance provided to oil sands development.
  • Protect the government’s authority to regulate air pollutants and greenhouse gases to ensure that it is not vulnerable to court challenges by industry.
  • Maintain effective provincial equivalency rule in the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.
  • Add new authority for the Environment Minister to designate “significant areas” under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, thereby being able to designate “hot zones” such as the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence basin.
  • Legislate in the Act, a requirement that programs for implementing the legislative targets be reviewed for their adequacy annually.
  • Due to these fundamental changes, the new Act would be re-named the Healthy Air and Climate Act.

Additional Measures

  • The NDP will seek to have the government exercise its authority under the Energy Efficiency Act to establish a national advanced energy efficiency program for home retrofits.
  • To complement the improved motor vehicle measures, the NDP will seek timely implementation of measures contained in the NDP’s Green Car Industrial Strategy.
  • The NDP will seek to have the federal government immediately initiate incentives to foster non-polluting, green industry growth in Canada including green manufacturing, green energy and green technologies.