Political will needed to fuel change

Source: National Post, Page A08, Feb 3, 2007
Byline: Allison Hanes
Cutting industry’s greenhouse gas emissions, scientists and environmentalists insist, is the single most important way to curb the extreme weather, melting ice caps, rising sea levels and other doomsday predictions surrounding climate change.
However, energy-conscious building codes, good urban planning, tough vehicle-emissions standards and well-insulated homes are all essential policy changes that need to take place internationally, nationally and locally to slow the pace of global warming.

“To really significantly bend the curve of emissions, governments have to put in place some pretty significant politics and incentives,” said Matthew Bramley of the Pembina Institute, an environmental think-tank.
“It requires a big commitment and it requires expending some political capital.”
Industry accounts for more than half of Canada’s emissions, he said, followed by passenger cars at 10%, commercial trucks, railways, airlines, buses, residential and commercial buildings, agriculture and landfills at less than 10% apiece.
Alberta and Saskatchewan produce the most emissions per capita, he said, while the oil sands are the fastest growing — though not the greatest — source of greenhouse gases.
“The one-sentence answer is that [the] federal government needs to adopt and immediately start implementing a comprehensive plan to reduce all the major sources of greenhouse gases, and the plan needs to have as its centrepiece a system of aggressive, near-term, regulated, emission- reduction targets for industry,” he said.
But he said it does not have to be as difficult or as expensive as naysayers often predict.
For instance, he said it could cost as little as $2 per barrel to capture the 1/15th of a tonne of carbon dioxide released in oil sands production.
He also rejects the premise that passing the buck along to the consumer — for more fuel efficient cars, clean fuels, more efficient appliances and more energy-conscious homes — will disproportionately hit people in the pocketbook.
“I’m not going to say this is completely cost-free, but it’s a mistake to see this through the lens of what this is going to cost individuals,” he said. “These are opportunities to save money, too.”
The Conservative government has already announced in recent weeks funding for such renewable energy as wind, grants for making homes more energy efficient and research money.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government is poised next week to unveil a framework for regulating greenhouse gas emissions.
But Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan is convinced political leaders from all levels of government need to do their part to combat climate change.
For Mr. Sullivan, that means ploughing ahead with his so called Eco-density plan for Vancouver — a strategy to limit urban sprawl and create denser communities where residents are less reliant on jumping in the car to go to the store for a quart of milk.
He acknowledges some might consider his commitment to increasing urban density to be “political suicide.”
He believes the wicked storm that lashed his city’s treasured Stanley Park offered all Canadians a glimpse of a frightening future.
“This should be a wake-up call,” he said.
Gordon McBean, a professor at the University of Western Ontario, said it is essential policy-makers recognize that climate change will be a force to be reckoned with for generations to come.
“First of all, I think we need a longer-term strategy,” he said. “This is not a one-time issue.”
The government needs to predict where and how climate change will strike and prepare contingency plans.
It needs to educate business and the public about doing their part and then provide incentives — or disincentives — to nudge them in the right direction.
“People need to realize the total cost of their actions should be reflected in the costs they assume,” Prof. McBean said. “The person who drives the big SUV down the highway is causing an effect on the atmosphere.”
The Climate Action Network, a coaltion of groups from the Sage Centre to the David Suzuki Foundation, two weeks ago put out a seven-point strategy it would like the federal government to adopt.
The Kyoto Accord, which set targets for cutting gas emissions, is a major piece of the puzzle, said Emilie Moorhouse, atmosphere and energy campaigner for the Sierra Club of Canada.
She dismissed as defeatist the Harper government’s declaration that it will be impossible to meet Canada’s Kyoto targets to reduce emissions to six per cent below where they were in 1990 by 2012.
“We are in a window right now where we can still have an impact if we reduce our emissions,” she said.
“It’s not too late, but the longer we procrastinate, the worse the impact is going to be and the harder it will be to fix.”
But Kyoto was also just a first step and Canada and other countries will have to go much further than that, Mr. Bramley said.
“To stabilize levels of greenhouse gases, the world is going to have to reduce emissions by 50% by 2050,” he said.
“Industrialized countries are going to have to reduce their emissions by 80%.
“We’re simply not going to get there unless we start immediately.
There’s no time to lose. 2050 may seem a long way off, but it’s just such a huge goal.”