February 21, 2005

Commentary: Canada's Kyoto response: real solutions-or just more hot air?

By: Colin Isaacs

"Hot air" is a technical term describing greenhouse gas emission reductions that have occurred as a result of economic collapse in countries of the former Soviet Union. The concern of some environmentalists has been that hot air will be used to offset emissions from developed countries, thereby reducing the effectiveness of the Kyoto Protocol in achieving real emissions reductions and the associated air quality improvements.

The term "hot air" might also be applied to Canada's response to the coming into force of the Kyoto Protocol on February 16th.

Instead of announcing a plan by which we might have a shot at achieving our Kyoto target, Canada announced that it was going to host a conference.

Instead of announcing a domestic emissions trading program, an essential component of a domestic greenhouse gas emission reduction strategy and necessary for any realistic level of participation in Kyoto's Clean Development Mechanism, the Prime Minister announced 12 new members of the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy and asked them, inter alia, to advise him on how to engage the United States in any post-2012 climate change regime (See story, this issue). Good luck with that one!

One would like to think that hosting the Eleventh Conference of the Parties (COP 11) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the first Meeting of the Parties (MOP 1) to the Kyoto Protocol would be a feather in Canada's cap, but even this announcement was bad news. Media around the world conveyed the message that COP 11 would be held in Canada, a country that "has no clear plan for reaching its emission cuts." Canada's big Kyoto day announcement managed to do further harm to our already battered international environmental reputation.

Hot air might also have warped the ability of our leaders to understand reality. The Prime Minister said that COP 11 in Montreal will "deliver concrete and sustainable results". Given the snail's pace progress at all previous COPs and the immense difficulty of reaching any kind of consensus among the 189 Parties to the UNFCCC, such a promise would seem a very unrealistic objective.

The best Kyoto Day statement came from Industry Minister David Emerson. He said, "Canada has the opportunity to show how environmental responsibility can lead to competitive advantage." He's right, but it will only happen if all Canadian players, including our major industry associations and non-governmental organizations, work to do the best job we can with the resources, policies and agreements we've been given.

Otherwise the world may well see a real-time example of how environmental irresponsibility, backed up by too much hot air, leads to competitive disadvantage and shunning by many global markets.

Colin Isaacs, head of the CIAL Group and publisher of the Gallon Environmental Letter, reviews environment-related trends in policy (government and corporate) and legislation for ELW. Comments may be E-mailed to cisaacs@compuserve.com.

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