|Too Timid A Response Considering the Climate Change Consequences
February 14, 2007
Premier Campbell and his Liberal government are to be applauded for addressing the
climate change challenge with the green energy initiatives in the new budget. But if the
worst climate change possibilities are to be avoided the new emission reduction targets
are woefully inadequate. The Liberals are proposing a 33% reduction in greenhouse gas
(GHG) emissions from present levels by 2020 but the emerging scientific consensus is that
a 90% reduction of GHG emissions is needed by 2030.
The Liberals are proposing government carbon neutrality by 2010, complete CO2 sequestering
from any coal fired power and very laudable emissions targets for all energy generation in
BC, but they are still subsidizing the oil and gas industry, still planning increased
spending on car infrastructure, and - bottom line - are still committed to growing the
present unsustainable economy. This will make achieving the already inadequate GHG targets
difficult if not impossible.
The emerging scientific consensus is that a temperature rise of more than 2 degrees above
pre-industrial levels risks the increasing probability of runaway climate change as
present carbon sinks start to add CO2 and methane to the atmosphere. Runaway climate
change would almost certainly mean the extinction of humanity and most of the species we
recognize as nature.
This means keeping GHG levels below 450 parts per million in the atmosphere. Given carbon
cycle time lags there is already more GHG emissions in the pipeline. And we are already
several decades late in beginning the needed change to a clean energy economy. The bottom
line must be a 90% emissions reduction by 2030 (See George Monbiot's HEAT, chapter one,
for the science explaining the runaway climate change danger and the full quantification
of this necessary emission reduction target.)
Canadians are just waking up to the serious dangers of climate change and by the end of
this year there will be no ignoring the 2 degree scientific consensus. Unfortunately, the
inadequate, halfway Liberal emission reduction policies may lull British Columbians into
thinking that their government is leading in fighting climate change. Like California, BC
will be one of the leading emission reduction jurisdictions, but because the reductions do
not cut emissions deeply enough the result will probably just wrongfoot the public with an
illusion of climate change leadership.
Furthermore, citizens of the rich, developed world have huge GHG footprints - Canadians
have an annual 19 ton per capita footprint vs the less than 2 ton global average needed to
keep below the 2 degree bottom line. The present accumulation of GHGs has been almost
totally produced by the developed world. We owe a substantial reduction in our GHG
footprint and we need to show rapidly developing countries like China and India that there
is a sustainable clean energy development path instead of their ambitions for a 20 ton
lifestyle for their citizens.
What is needed is an emergency, conscious decision to get off of the fossil fuel economy
path as quickly as possible, not merely a cosmetic "Clean Air Act' style tinkering
with business as usual. This will mean a major restructuring of our present socio-economy
but it doesn't have to mean economic and societal collapse. We are rich and resource
fortunate. There is a possible clean economy with quality lifestyles with open-ended
wealth creation opportunity. But we won't get there continuing down the fossil fuel path,
continuing the drawdown and sprawl growth economy that fossil fuels made possible. There
must be a conscious, consensual plan that organizes and nurtures BC unblocking rapid and
We don't need a throwback, heavily centralized economy, but we do need full accounting so
that markets work, and government innovation and power to effectively regulate so that
path dependence may be overcome and so that change of a necessary scale becomes possible.
The Campbell government is joining with California (and probably at least Washington and
Oregon too) in developing emission reduction strategies. This should lead to increasing
awareness amongst policy makers of the 2 degree, 450 ppm - 90% by 2030 bottom line, and,
hopefully, the need for governance innovation - a new green energy, global, New Deal for
only one possible example.
The Campbell government should be commended for starting to address climate change. But
considering: "the more timid our response is, the harsher the consequences will
be" the policies put forth in the throne speech are far, far too timid and as
Canadians will learn this year, time is far too precious for timid steps at this late
date. 90% by 2030 is the all important bottom line.