The Climate Shell-Game

Elizabeth May

I have blogged before trying to chase the shifting (and constantly weakening) climate targets of the Harper government.

Our news release from Sunday will tell you some of what just happened -- a dodge based on using the US target as Canada’s target.  Canada has shifted from our legally binding Kyoto target (6% below 1990 by 2012) to Harper’s first target, breaking the law, (20% below 2006 levels by 2020) to the second Harper target, claimed by Prentice to be the US target: 17% below 2005 levels by 2020.  European nations, meanwhile, are committed to 20% below 1990 levels by 2020 (Scotland is committed to 40% below 1990 levels by 2020, and others have a range of more ambitious targets).

But do we really have the same target as the US?

We do not.  

IF we hit the new 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 (and I say IF because the Harper government has no plan to get to that target), we would have emissions above 1990 levels, while when the US hits its targets (and I say WHEN  because the US has in place plans to over-achieve and get more than 17% reductions), US emissions will be below 1990 levels.

All of this confusion is created by Canada’s contribution to global climate negotiations – the base-year fudge.  Until Harper picked 2006 as the base year, all nations in the world operated from the same base year: 1990 -- the year climate negotiations began within the UN system.  Sadly, Canada made it possible for other nations, notably the US, to start fiddling with base years.

When we shifted from 20% below 2006 levels by 2020, to 17% below 2005 levels by 2020, most eyes focused on the reduction in the percentage cut -- a 3% weakening.  But the big fudge is in the base year.

This is because 2005 emissions were above 2006 and so the final target is weaker by 6%, not three. 

Stick with me and let’s walk through the numbers.  (Thanks to John Streicker, Green candidate in the Yukon and northern issues critic on Green Cabinet, for this analysis)

According to UNFCCC, Canada's emissions are/were:

1990 = 592 mega tonnes CO2e
2005 = 734 mega tonnes CO2e
2006 = 721 mega tonnes CO2e

This makes our Kyoto target:  1990 - 6% = 557 mega tonnes CO2e
The first Harper target:  2006 - 20% = 577 mega tonnes CO2e
The new Harper target: 2005 - 17% = 610 mega tonnes CO2e

By choosing this new baseline year they have weakened the target not by 3% but by nearly 6%!

So, if we ever hit this target, we will be above 1990 levels in 2020.  This represents a gross level of irresponsibility.  The Harper government pretends it is committed to avoiding a 2 degree global temperature increase.  To do that, the industrialized world must reduce to 30% below 1990 levels by 2020.   If world governments followed Canada, we would lock the world's climate into meltdown.