Stephen Harper at Biodiversity Conference – Comment

Written by  //  May 30, 2008  //  Biodiversity, Canada, Climate Change  //  No comments

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May 30
From the German point of view: Canada’s hypocritical stance on climate change
By Bob McDonald, host of the CBC science radio program Quirks & Quarks.
There might have been a few hidden smirks among delegates in Germany this week, when Prime Minister Stephen Harper boasted about Canada’s commitment to dealing with climate change.

He was speaking at the UN Conference on Biodiversity in Bonn where he talked about getting beyond rhetoric and making significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. This was coming from the leader of a country that has backed out of the Kyoto Accord, blocked further climate change progress in Bali, and has carbon emissions that continue to rise faster than most countries in the world, mainly because of continued support of the Alberta Oil Sands Project.

It might have sounded a little strange to the Germans.

Germany is one of the most progressive countries in the world when it comes to producing green energy, designing green communities, and reducing consumption. In his book, The Geography of Hope, Canadian journalist Chris Turner describes the town of Freiburg, where houses are so energy efficient they actually produce power. Wind turbines dot the landscape, solar panels line rooftops and people manage to sustain a modern lifestyle without compromising the environment. In other words, the Germans get it. (Chris will be helping us take an in-depth look at that town and other examples of Green Cities in our last Quirks & Quarks radio program of the season, on June 21).

So far, Mr. Harper’s government has not got it. The Canadian record on climate change is abysmal. Our carbon emissions have gone up more than 30 per cent since we signed the Kyoto Accord. One of the largest single sources of carbon emissions on the planet, the oil sands project, is expanding.

Canada is rich in fossil fuels and as the price of oil continues its soar to the stratosphere, those fuels are making us much richer. So there is little financial incentive to switch from coal, oil or natural gas to clean alternatives. In fact, the government continues to subsidize fossil fuel industries despite their record windfall profits.

In this country, people are getting rich on the old dirty technology while green power struggles to make a dent in the marketplace. Many industries that produce solar panels, geothermal systems or other products that would reduce our dependence on fossil fuels are struggling to compete against an oil industry that is heavily subsidized by the government. Isn’t that a little backwards?

The German incentive to tackle climate change came from the top down. The government introduced legislation that penalizes polluters and rewards clean technology. Carbon trading, subsidies and other incentives brought the price of clean technology down, so people could afford to use it. It’s a system that works and a model for other countries to follow.

So it must have looked a little odd to the Europeans, who take Kyoto seriously and are proving that reductions can be achieved in realistic, even profitable ways, to hear the leader of a major polluter say he takes climate change seriously.

Talk about not knowing your audience.

– Bob McDonald

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