Green talk

Tom Adams, Letter to the Editor
Globe and Mail
December 7, 2005

Premiers Doer and Charest plead for meaningful action to cut greenhouse gas emissions (“Seize the climate-friendly day” December 7, see below). Both premiers preside over government-owned power utilities right now selling power to households at prices that deliver home heating at prices below those of natural gas heating, thereby encouraging customers to switch from gas to inefficient baseboard electric heaters. Meanwhile, both utilities rely on natural gas and coal or oil-fired generators to supply electricity demands at during the winter. Indirectly meeting heating needs with fossil-fired power multiplies emissions by a factor of three. The same anti-environmental power pricing situation exists in B.C. as well. If Doer and Charest want to implement their own environmental advice they will introduce seasonal pricing for electricity, so that winter electricity prices reflect the real costs.

Tom Adams, Executive Director, Energy Probe

Seize the climate-friendly day

by Gary Doer and Jean Charest, Globe and Mail, December 7, 2005

As the season turns to winter and Canadians prepare for several months of shovelling snow, it can be tough to convince people that global warming is a problem.

As a northern country, however, Canada is particularly vulnerable to climate change. Every day, we are presented with scientific studies that outline the impact of climate change on Canada, and already we are seeing profound changes in many of our provinces and territories.

Churchill, Man., is famous as the polar bear capital. Today, those same bears that draw tourists from all over the world are gaining notoriety as the canaries in the climate-change coal mine. The bears are among the first species to show the stress of shorter, warmer winters, and scientists fear for their future.

In northern Quebec, there has been a noticeable warming of the permafrost layer since 1992. In 1957, a peat bog east of Hudson Bay had 8,900 square metres of permafrost. By 2003, the permafrost had shrunk to 75 square metres. In addition to forever altering our landscape, these changes are affecting animal activity, movement and safety.

As citizens, business people, politicians and environmentalists meet in Montreal this week for the United Nations Climate Change Conference and a series of parallel events, it is time for us to reflect on the next steps in the international effort to address climate change.

We must continue to gather scientific evidence – to educate the public and spur individuals, organizations, businesses and governments to action. We must unite behind well-established and fledging efforts that are under way to better protect our wild lands and wildlife, and develop “green” technologies that address the challenge head-on.

A key step is shifting the public discourse on climate change from being a matter of environmental concern to one that includes the social and economic merits of taking concrete action. As premiers, we don’t want to lose the beauty of our lakes and forests. Or find ourselves telling our great-grandchildren about the once-majestic white bear that hunted and fished on enormous Arctic ice floes. We also cannot ignore the impact on the health of our citizens and our economic prosperity.

In Manitoba, climate change is shortening our winter-roads season, which has a direct impact on the economic and social well-being of isolated northern communities. In Quebec, scientists are concerned that climate change will affect both the economic viability and sensitive ecosystem of the mighty St. Lawrence Seaway.

It was only a few short years ago that some predicted economic doom for Canada if it signed the Kyoto Protocol. Today, a group of prominent Canadian CEOs is joining the call for action: “We believe that all governments, corporations, consumers and citizens have responsibilities under the Kyoto Protocol.” Indeed, many individuals and organizations are turning the debate over climate change into concrete action. The focus of the climate leaders summit that we are hosting this week is to highlight just this – and demonstrate that out of great challenge often rises great economic opportunity.

It is easy to be daunted by the enormity of the task that lies ahead. But we don’t have to look far to find positive, creative actions that are already under way. Throughout North America, cities such as Montreal are showing leadership and setting ambitious targets to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

In provinces such as Manitoba and Quebec, climate-change plans have sparked emerging industries, economic development and new jobs. Both provinces benefit from an abundance of renewable hydroelectric resources, and will continue to develop these resources. But the strategic development of alternative energies such as wind, geothermal, ethanol and hydrogen is creating new industries and markets and fuelling economic growth. In just a few short years, Manitoba’s fledgling geothermal industry has grown to where it now provides 30 per cent of Canada’s heat pumps, and trains more than 50 per cent of the country’s installers. Public- and private-sector efforts – a low-interest loan program offered by Manitoba Hydro and the “can do” attitude of companies such as Manitoba’s Ice Kube Systems – have combined to ignite a new industry. Lower energy costs for consumers and reduced greenhouse-gas emissions are the long-term benefits for Canadians.

For its part, Quebec has been developing wind energy since the late 1990s. Today, it boasts a capacity of 400 megawatts. But this energy system is only just beginning to show what it can do. By the end of 2013, an extra 3,100 MW will have been installed in Quebec. Wind is also boosting regional economic development as windmill parts and assembly plants are now under construction in the Gaspé region. This will create more than 120 permanent jobs.

Across our country, investments in wind power and biofuels such as ethanol are not only cutting emissions but proving to be the crops of the future – providing new sources of revenue for agricultural producers and helping to diversify the rural economy. Whether it’s green-building technology, hydrogen research and development, hybrid public transportation or new energy efficiencies, the economic opportunities are as wide open as a Prairie sky.

This is why it is important that we recommit ourselves to meaningful actions and targets for addressing climate change beyond the 2012 time frame set out in the Kyoto treaty. We need to continue to motivate consumers, businesses and government, while providing new and emerging industries with the certainty they need to continue making investments in technologies that make a difference.

The time has come for us to seize the economic opportunities that are unfolding before us, to innovate and encourage ideas, and build our economy in a way that brings prosperity, health and social well-being, and sustainability. As Canadians, we have a long line of achievements to our credit. Let’s work together and add a prosperous, sustainable economy to our list.

Gary Doer is Premier of Manitoba, and Jean Charest is Premier of Quebec.

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