Copenhagen another costly UN failure?

Danielle Smith
The Calgary Herald
December 14, 2009

No one really has any idea what climate change deal might come out of Copenhagen. While most Albertans probably sympathize with the general objective–burning less carbon-based fuel–there are two ways to get there: A sensible way which will probably work, and the political Copenhagen way which will prove to be another costly United Nations failure.

Canada was quick to sign on to the 1997 Kyoto treaty, which committed the country to reduce emissions to six per cent below 1990 levels by 2012. The federal Liberal government then proceeded to do precisely nothing for the next decade to try to achieve it, leading to a mad scramble in the last few years. Governments have pledged billions of dollars on costly schemes in an attempt to show the world they intend to catch up. Alberta’s carbon capture and storage initiative may cost as much as $3 billion per year and won’t yield results for decades. A federal cap and trade program, which will be particularly hard on Alberta and Saskatchewan, could cost our national economy as much as $46 billion a year.

The enormous global wealth transfer being contemplated under a new deal at Copenhagen is the most troubling aspect of the talks. The World Bank estimates that developing nations will need $400 billion per year to develop clean energy rather than coal, and another $150 billion per year to adapt to changing climate conditions. One proposal for how this wealth transfer would be achieved is to turn carbon dioxide into an internationally traded commodity, then tax each trade to build the fund. Who would control the fund remains an open question, but the potential for political abuse is staggering. Canadian taxpayers should not submit to being taxed by a foreign authority over which they have no democratic control–this is as true of the United Nations as it is of the United States.

Then there is the question of the science. The embarrassing revelations contained in leaked e-mails suggest some scientists have been involved in an effort to understate the extent of scientific uncertainty regarding the case for man-made emissions causing global warming. Lawrence Soloman’s book, The Deniers, details study after scientific study casting doubt on some of the key claims behind the global warming “consensus.” His conclusion? “Global warming may be a problem, but it’s not a certain problem, and it’s certainly not one of epic proportions, as Al Gore would have us believe. It is one environmental concern among many, whose science is far from settled.”

Today, however, we have politicians talking like scientists and scientists talking like politicians. “Consensus” is a political term, not a scientific one. It is fair to say that a majority of scientists agree with the prevailing view; it is not fair to say there is a consensus. There is a difference. Consensus implies that most everyone agrees. For instance, it is accurate to say a majority of Alberta voters voted for the Progressive Conservatives in the last general election. It is not accurate to say Albertans reached a consensus to be governed by the PCs.

But setting aside the climate change question, there is a practical reality. The world is plainly in a transition away from high-carbon fuels and consumers want green energy options. There are tangible and practical ways that Alberta can assist this transition. Reducing energy use and improving energy efficiency should be top priorities. We should support research into clean coal, hydro, biomass, geothermal, hydrogen, nuclear, wind and solar power, while improving how we meter and price electricity. We should provide broad-based tax incentives to help individuals and businesses improve energy efficiency in their homes, buildings, vehicles, appliances and machinery. We should address the barriers to switching from high carbon fuels such as coal and gasoline, to lower carbon fuels such as natural gas.

But most of all we must avoid the fallacy that governments can predict winning technologies by providing direct subsidies to individual firms, or that having the government ration and tax carbon dioxide is a better way to achieve the greener world Canadians desire. There is a will to reduce emissions. But it must be left to each country– and each province–to find the best way.

Danielle smith is the leader of the wildrose alliance. She can be reached at danielle@wildrosealliance.ca

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