Lawrence Solomon: Everyone’s a climate change leader, until their claim becomes quantifiable

(August 25, 2016) There may not be a metric for sincerity and earnestness but there is a metric for something else: fuel poverty.

Kathleen Wynne praises Rachel Notley for the NDP government's climate change plan in a January joint news conference in Toronto. Chris Young/Canadian Press.

Kathleen Wynne praises Rachel Notley for the NDP government’s climate change plan in a January joint news conference in Toronto. Chris Young/Canadian Press.

This article, by Lawrence Solomon, first appeared in the National Post

“Ontario is a world leader in the fight against climate change. We are committed to creating a low-carbon economy that will drive innovation, create more opportunities for business and industry, and generate high-value jobs,” states Premier Kathleen Wynne.

But Ontario has competition in world climate leadership.

“British Columbia is a world leader in the fight against climate change,” states B.C.’s Ministry of the Environment. “Alberta is a world leader in the fight against climate change,” says its environmental ministry. “Québec is a world leader in the fight against climate change,” says the Quebec government. Manitoba, Nova Scotia, and even Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island are world leaders when it comes to fighting climate change, as are U.S. states, the U.S. government and governments throughout Europe. And Australia. And Asia.

China is a leader in the fight against climate change, although it is simultaneously a leader in the construction of new coal plants. China’s climate change leadership has even made it the darling of Western environmental groups. India, like China, a leader in building coal plants, is likewise a climate change leader. Japan, too, is a climate change leader, the same Japan which hosted the landmark talks that produced the Kyoto climate change treaty, and then walked away from its renewal.

How can every country be a leader? A cynic might sneer that, in an era when every 10-year-old who competes in a sporting event comes home with a medal, why should governments be any different?

But governments are different. The kid gets a medal for showing up – it’s a consolation prize designed to protect the little cupcake’s ego. Governments, in contrast, do more than show up – they earn their prize, and the right to be self-congratulatory along with it. Moreover, they earn their prize without needing in any way to be disingenuous, because competition in climate change is unique, unlike competition in other areas of the economy.

Take conventional industries, say, automobile manufacturing. Very few jurisdictions could claim to be “a world leader in automobile manufacturing” because very few jurisdictions produce a single automobile. Citizens of Alberta or Manitoba, where the output of production automobiles is zero, would view a claim to their province being a leader in the automobile industry as farcical.

In climate change, output, or the lack of it, doesn’t count. Effort and earnestness are the measures of success, and in these no political jurisdiction has a monopoly. Can anyone question the Ontario premier’s earnestness in claiming to be “committed to creating a low-carbon economy?” Or her earnest hope that her climate change policies “will drive innovation, create more opportunities for business and industry, and generate high-value jobs”?

Just as President Obama earned his Nobel Peace Prize for his earnestness in desiring to keep the U.S. out of wars, not for his success in doing so, Ontario’s Wynne and politicians everywhere earned their climate prize by dint of desires, not results. Like others, Wynne has no path-breaking innovation to show for her efforts, no worthwhile opportunities for business and industry, no high-paying jobs to boast of except those provided by taxpayers.

Politicians can be indirectly ranked in their climate change performance through fuel poverty statistics

The climate change industry is abstract and ephemeral, based on ever-shifting targets and far-off projections made in all sincerity by politicians. A direct metric of sincerity and earnestness isn’t available. But politicians and their jurisdictions can be indirectly ranked in their climate change performance, through a metric that is increasingly coming into widespread use – fuel poverty statistics.

Climate change policies raise energy costs. As a rule of thumb, the more the increase in fuel poverty –  often defined as occurring when a household needs to spend at least 10 per cent of its income to meet its home energy needs – the greater the climate change leadership.

The European Union, one of the first to show leadership on the climate change front, has the stats to show for it. According to the European Parliament’s Directorate-General for Internal Policies, “Energy or fuel poverty is increasingly becoming an issue in Europe [with estimates that] between 50 and 125 million people in the European Union (EU) are currently suffering from fuel poverty and are unable to afford proper indoor thermal comfort.”

The U.K., also an undisputed leader, also has impressive stats. As described in the government’s Annual Fuel Poverty Statistics Report, 2016, “In 2014, the number of households in fuel poverty in England was estimated at 2.38 million, representing approximately 10.6 per cent of all English households. This is an increase from 2.35 million households in 2013.”

Canada has been a laggard in promoting climate change policies, especially at the federal level, and thus a laggard in elevating fuel poverty. With new federal leadership in the form of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and continued leadership in the provinces by Ontario’s Wynne et al, fuel poverty here can follow in the more progressive steps of Europe.

The near-universal boasts of climate change leadership have until recently been qualitative. Soon, once our governments set up their own energy poverty departments to complement their climate change ministries, those boasts –  so unfairly empty-sounding now – will be quantifiable. Our politicians will then receive the unalloyed credit they deserve.

Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Energy Probe, a Toronto-based environmental group. Email:

About Lawrence Solomon

Lawrence Solomon is one of Canada's leading environmentalists. His book, The Conserver Solution (Doubleday) popularized the Conserver Society concept in the late 1970s and became the manual for those interested in incorporating environmental factors into economic life. An advisor to President Jimmy Carter's Task Force on the Global Environment (the Global 2000 Report) in the late 1970's, he has since been at the forefront of movements to reform foreign aid, stop nuclear power expansion and adopt toll roads. Mr. Solomon is a founder and managing director of Energy Probe Research Foundation and the executive director of its Energy Probe and Urban Renaissance Institute divisions. He has been a columnist for The Globe and Mail, a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, the editor and publisher of the award-winning The Next City magazine, and the author or co-author of seven books, most recently The Deniers, a #1 environmental best-seller in both Canada and the U.S. .
This entry was posted in Climate Change, Coal, Costs, Benefits and Risks, Energy Probe News, Fossil Fuels and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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