Lawrence Solomon: Trudeau stubbornly keeps Canada standing with Paris as everyone else bails

(October 20, 2017) This week it was Australia’s turn to desert the cause, when it rejected its Clean Energy Target.

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

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is the newest poster boy for the worldwide global warming crusade, and justifiably so. No nation’s leader more cares for the planet, judged by the climate metric, than Canada’s own.

It is becoming a lonely battle, however. Unlike Trudeau, whose signature on the Paris climate agreement meant something — he has been nothing if not diligent in imposing climate action on provincial premiers — most signatories are ignoring, if not altogether abandoning Paris commitments, undoubtedly because voters in large part put no stock in scary global warming scenarios.

This week it was Australia’s turn to desert the cause, when it rejected its Clean Energy Target (CET), a much-anticipated 200-page-plus proposal that would have forced electricity utilities to rely on renewables and other low-emission sources for a substantial percentage of their production, all in aid of meeting the country’s Paris commitment to dramatically cut carbon use by 2030.

CET proponents argued that renewables have become competitive in cost and are reliable, a claim greeted with guffaws. Australia’s confidence in climate gurus took a hit when South Australia, a state 40-per-cent larger than Texas that went on a renewables building binge, suffered a series of six major blackouts, including one last September that blacked out the entire state. Unlike coal and gas, which can be called upon when needed to meet varying demand, wind and solar power breed vulnerability because they can’t be dispatched — they produce if and when the wind blows and the sun shines.

Ironically, in rejecting the Clean Energy Target, the Australian government accepted the proponents’ claim that renewables have become competitive in the free market — it is thus eliminating by 2020 the subsidies renewables have been receiving, as well as eliminating the requirement that utilities rely on renewables. Instead, to prevent more of the blackouts that have shaken the country, the government adopted a National Energy Guarantee that requires power companies to rely mostly on “dispatchable” sources such as coal and gas.

The government is “hell-bent on destroying renewable energy,” charged Australia’s Labor opposition party. It’s a “complete victory for the coal industry,” fumed South Australia’s Labor premier. And, of course, they’re right, notwithstanding the lip service the government pays to meeting its 2030 Paris carbon-emissions goal. With renewables boasting ever-lower costs, MPs argue with a straight face, the government would be prudent to wait until 2025 or later to address Paris, when renewables presumably will be irresistibly inexpensive. The renewables industry, based on government projections, estimates the government’s approach could result in “virtually no new wind and solar projects in the country between 2020 and 2030.”

The climate-change cause took a second blow this week with national elections in Austria, which saw two conservative parties with no interest in climate change — it wasn’t even an election issue — come in first and second, making them likely to form a pro-carbon coalition government. And a third blow came in neighbouring Germany, where a leak revealed the environment ministry was hopelessly behind in meeting its carbon targets, and fearing a “significant blow to Germany’s climate policy” and “a disaster for Germany’s international reputation as a climate leader.” Last month, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party took a drubbing in national elections, in good part because her “Energiewende” (energy transition) policies had doubled electricity prices. Merkel may now be unable to form a government without the support of the libertarian Free Democratic Party, which demands an end to renewables subsidies.

While Trudeau’s Canada is shunning coal to live up to Paris, the rest of the world is embracing it: for every coal plant retired in 2015 and 2016, five others are being built. Three-dozen countries that were applauded in Paris for taking the anti-carbon pledge are now upping their construction of coal plants. While growth in renewables development tumbles, coal soars, with capacity slated to increase by 43 per cent.

Trudeau now stands almost alone in sincere support of Paris. The populist backlash — a revulsion at top-down governments laden with jet-setting politicians landing in posh places to preach restraint to the masses — has swept America with Trump’s election, Great Britain with Brexit, much of Europe, and Australia. In the process, global warming enthusiasts are being swept out. Canada is an outlier, to date immune to this populist wave. To date, oblivious to the lessons learned elsewhere.

Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Energy Probe, a Toronto-based environmental organization. Email: LawrenceSolomon@nextcity.com.

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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. .
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