UN climate conference: Kyoto’s phase two

By Sarelle Azuelos

The United Nations Climate Change conference was set up to create discussion–and hopefully action–for the next stage of Kyoto. The current agreement is for 2008-12 and the Indonesian conference held Dec. 3-14 aims to set goals beyond 2012.

While executive secretary Yvo de Boer is optimistic that they will be able to make a new framework to put in place once Kyoto–ends according to the UNFCCC website, others in Calgary are less so.

Liberal Mountain View MLA Dr. David Swann thinks plenty needs to be done to help the environment and protect from global warming, but he’s not sure how successful this meeting will be in accomplishing binding objectives.

“I’m somewhat pessimistic given what has been happening especially in Canada and the U.S. over the last decade where we continue to talk and debate and drag our feet into this issue,” said Swann. “We need targets and guidelines from this meeting, and absolute caps especially in the western developed countries. All the evidence points to the fact that we will pay massively in 30 years if we don’t start paying significantly now.”

Swann pointed to the British government’s 2006 Stern Review Report released in 2006 that stated if globally we do not start spending one per cent of our GNP now, we will end up spending 20 per cent of the worlds GNP in 30 or 40 years because of natural disasters, disease and loss of food production.

University of Calgary professor Dr. David Keith is known for both his research for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change regarding the capture and storage of carbon dioxide–the leading cause of global warming and his involvement in the U of C’s Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy. He shares Swann’s fears of lack of action.

“I think what matters is domestic action,” said Keith. “The government has articulated that through policies that make sense but they haven’t really [started] them yet and they should focus on actually cutting emissions.”

Canada’s commitment to Kyoto included an overall reduction in carbon emissions by six per cent by 2012, yet has increased its overall emissions by 27 per cent since 1990. Keith doesn’t believe that conserving energy will be enough in the long run. He noted he’d like to see government interventions placed on both individuals and corporations. While Conservative Prime Minister Steven Harper expressed opposition to Kyoto, Liberal opposition leader Stephane Dion announced he was planning to attend the conference.

“You have to have something to really make the consumer and industry change the way we make energy,” said Keith. “This isn’t about using less energy, it’s not about consuming less, it’s about getting everybody to change the way they make it.”

While some critics of the Kyoto protocol say it’s weakness lies in the lack of commitment from large developing nations, Swann doesn’t think this should be enough for western nations to abandon the project.

“We’re looking for the western countries to step up and take some leadership–more than you would expect from the poorest counties,” said Swann. “To look at transferring technology and providing incentives for the poor countries to make some of the cleaner choices in terms of their energy and prevention and to set the examples themselves by setting hard caps on emissions.”

ISEEE TransAlta professor of environment and sustainability Dr. Bob Page explained western nations shouldn’t only be held responsible for making emission cuts.

“What we’re trying to look at for the future is bringing in U.S., China and India,” said Page. “These are the greatest areas of expansion of emissions in the world today with the greatest need for them to be under some kind of Kyoto 2.”

Pembina Institute climate change policy analyst Johanne Whitmore doesn’t agree with Page’s argument.

“How can we argue and say China and India have to be part of the next Kyoto when us ourselves are not even meeting our targets and we’re saying in the media that we’re not even going to try,” said Whitmore. “There’s a big contradiction and paradox between what Canada says needs to be done and what we’re doing.”

Keith explained he doesn’t believe tax burdens placed on companies will cause severe detrimental effects on the Canadian economy, noting “scientists” funded by industry have little basis to claim the science be-hind global warming is all wrong.

“They are doing what they are paid to do by the industry to try to delay action,” said Keith.

Page noted Canadian businesses would be willing to make changes that the government deemed necessary.

“Most of them that are realistic today understand that whatever the final form of the new regulations are it’s going to cost them money,” said Page. “For most of the companies, what they’re trying to see is ways in which they invest in new technology, not just pay carbon taxes. Climate change is so fundamental. We’re not just adding on the end scubbers to kind of capture it as we did with some other pollutants, because you can’t do that with carbon.”

Whitmore was frustrated with Canada’s lack of commitment on the issue.

“In the States we have the Bush administration–that Harper is clearly sympathetic to–but if you look at what’s happening at the state level in California, eastern states and even some more conservative states, there’s been some huge changes,” said Whitmore. “In the end, Canada is pretty much isolated in its position.”

Keith noted that Canadians are anxious about the consequences of global warming and would like to see more done.

“Calgary is a dynamic and smart community and I’m pretty confident that Calgary can really engage this,” said Keith. “I think that Calgary could be the leader in what we do in campaign.”

Swann agreed.

“In surveys, up to 80 per cent of people say they want stronger actions on climate change and over half people say they’d be willing to pay, to reduce their income, to see the kind of changes that are needed,” he said. “Climate change is the most critical issue facing the planet this century. It’s leaving an unsustainable legacy to our children.”

For more info go to www.hm-treasury.gov.uk and search for the Stern Review Report or go to unfccc.int

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