When George W. Bush left  the White House a year  ago, many people in America
and around the world collectively  breathed a sigh of relief. His eight
years in office made up what many  call “the lost decade” for American
leadership, particularly in the  race against time to transition to a
clean energy economy before our  atmosphere turns toxic because of
greenhouse gas pollution.
Likewise, will Canada’s embarrassment at the recent climate
summit in Copenhagen be considered the low point in Canada’s
“lost decade”? Only time will tell.  But without a significant course
correction, Canada’s losing streak  ould drag on into the G8 and G20
meetings in Ontario this June.
Before then, on Feb. 6, Stephen Harper will celebrate his four-year
anniversary as Prime Minister.  He rightly critiqued the Liberal
government before him for its four  years of inaction after ratifying the
Kyoto Protocol, but with nothing  to show from his own government,
this refrain has lost its punch.
Three consecutive environment ministers under Harper have failed to implement a single
major policy to cut our growing emissions. The government’s
most recent attempt to cut industrial emissions, called “Turning
the Corner,” skidded off the road at the first bend. The only major
federal incentive program for renewable energy has run out of
funding, and Canada’s government won the “Fossil of the Year”
award in Copenhagen as the country doing the most to stand
in the way of meaningful international action on global warming.
Luckily, some provinces have tried to fill the leadership
vacuum left behind by Ottawa. British Columbia has put in
place an economy-wide carbon price. Ontario is implementing its
Green Energy Act that is igniting a massive scale up of technolo-
gies like wind and solar. Quebec is committed to reducing its
emissions by 20 per cent below the 1990 level by 2020, the stron-
gest target in North America.
But action from provinces alone is not enough. The lack of
federal leadership on climate change creates a patchwork of
policy across the country that is inefficient for business, and lets
the fastest growing polluters in Alberta and Saskatchewan off the
hook—feeding a growing sense of inequality as some Canadians do
more than others to reduce emissions. We are losing time to build
a national consensus on a pathway to address climate change
because Ottawa is failing to do its job to unite the country in all of
our common interest.Where do the G8 and G20
come in? With countries now coming to terms with what is—and
isn’t—in the Copenhagen Accord, there are critical questions still
to be resolved internationally.
The G8/G20 meetings can’t solve everything, but they can contrib-
ute momentum towards the fair, ambitious and binding agreement
we need, particularly by agreeing on financial support for poorer
countries as they take action on climate change.
Unfortunately, as summit host, the federal government
has not yet stepped up with any bold ideas for climate leadership. Instead, it seems to want to
change the channel away from climate to the economy, but this
is ultimately futile, since the two issues are integrated, a fact recognized by many of Canada’s
competitors. The next job creating industrial revolution will centre
on de-carbonizing the world economy, a revolution that other countries are leading instead of us.
We can still find our way.
Done properly, putting a meaningful price on greenhouse gas
pollution right across the Canadian economy could help reduce
the deficit. For instance, Ireland just introduced a carbon tax to
generate much-needed funds during the downturn; a tax on gaso-
line and diesel of $22.40/tonne is expected to raise more than
$520-million annually, with an overall direct impact on households of less than $5 per week.
Along with putting a price on carbon, we need strong federal
leadership to ensure our clean energy companies can compete in
the global market of low-impact renewable energy and energy efficiency engineering and
manufacturing. Canada needs to be part of this emerging market—currently
worth $250-billion, and growing rapidly. Our economic future
depends on it.
With a stony silence emanating from a prorogued Ottawa,
people can be forgiven for thinking we’re not coming out of our
lost decade anytime soon. But polls show that Canadians are
tired of watching other countries lead the clean energy economy,
and want those clean energy jobs to be created right here. Sooner
or later, one of our federal politicians will tap into this mood,
and propose policies to pull Canada out of its funk and throw
ourselves into leading the next industrial revolution.
Whoever does that well could ride the sense of relief right into
a majority government.
Marlo Raynolds and Rick Smith are the executive directors of the Pembina Institute and Envi-
ronmental Defence, respectively.