Today world leaders are meeting in New York to discuss the fight against climate change. Over 120 heads of state have accepted U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s invitation to attend the Climate Summit and propose bold new ideas on how countries will tackle carbon pollution.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper will not be there. Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq will be. But don’t expect bold ideas from the Minister to be announced. Expect a re-announcement of regulations that won’t stop Canada from massively missing its carbon reduction target.
Climate change is one of the most serious issues the world has ever faced. To fight against climate change, governments should be using every tool at their disposal, including passing strong policies, taking bold action, and mobilizing citizens and businesses to cut carbon pollution.
There’s an old saying that you don’t bring a knife to a gun fight. In this case, Canada’s environment minister will be in New York wielding a butter knife.
The announcement that she made yesterday – and that she will be sharing with world leaders today – is that Canada will be matching the U.S. vehicle fuel efficiency standards for model years 2017 to 2025.
Sure, improved fuel efficiency for vehicles is a good idea. Existing technologies can make cars much more fuel efficient, decreasing carbon pollution and saving car owners money at the pump. And Obama’s efficiency improvements for cars get steeper after 2017.
But this isn’t a bold announcement. In fact, the Canadian government first announced this over two years ago. And, because of Obama’s regulations, the integrated North American car market means that these changes would have happened anyway.
In 2009, both Canada and the United States committed to cut their carbon emissions below 2005 levels by 17 per cent by 2020. The US is on track to cut its emissions by up to 21 per cent in 2020. If implemented the measures the Minister announces today will mean that Canada would cut carbon pollution by just 0.8 per cent. It’s an improvement from cutting emissions by just 0.4 per cent, but Canada is still set to massively miss its 17 per cent target. (Note that the 17 per cent target is also one of the weakest in the industrialized world, and far from what scientists say is needed to avoid dangerous climate change.)
So when the environment minister makes this two-year old re-announcement today at the U.N., the world’s presidents and prime ministers will no doubt shake their heads.
If they have a sense of humour they may even laugh at the fact that, when asked for bold new commitments, our environment minister is proposing to fight climate change with a butter knife. Not that you couldn’t really hurt someone with a butter knife if you tried. But it’s not what you bring to the biggest fight the world has ever had.