Past Chair, Board of Directors, Dr. John Hollins writes:
The reported emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) from the territory of Canada from 1990 to 2016 are plotted on the graph below in black 1. Plotted in green is a notional linear decline starting in 2017 to reach the target to which Canada committed in Paris in 2015, namely, emissions in 2030 that will be 30% below the level in 2005. If the decline were to start later, the rate of decline in the following years would, of course, have to be steeper in order to reach the target.
Plotted by John Hollins, 2018 November 8, using data from
Canada missed its Kyoto target by 22% and the gap would have been substantially larger if there had not been a financial crisis in 2007-2008. The Government of Canada did not understand in 1997 when it made its Kyoto commitment that it is the pathways of economic and technological development that determine the emissions of a country; it failed to adopt an informed approach that would have enabled it to realistically set and reach a Kyoto target.
Three decades ago, Professor Yuichi Kaya, Tokyo University, offered a simple mathematical identity to enable a basic understanding of the main factors that determine the emission of carbon dioxide:
o The total emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide by a country can be expressed as the product of four factors:
o the population,
o the economic activity — GDP per capita,
o the energy intensity per unit of GDP, and
o the carbon intensity of the energy consumed.
Governments of Canada, it does not matter of which colour, have, like most other governments, been running growth machines 2. Policy has been driven overwhelmingly by devotion to economic growth, a never-ending determination to increase GDP per capita. And it still is.
For Canada, constant growth in population is also a factor. Canada has been admitting immigrants at a rate of about one per cent of its population every year for many decades. This has been roughly balanced in Kaya’s identity by improvements in energy efficiency, which also have been running at about one percent a year since the 1920s.
But governments are wedded to the idea of continuous growth in GDP. The concept of limits to growth, a tautology on a finite planet, is not part of the electoral psyche.
Economics alone is not enough to fully understand the phenomenon of global warming. One has to understand first what is technically feasible for the country now and well into the future: the pathways of development need to be understood, assessed, and a selection made and followed.
And governments possess more tools than economic tools. Canada has successfully contributed to the control of acid rain in North America and to the reduction of damage to the stratospheric ozone layer. It used regulation and incentives in both cases, not taxes on consumers.
Richard Feynman, the Nobel Laureate in Physics in 1965, made an observation in the report of the presidential commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident (6 June 1986) that is pertinent:
o For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.
I suggest an adaptation for global warming
o For a successful policy on global warming, understanding of feasible pathways to reach goals must take precedence over political whimsy, for nature cannot be fooled.
Canada made a fundamental mistake not only in Kyoto. In Copenhagen in 2010, Canada said it would reduce its GHG emissions by 17% below 2005 levels by 2020. That would be the emission of 608 MT, just four years after Canada emitted 704 MT, the most recent data reported in the graph above. The emissions in the previous four years reported averaged 713 MT with, a decline of 10 MT in the last year compared with the first three. There was never any way that Canada could meet its 2020 target.
Even if Canada were to do twice as well in reducing its emissions in the four years from 2017 to 2020 as it did in the previous four years, an unlikely proposition given the history, it will miss the target it set in Copenhagen only 10 years earlier by 13%.
The only significant decline in the level of actual emissions during the period plotted above occurred between 2007 and 2009. It was primarily a consequence of the upheavals caused by the financial crisis and the related downturn in economic activity.
The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Julie Gelfand, reported in 2017 that “We found that Environment and Climate Change Canada was no longer working to meet the 2020 target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions set out in 2010 under the Copenhagen Accord.
In 2015, Canada said in Paris that it would reduce emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. Looking at the historical record of the last two decades, it is hard to see how that could possibly be achieved — without a series of financial crises à la 2008. It is wishful thinking.
1 This is the most recent data available from Environment Canada, November 2018.
2 “The City as a Growth Machine”: the title of a 1976 paper by social scientist Harvey Luskin Molotch.