Posted by: Tony Carson | 1 October, 2007

The 3 Stooges of Climate Change

As if there is a choice.

An excellent column by David Crane in the Toronto Star.

The urgency of dealing with climate change is not going to go away. It is only going to get worse. Moreover, the longer we delay in getting truly serious, the greater the cost of curbing emissions and adapting to the impact of greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere.

While politicians, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, wring their hands over the costs of curbing greenhouse gas emissions, they foolishly ignore the costs of not curbing them.

It was the Swedish Prime Minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, who told the recent U.N. High-Level Conference on climate change, “we need decisive and global political action to prevent further dangerous changes to our climate system and to adapt to the consequences that are inevitable.”

This should be obvious. But there is a Gang of Three – call them the Three Climate Stooges – who are vigorously fighting serious international action to deal with what is perhaps the biggest single challenge facing human society over the next 50 years.

These three conservative leaders, U.S. President George W. Bush, Canada’s own Prime Minister Harper and Australian Prime Minister John Howard, were all strong opponents of the Kyoto Accord and have formed a political alliance to fight a strict successor regime to the Kyoto Accord in 2012, one that would include legal caps on greenhouse gas emissions.

Bush, Howard and Harper have something else in common. They lead the three countries with the highest per capita emissions of greenhouse gases among major economies. Australia emits 26 tons of greenhouse gases per person, the United States and Canada 23 tons each. This compares to 5 tons per person in China and 2 tons in India. The European Union emits 10 tons per capita.

A typical Canadian emits nearly 5 times as much greenhouse gases as a typical Chinese and nearly 12 times as much as a typical Indian.

The purpose of the Kyoto Accord was to take the first steps to reducing emissions by putting the heaviest initial burden on the richest countries, which also happened to have accounted for most of the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere since 1850. The United States accounted for 30 per cent of that accumulation and the European Union 27 per cent, while China accounted for just 7 per cent and India 2 per cent.

While the Europeans are showing global leadership on the need for further tough action in a new post-Kyoto accord, the Three Stooges of climate change – Bush, Howard and Harper – are showing the reverse. They want aspirational targets for emissions reduction, which countries are free to adopt or ignore, rather than binding emissions caps, which would force serious adjustment, starting with the largest per capita emitters.

Sir Nicholas Stern, in his major report on climate change, says fighting climate change should cost about 1 per cent of annual GDP by 2050, a modest price compared to the benefits. The former chief economist of the World Bank has also stressed that the developed countries – including Canada, the United States and Australia – should shoulder most of the burden, at least initially, since they are responsible for much of the build-up to date of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. They also have the greatest financial and technology resources.

But as Stern’s report made clear, serious change won’t happen unless there is a significant carbon tax along with a mandatory cap on emissions to change behaviour and to provide a strong economic incentive for companies to develop and install low-carbon technologies or adopt significant energy efficiency systems.

We’ve wasted too much time debating the science behind climate change. Now it is up to all of us, including the Three Stooges, to get serious.

See: The Three Stooges  of global climate change

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