It’s about politics

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The reason why it’s so hard to solve climate change is that the problem is, as the Economist recently remarked , “a prisoner’s dilemma, a free-rider problem and the tragedy of the commons all rolled into one.” It’s hard for countries, acting in their narrow national interests to trust others to do do what needs to be done to tackle the problem head on. But as we know all too well here in Canada, even at the national level it’s practically impossible to agree on a coherent framework.

Consider yesterday’s report, published by the Canada West Foundation, a Calgary think tank, in response to a recent study by the Pembina Institute and the David Suzuki Foundation on the economic implications of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Canada . The report argues that any plan to impose national greenhouse-gas emissions targets will strain national unity if oil-producing provinces — Alberta and Saskatchewan — are forced to carry too much of the burden.

“When we look at the combination of revenue raising and revenue distribution, the Pembina/Suzuki approach is to raise revenue disproportionately from Alberta and Saskatchewan and then to use the revenue for tax reductions and spending across the country, thereby focusing the pain as much as possible on Alberta and Saskatchewan. The message is frustratingly clear: for most Canadians, emission reduction strategies will result in no immediate cost and very real gains in terms of tax reductions, with the bill being picked up largely by the resource economies in western Canada.

What we don’t see is any plan to use revenues for re-investment in the energy sector. Surely one could argue that if Alberta and Saskatchewan are so much of the problem, then they should also be a large part of the solution, that it would make more sense to invest in energy research relating to hydrocarbon production and consumption than to provide rebates for home heating costs.

Reading between the lines of the Pembina/Suzuki report, it is clear that these organizations feel that Alberta and Saskatchewan have made their bed by developing large fossil fuel industries and relying on coal-fired electricity generation. Tough luck is the message we are hearing, and this is not only unfair but counter productive in terms of implementing effective climate change policy in Canada.”

There’s no question that the Pembina/ Suzuki study could be more constructive in providing workable solutions, as the economic repercussions felt by the West would undoubtedly be more disruptive than for other provinces. Still, there is little in the Canada West Founbdation’s report to indicate that it acknowledges that Alberta, in particular, could be doing more to diversify its economy and wean itself off oil — arguably the only way it can ensure a prosperous economic future should the world decide to do so.

The truth is that Canada is already beset by unity problems, and we can hardly bring ourselves to having an open and frank discussion about finding a common solution.

UPDATE: La Presse’s Alain Dubuc adds his two cents, noting that Quebec Premier Jean Charest is headed to Copenhagen — proof, he says, that all is not well in the Canadian family on the environment unity front. Only this time it’s not Quebec vs. the ROC, but industrialized provinces vs. oil producing ones. He also notes that while Alberta and Saskatchewan feel hard done-by, so do Quebec and Ontario. Indeed, Kyoto signatories use 1990 as a baseline. But the Federal government has opted instead for 2006 — understandable considering Canada’s foot dragging over the years. But this approach penalizes Quebec, and those in the industrial sector whose efforts to reduce emissions precede 2006, while the oil sands continue to pump CO2 in the atmosphere. Furthermore, Dubuc points out, Canada’s poor performance risks hurting our exporters, most of whom hail from the industrialized provinces.