Pushing for change without requiring action

The oil industry takes advantage of lackluster climate conferences for profit. (Photo: Creative Commons/Syahrel Hashim) The oil industry takes advantage of lackluster climate conferences for profit. (Photo: Creative Commons/Syahrel Hashim)

Jeremy Appel
News Editor 

For the next two weeks, leaders from 150 nations are meeting in Paris to spell out a plan for reducing carbon emissions.

The meeting itself demonstrates a laudable acknowledgement of the impending climate catastrophe that will come about if we don’t change our consumption patterns, but not much else.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau brought a delegation of 380 people to the conference – including Foreign Minister Stephane Dion, Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna, Conservative Environment and Climate Change critic Ed Fast and all 13 premiers.

The optics of a massive Canadian delegation, combined with Trudeau’s obnoxious assertion that “Canada is back” on the global scene, provide style for a climate policy that lacks substance.

The prime minister has repeatedly refused to commit to a coherent plan involving concrete emission reduction targets. Instead, he promised to reconvene the premiers within three months of the conference to discuss some sort of plan.

Trudeau is by no means isolated in this regard.

All hope that the Paris conference was more than just for show was dashed when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told the Financial Times last month that any agreement reached will be non-binding.

The U.S. Congress, currently dominated by climate change denying Republicans, will never approve anything that disrupts the unrestrained capitalism they advocate.

But what’s the point of an environmental agreement that kowtows to climate change deniers?

Bill McKibbon, founder of the global climate campaign 350.org, expressed mixed emotions about the Paris talks in a Los Angeles Times op-ed.

“The Paris climate conference represents a possible turning point in the fight between the fossil fuel industry and the rest of us,” he wrote. “Whatever happens in the next two weeks, it almost certainly won’t be sufficient. Physics and chemistry don’t negotiate. After Paris, we will have to maintain the pressure on our leaders, and hope for a bit of luck.”

The fossil fuel divestment movement seems the best way of reducing carbon emissions in lieu of federal government inaction.

Environmentalist activists, like those involved with 350.org, have long called for governments and private companies to divest from environmentally toxic industries, like coal and oil.

Ontario was successful in phasing out coal as an energy source during the past 12 years. Coal comprised 25 per cent of the province’s energy in 2003. Since then, all five of Ontario’s coal plants have been closed.

Naturally, there’s constant tension between the imperatives of protecting the environment and protecting the jobs of those who work in the coal mines or tar sands. But there will also be jobs in a clean energy economy.

Indeed, a 2014 report from the Clean Energy Alliance says 23,700 Canadians work in clean industries – hydro, wind, solar and biomass – while 22,340 are employed in the oil sands. With the price of oil on the decline, this imbalance will grow even more in favour of clean energy.

That is why Alberta Premier Rachel Notley is using the revenue generated from her government’s new carbon tax to invest in clean energy, rather than spend it on tax cuts as the B.C. government did with theirs.

The four largest Canadian provinces – Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec – have some sort of carbon pricing, whether a tax like in Alberta and B.C. or cap-and-trade like Ontario and Quebec, in the works.

Canada currently ranks sixth in the world with $6 billion invested in clean energy, according to a UN report from March. Interestingly, China, the world’s largest coal producer, was number one with $83 billion.

Canada’s high degree of investment in clean energy sources and successful environmental initiatives at the subnational level provide Trudeau with a springboard to craft a coherent national strategy for carbon emission reductions.

Just don’t expect him to use it.

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