On the cusp of the Group of Eight economic summit, French President Jacques Chirac called Canada an environmental slacker.
In a response, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Canada is fully engaged with the Kyoto process.
It’s a disingenuous response.
Since taking office, Harper’s team has started dismantling almost every green initiative Ottawa was involved in.
Scant months after the Conservatives took office, the effects of the wide-ranging browning campaign are already trickling into the territory.
One has only to look at the federal EnerGuide for Homes program. The $44-million initiative was one of the first casualties.
And it was effective.
During its eight-year run, the program was responsible for evaluating and improving the energy efficiency of 1,900 Yukon homes.
Last year, throughout the country, 30,429 homeowners accessed its grants. Each will save an average of 28 per cent on their annual heating costs — about $750 a year.
But, while Harper’s minority government is dismantling programs, the former Liberal government deserves some blame, too.
While it was more sympathetic to Kyoto, the Liberal government dragged its heels when it came to forcing industry to cut emissions, which is essential for Canada to meet its protocol targets.
It was a mistake then. It’s worse now.
There is plenty of money and competitive advantage in embracing tighter environmental controls.
The longer Canada waits, the more opportunity it loses.
In the US, the smart money is already moving into the market.
Former US vice-president Al Gore has started Generation Investment Management, which sinks money into businesses that capitalize on a world looking for ways to cut carbon emissions.
“As soon as business leaders get global warming or the environment at large, they start seeing profit opportunities all over the place,” Gore told Wired magazine in a recent interview.
“There is so much low-hanging fruit right now, it’s ridiculous.”
Tighter environmental laws force factories to become more efficient, which saves industry money and makes them more competitive in the global economy.
“The whole economy is going to shift into a much more granular analysis of which matter is used for what, which streams of energy are used for what,” said Gore.
“Where does it come from? Where does it go? Why are we now wasting more than 90 per cent of it?
“The investments in doing it right are not costs — they’re profits.”
But Harper’s crew doesn’t understand this.
Tougher environmental laws would force Canadian industry to become more efficient.
It would also shake loose capital for Canadian entrepreneurs and researchers to create the improved technologies that business needs to become more efficient.
The resulting technology will create new international exports that less responsive nations will need to buy to catch up.
That new technology and business could feed the national economy into the future.
If it acts.
And, of course, there are other tangible benefits.
Improvements in Canada’s air and water quality would curb illness, cutting health-care costs and improving workforce productivity.
Not to mention, it’s essential if the world hopes to avoid environmental calamity brought about by the increasingly severe effects of global warming.
Harper often says the US has been more successful in curbing emissions than Canada, even though it has not endorsed Kyoto.
However, the statistics are deceiving.
Part of the US success has been through state-sponsored measures in progressive places like California. That state alone has an economy roughly the size of Canada’s and has passed some of the toughest environmental laws on the planet.
The effect those tough laws have had cannot be overstated — the success of Toyota’s Prius can be pegged to California’s tough emission laws.
Canada can and should go farther.
In Europe, there’s a well-established exchange for the trading of carbon-dioxide emission credits.
Canada has a similar venture, dubbed the Montreal Exchange.
But it is currently languishing because Harper’s government hasn’t announced a plan to reduce emissions.
Industry will not voluntarily step up to the plate.
Laying out targets, and enforcing them would be a start to banishing Canada’s deserved reputation as an “environmental slacker.”
More important, it would lay the groundwork for nation’s future economy. (RM)