The effort to combat global warming has lagged as other crises have commanded the attention of political leaders and the public. New reports from the US National Academy of Sciences offer persuasive evidence it would be folly to put off dealing with the problem any longer.
We hope the reports will jolt North America into finding innovative ways to cut energy use. The documents provide an authoritative rebuttal to industry skeptics who have pounced upon small errors in the 2007 report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to suggest that the whole thing is a hoax.
The academy’s conclusion is clear: “Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems.” The reports acknowledge while the magnitude of these risks – sea level rise, drought, disease, the destruction of marine- and land-based ecosystems – are difficult to predict, society would be wise to move swiftly and aggressively to minimize them.
The academy says that between 2012 and 2050 the United States should produce no more than a total of 200 billion tons of greenhouse gases, ideally considerably less. (At the current rate of 7 billion tons a year, the country would produce 266 billion tons.) Canada produces far fewer greenhouse gases, about 726 million tons a year, but ranks seventh in the world for our emissions on a per-capita basis.
The longer we wait to begin reducing emissions, the academy adds, the harder and more costly it will be to reach the target. It recommends putting a price on emissions, as well as investments in energy efficiency, alternative fuels and developing cleaner technologies.
While working to cut emissions is the responsible thing to do, it can also make us money.
Canadian society will become more efficient energy users, and the technology we develop to make it happen can be sold to other nations.
Currently, this isn’t happening.
A recent report from the Conference Board of Canada shows that our exports of climate-friendly technologies has not grown a smidgeon between 2002 and 2008. In fact, when indexed to inflation, our exports actually fell two per cent a year, on average.
That runs counter to trade and investment in the field, which has grown rapidly throughout the world in the same period.
The reality is that Canada’s focus on our abundant fossil fuels is hampering growth in the new technologies that will drive the next wave of industrial development. And the subsidies we grant the oil and gas industry keep costs artificially low, rewarding inefficiency and waste of a scarce resource.
The result is that the nation is squandering money today and retarding its future, not to mention doing little to mitigate climate change, which could devastate the planet.
However you cut it, it’s folly to ignore the problem.
Ottawa would do well to take action to limit the national production of greenhouse gases—a form of carbon tax in tandem with federal grants to foster innovation in cleaner technologies and energy efficiency measures would be a good place to start.
To continue to do nothing simply erodes Canadian competitiveness in the future. (Richard Mostyn/NYT)