Baird confuses his targets

Par Peter Foster

De Kyoto à Bali

Further details were released yesterday of Environment Minister John Baird's climatecontrol program. Let's call it Baird's Solution to the climatechange issue, or BS, following my colleague Terence Corcoran's suggestion. But then what can Mr. Baird do but talk nonsense in his attempt to avoid the much bigger nonsense of trying to meet draconian and pointless Kyoto targets?
Although Mr. Baird announced that industry would have to meet intensity targets, which means reducing emissions per unit of output by 6% in each of the next three years, and 2% subsequently, no targets have to be met until 2010. Companies will also be able to buy credits at $15 a tonne. This money will go into a Technology Fund. Companies can also trade emissions or buy credits from developiing countries under the so-called Clean Development Mechanism (think oil-for-food times a hundred).
This policy will be expensive, costing up to $8-billion a year, and it will cost jobs, but it could have been worse, as the figures provided by Environment Canada last week indicated. The policy's chief insanity relates to the fact that -- when it comes to affecting global climate -- it is utterly pointless. At least the invidious 1980 National Energy Program attempted to rob one group -- petroleum producers, foreigners and Alberta--for the sake of others, namely consumers in the East and the state oil company. Any climate-change policy merely sends resources up in smoke, metaphorically of course. We are heading for a world where nothing will go up in smoke without a permit.
Yesterday's lock-up was in many ways reflective of the murky world of climatechange policy. It was held in a facility on Toronto's desolate waterfront, a symbol of governments' inability to get their act together. The room was cold and dimly lit. There was considerable confusion during a briefing by bureaucrats.
It was not entirely clear why we were being locked up, except perhaps to give the impression that Mr. Baird was actually announcing something that might move markets. He didn't. And a good thing, too.
Details of how the government would achieve an absolute reduction of 150 megatonnes in greenhouse gases by 2020, down to about 600 megatonnes, reminded me of the old elephant joke: How do you get four elephants in a Mini? Answer: two in the front, two in the back. Equally incredible were the government's wonderfully neat projections. Sixty megatonnes would come from measures forced on the major industrial sectors; 40 would come from myriad schemes such as rendering dehumidifiers and other domestic appliances more efficient and shoving biofuels into our tanks; 10 would come from grants for retrofitting, and from a series of feebates to encourage us to drive politically acceptable automobiles; and a nice round 40 would come from $1.5-billion that would be handed over to the provinces and territories to implement various unspecified carboondoggles.
Talking of elephants, there was an even bigger one in the room that nobody seemed to notice. According to the government's figures, the 2020 emission projection would represent a 300-megatonne reduction from "Business as usual." But where would the other 150 megatonnes come from?
I asked the nice bilingual lady bureaucrat on the podium. She suggested that the extra 150 megatonnes would be activity that would never happen! But why would it never happen? Was the government projecting a 1990s-Russia-style economic collapse that it wasn't telling us about?
I asked the lady bureaucrat what total emissions were projected to be in 2020. She didn't know. An earnest young male bureaucrat came up and started drawing me a picture. Literally. He drew a graph as if drawing it for somebody who had never seen a graph before. He explained that the achievement would be 150 megatonnes down from today's emissions levels. I realized that, I said, but projections from Natural Resources Canada had the Canadian economy producing 900 megatonnes by 2020. So what happened to the other 150 megatonnes? He mumbled that he'd find me an answer. He never came back.
In that the measures affecting industry were based on reducing carbon intensity -- which industry does over time anyway -- and were also delayed, they seem to be industry-friendly. But the whole exercise is pointless. It amounts to addressing climate change pretty much the way King Canute addressed the tides that he commanded not to roll in.
Mr. Baird appeared halfway through the lock up to sell his BS, and invoked the importance of solutions that "didn't yet exist," while conjuring up pictures of the asthmatic children who would be relieved by the pollutant part of the non-policy. He explained how the policy would achieve marvels such as boosting tourism. But are tourists staying away because of Canada's pollution problems?
Mr. Baird's plan was described as "turning the corner." At least it didn't involve going completely round the bend.

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