Harper’s climate pledge is hot air Canada has no way to ensure that developing nations keep their commitments
Developing countries are not required by current or proposed UN climate change treaties to reduce their use of fossil fuels – or their emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Indeed, they would be crazy to do so, because those fuels are absolutely essential if they are going to lift their billions of people out of abject poverty. But there are two other reasons developing nations will be happy to sign the new climate treaty this December in Paris. (1) Under the proposed treaty, over the coming decades, developed countries will required to transfer hundreds of billions of dollars in cash and hundreds more billions in free technology to poor and rapidly developing countries, including China and India. (2) We in the United States, Canada, Europe and other developed nations will be required to slash our fossil fuel use, reduce our international competiveness, and hobble our economies, job creation, living standards, health and welfare.
In announcing the Stephen Harper government’s new greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets earlier this month, Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq said Canada will “work with our international partners to establish an international agreement in Paris that includes meaningful and transparent commitments from all major emitters.”
But Canadians are being tricked.
Any GHG emission reduction pledges made by developing countries in Paris later this year will almost certainly not be enforced.
Written in bureaucratese, the convoluted first sentence in last December’s “Lima Call for Climate Action,” the United Nations’ last major climate change agreement, indicated exactly that.
It reads: “The Conference of the Parties, Reiterating that the work of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) shall be under the Convention and guided by its principles...”
The ADP is the group of back room negotiators who are drafting the text for the big climate deal to be signed in Paris in December.
The “Convention” refers to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), signed by former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and hundreds of other world leaders at the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992.
And the ADP’s work will adhere to the UNFCCC, including its critical Article 4: “The extent to which developing country Parties will effectively implement their commitments under the Convention will depend on the effective implementation by developed country Parties of their commitments under the Convention related to financial resources and transfer of technology and will take fully into account that economic and social development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of the developing country Parties.”
Translated, this means that, under any treaty based on the UNFCCC (which all UN climate agreements are), developing countries will keep their emission reduction commitments only if we in the developed world pay them enough and give them enough of our technology.
Also implied in the article is that, even if we give them everything we promise, developing countries may simply forget about their GHG targets if they interfere with their “first and overriding priorities” of “economic and social development and poverty eradication.”
Developed nations like Canada, on the other hand, do not have this option. We must keep our emission reduction commitments no matter how severely it impacts our economies.
It is not as if the UN has been hiding this “firewall” between developing and developed nations.
It has told us repeatedly in UN climate change agreements in Copenhagen, Cancun, Durban and Lima that, “development and poverty eradication,” not emission reduction, takes top billing for developing countries.
Actions to significantly reduce GHG emissions would entail dramatically cutting back on the use of coal, the source of 81% of China’s electricity and 71% of India’s.
As coal is by far the least expensive source of electric power in most of the world, reducing GHG emissions by restricting coal use would unquestionably interfere with development priorities.
So, developing countries simply won’t do it, citing the UNFCCC in support of their actions.
Some commentators have speculated that tougher requirements will be imposed by the UN on poor nations over time as they develop.
The only way this can happen is if there are substantial revisions to the UNFCCC treaty.
China, India and other developing countries have clearly indicated that they will not allow this to happen any time soon.
Chinese negotiator Su Wei summed up the stance of developing nations when he explained that the purpose of the Paris agreement is to “reinforce and enhance” the 1992 convention, not rewrite it.
Canada withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol in part because it lacked legally binding GHG targets for developing countries.
So why is the Harper government supporting a process that will result in our country being stuck in another Kyoto?
Tom Harris is executive director of the Ottawa-based International Climate Science Coalition, which challenges the hypothesis that carbon dioxide emissions from human activities are known to cause climate problems. This article originally appeared in the Toronto Sun.