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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Copenhagen Accord palatable and non-binding

The climate change summit at Copenhagen has wrapped up, and it seems there is a deal of sorts after all. It’s not a deal many will be satisfied with on either side of the climate change debate, but it’ll have to do for now. PM Stephen Harper called it a “comprehensive and realistic” agreement, while President Barack Obama said it was a “meaningful and unprecedented breakthrough.”

So what’s the gist of the deal?

The so-called Copenhagen Accord offers money to help developing nations cope with global warming, and, importantly, requires nations who accept the aid to agree to open their “books” to international scrutiny. This will amount to about US $30 billion in the short term and could run as high as US $100 billion a year by 2020, to which Canada would be expected to contribute.

One very interesting clause in the accord has to do with forest protection. The accord “recognizes the importance of reducing emission from deforestation and forest degradation and the need to enhance removals or greenhouse gas emission by forests,” and agrees to provide “positive incentives” to fund such action with financial resources from the developed world.

Forests do remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and that’s a good thing we are told.

Countries who sign on are to set their own greenhouse-gas emission reduction commitments, which would not be bound by law. The hope is to limit the worldwide temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius.

These commitments will be the subject of further negotiation, of course, and a final deal is hoped for at next year’s summit in Mexico.

Opposition Leader Michael Ignatieff’s reaction to the deal? “We need an aggressive, made in Canada, climate-change plan now,” he said. Yup, that’s it.

But how can Canada ever have a “made in Canada” approach to climate change when we share the continent with two other large nations, one of whom is the second largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions in the world and is our country’s largest—by a country mile—trading partner? To claim we can is to show ignorance of reality or to simply be disingenuous.

Canada’s best hope for doing its part on climate change is to try and influence the position of the United States to our benefit and then coordinate our plans and policies with their eventual position. We have little chance of being the tail that wags the dog.

This is essentially what Canada did when it sought to control/reduce acid rain in the latter half of the Twentieth Century. Negotiations with the United States were held and that led initially to joint scientific work and studies. From that, a Memorandum of Intent between Canada and the United States concerning Transboundary Air Pollution was signed in 1980. And finally in 1991, we joined with the U.S. in the Canada-United States Air Quality Agreement—an agreement that included specific commitments by both countries.

That seems a realistic, rational approach and a model for us to follow.

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© 2009 Russell G. Campbell
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