In the Chamber -- Grant Mitchell's Blog

The Challenge of Our Generation

Posted 9/19/2007 by Grant Mitchell


Climate change is the challenge of our generation. The Stephen Harper Conservatives have consistently diminished the importance of this issue and have consistently avoided or reversed concrete action to solve the problem. Their first major environmental initiative was to cancel the Liberal climate change programs. They have recently responded to Parliament’s legislated directive to establish a plan to meet Kyoto obligations with an explicit indication that they will not do it. The APEC discussion for which Mr. Harper is attempting to take so much credit resulted in a commitment to try to set climate change goals.

Their refusal to address this issue is couched so often in economic cost arguments. Ironically, there is little evidence that investing in Kyoto will actually hurt the economy. Quite the contrary. Experience tells us that when the world has addressed major environmental issues, acid rain and the ozone layer for example, the results are anything but damaging to the economy. Specifically, they say that it is too late and too expensive to meet the 2008 to 2012 Kyoto objectives. Any other investments, be they in municipal infrastructure or industrial development or military spending for that matter, are as a matter of course assumed to stimulate the economy. Why would investments in the environment be any different?

Is meeting Kyoto really that expensive? Industry representatives appearing before the Senate Environment Committee (who seemed to be arguing against Kyoto) specified the cost at $30.0 billion over the 5 years and this was confirmed by a Conservative Senator during the Debates in the Senate. That is $6.0 billion per year, about the amount of the GST 1% reduction and less than one-half of one percent of our GDP. Even if Canada did absolutely nothing to reduce carbon output during that period, and no one is saying that that should be the case, credits to offset our carbon output and meet Kyoto for this period would cost perhaps even less than $6.0 billion per year. No one is arguing that it should be done with credits alone, but these figures certainly put the matter of cost in perspective.

This is one of many arguments that drive an important element of this debate that has not received sufficient emphasis. We need to stop assuming economic disaster, as ill defined and seemingly never supported with hard data as these assumptions are, and understand that there is great economic opportunity in pursuing and meeting Kyoto objectives. Visionary government would get this right away.

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