Canada brings a dismal record on greenhouse gases to the Warsaw climate talks

November 20, 2013 12:24 AM

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There are signs that Canadians are getting tired of their country being an international laggard in dealing with greenhouse-gas emisisons.

One of the largest occurred near Science World in Vancouver, where the focus was on stopping Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.

Many Canadians don't realize how bad the country's record has been in comparison to other industrialized nations.

According to an International Center of Climate Governance report released late last year, Luxembourg and Canada were "the farthest from the emissions levels they agreed to keep, by 29% and 27% respectively".

This meant that Canada was the 38th-worst performer out of 39 countries tracked over the three-year period from 2008 to 2010.

More than 20 countries did better than they promised, including the United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, and France.

After Luxembourg and Canada, the next worst performers in order were Austria, Iceland, New Zealand, Australia, and the United States.

The report notes that in 2011, a record 34 billion tonnes of carbon-dioxide equivalents were emitted into the atmosphere.

The largest emitter remains China with a 29 percent share. It did not ratify the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which only applied to developed countries.

Next is the United States at 16 percent, followed by the European Union at 11 percent, India at six percent, the Russian Federation at five percent, and Japan at four percent.

As the United Nations climate talks continue in Warsaw, Japan has come under criticism for downgrading plans to reduce emissions.

The Alliance of Small Island States has claimed its populations are in jeopardy because of Japan's move to slash the cuts from 25 percent to 3.8 percent of its 2005 level.

Japan has claimed that it has no alternative after shutting down nuclear reactors following a 2011 earthquake and tsunami, which crippled the power plant in Fukushima.

The talks in Warsaw are taking place in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan, which devastated many islands in the Philippines. (For more on the role that climate change played in wreaking havoc in that country, go here.)

One of the obstacles has been the U.S. insistence that China and India commit to binding reductions.

The two Asian giants say they need funding from industrialized countries so they can cut emissions without sacrificing economic growth.

"China and India are becoming important players in the global GHG arena," noted the International Center for Climate Governance. "The CO2 emissions in these countries increased by 9% and 6% respectively in 2011, relative to the previous year, and their share in global CO2 emissions now equals that of the OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development]."

China only emitted half as much carbon-dioxide equivalents as the United States in 1990; now, it's approaching levels twice as high as in America.

Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou has included "low carbon emissions and high reliance on green energy" as one of the country's five pillars of economic development, according to a recent article written by Environmental Protection Administration Minister Stephen Shu-hung Shen.

The article appeared in the Solomon Star, which is a daily newspaper in the Solomon Islands. It's one of the island nations threatened by rising sea levels caused by global warming.

"Mitigating climate change—the most pressing challenge the international community is facing today—has a direct bearing on the sustainable development of nations around the world, as well as the survival of humankind," Shen wrote in the Solomon Star. "Despite Taiwan’s unique status in international politics, our government has actively participated in global efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and has encouraged our citizens to contribute to these efforts."

• National climate-change adaptation guidelines covering disasters, essential infrastructure, water resources, land use, coastal areas, energy supply, biodiversity, and health.

• Identifying 52 rural villages, three cities, and one county as model communities for low-carbon and sustainable environments.

• Replacing all traditional buses with electric buses in urban areas in the next 10 years.

• Government promotion of electric motorcycle battery exchange systems, hybrid cars, and geographic-information systems for bicycle networks.

In Taiwan, which has one of Asia's most dynamic economies, greenhouse-gas emissions fell by an average of 0.6 percent per year between 2008 and 2012, according to Shen.

"Taking a closer look at 2012, Taiwan's economy witnessed growth of 1.32% but carbon emissions fell by 1.90%, demonstrating that an inverse relationship now exists between economic growth and greenhouse gas emissions," Shen wrote.

He closed his article with a call for the international community to allow Taiwan to "substantively participate" in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Warsaw.

"This will enable us to receive support from and contribute to the international community," he stated.

Given Taiwan's recent record, perhaps Prime Minister Stephen Harper might want to visit Taipei to learn more about what the government there is doing to achieve greenhouse-gas reductions.

It just might blunt some of the criticism that Harper is hearing from those who attended Defend Our Climate, Defend Our Communities events held across Canada over the weekend.


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