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Corporate Canada's Change of Heart on Global Warming

Now it's the PM's turn.

By Mitchell Anderson 22 Nov 2005 | TheTyee.ca
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Better late than never. As if they've seen the light on the road to Damascus, Canada's business leaders last week demanded tough action from the federal government on dealing with climate change.

"The world must act urgently to stabilize the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and minimize the global impacts of climate change", proclaimed a letter to Prime Minister Martin from such Canadian corporate giants as Alcan, Bombardier, Falconbridge and Power Corp.

This conspicuous corporate flip-flop in advance of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Montreal is a welcome change from previous foot dragging from the business community.

Just three years ago, the "Canadian Council for Responsible Environmental Solutions", including the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Council of Chief Executives and 40 other business groups began an on-line petition to the prime minister opposing the ratification of the Kyoto protocol.

Wake up, government

The corporate epiphany last week may simply be a realpolitik admission that action on climate change is inevitable and it is more seemly to catch up to the bandwagon before it gets too far down the road.

However, it might also be a genuine recognition that climate change menaces the entire world, including the business community, their families and their children.

Whatever the reason, this latest development now only leaves one significant interest group that needs to demonstrate their commitment to dealing with climate change: the federal government.

Canada has the ignoble distinction on ranking dead last in the G8 in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. That shoddy record may be difficult for Paul Martin to gloss over as he hosts the United Nations in Montreal, where our filthy linen will be on display for the entire world to see.

Canada has pledged to reduce greenhouse emissions by 6 percent below 1990-levels by 2012. They have, instead, risen by 24 percent. Ottawa spent over $3 billion of taxpayer's dollars on various voluntary compliance programs to achieve this negative result.

One reason for our lack of progress, is that the Canadian government is both sucking and blowing on fossil fuel consumption.

While publicly proclaiming the urgent need to reduce emissions, Ottawa shovels $1.4 billion of your tax dollars annually to the oil and gas industry. This is much more than current government support for sustainable energy technologies that will, no doubt, become the cornerstone of our future economy.

It is impossible for the Canadian economy to move in a progressive direction when Ottawa intervenes in the marketplace with such antiquated, expensive and perverse subsidies.

Meanwhile, other governments around the world are seeing Kyoto as an opportunity to become global leaders in emerging energy technologies. The UK, for instance, has already managed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent below 1990-levels, while their economy grew by 36 percent.

Blowing it?

Germany has become a world leader in wind-power generation - a rapidly growing sector now worth over $28 billion worldwide. Like other renewable energy sources, it produces no pollutants to cause smog and diseases, such as childhood asthma. In Europe alone, the wind power industry employs more than 80,000 people.

Here in BC, the World Energy Council has estimated that our province has the greatest potential for wind power in the world, yet we lack one single commercial wind turbine. Country-wide, Canada currently produces less than 0.1 percent of its electricity from wind power compared with 20 percent in Denmark.

The sad irony is that climate change actually presents a fine opportunity to improve our economy and our quality of life. A recent study by the David Suzuki Foundation showed that investing in clean, renewable energy could actually contribute $9 billion to Ontario's economy by 2010, while creating 25,000 new jobs.

With this new-found support from the business community, the Canadian government should now join the global movement towards sustainability. Improved emission standards for vehicles, clear and enforceable caps for industry, progressive tax reforms that encourage innovation and investment in emerging energy technologies are just some of the policy tools that are already working elsewhere in the world.

Why buy from Europe?

Canada risks being left behind in this shifting world economy. A recent example is the wind turbine prominently installed on Toronto's waterfront. There are currently no Canadian companies producing such technology and the city, instead, had to cut a cheque for $1.6 million to a Danish company that is, no doubt, doing a brisk business around the world.

What is driving this global transformation is a remarkable consensus that climate change is real, it is happening now and it is very dangerous. It is not just another political hot potato to be "managed"; it is a global emergency that will define this century.

The Canadian business community should be applauded for its recent change of heart regarding climate change. Now that the captains of industry have seen the light on the road to Damascus, there is a serious challenge for Mr. Martin. He no longer has any excuse for inaction.

Mitchell Anderson is a freelance writer living in Vancouver.  [Tyee]

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