Evan Saugstad: Is it time for a conservative climate plan?


It’s clear where Andrew Scheer’s climate plan is headed: nowhere good, read one headline. Nothing more than a sad joke, said another. The one that got my attention was: So what’s the plan in the rest of the world?

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What would the results be if Canada followed the Conservative Party’s vision of a climate action plan? A death sentence for Canadians as we are incinerated by wildfire? Drowned by floods? Starved by droughts? Or, is this a sensible path forward in lock step with the rest of the world’s actions? And please note, I said actions, not commitments, as there is a substantial difference, albeit one that most politicians think are one and the same.

Not surprisingly, the current Liberal government, the Greens, and the NDP were quick to denounce Scheer’s plan to protect Canada’s environment. Almost every left leaning environmental organization followed suit. Who’s correct?

Canada’s first commitments to address climate change occurred in 1992 when Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney signed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Canada was the first G7 nation to do so. Mulroney was quoted: “I leave this conference believing we have a better chance of saving the world than we had when we came here.” As history has shown, what Mulroney committed Canada to was not achieved.

In December 1997, the Kyoto Protocol extended the 1992 UNFCCC but was not entered into force until February 2005. In 2002, Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien directed Canada’s parliament to sign off on this agreement, binding Canada to its targets. As history has shown, what Chretien committed Canada to was not achieved.

In 2009, Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper signed the Copenhagen Accord, a non-binding agreement agreeing to reduce emissions. 

In 2011, Harper officially withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol at the UN Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa, citing two reasons. One, the world’s two largest emitters, China and the United states, had not signed and committed to reductions; and two, Canada would be required to pay an estimated $14 billion to the UN for not meeting our targets. As history has shown, what Harper committed Canada to was not achieved.

In 2017, Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau signed a new agreement at the Paris Climate Change Conference (Paris Agreement). Although the targets were non-binding and annual reporting is required, Trudeau committed Canada to donating $2.65 billion over the next five years to help developing countries battle climate change. As history is now showing, Trudeau will not meet his targets either. 

Interestingly, France, the big push and “model” nation behind the Paris Agreement, isn’t meeting its targets either.

If there is one common refrain throughout Canada’s venture into setting greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, it’s that no matter who proposed them, no one has yet to get them correct. They were also all wrong on the negative side, being that less is better. 

One common definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and always expecting different results. Maybe, just maybe, Scheer and the federal Conservatives are closer to the mark with their new plan, rather than perpetuating insanity.

My simplistic view of long-range plans for greenhouse gas reduction is that there are too many twists and turns to accurately determine numbers for something that occurs in 10 or 20 years. Yes, a plan needs objectives, but how one gets there is difficult to predict.

I look at this akin to my retirement plans. Back in the 1970s when I was in my 20s, I wished for retirement at 55 — indeed, a common refrain was Freedom 55. I didn’t know how much money would be required, whether I would have my own pension plan, or where I would live. I did know that if I wished to retire, I needed to begin saving, so I did. For nearly 40 years, I saved part of most every pay cheque, except for one year when I took most of the year off from work (had a lot of fun that year!).

Along the way, a divorce and a separation threw a couple of curve balls at my plan, but I kept on. Although I didn’t make 55, I did make 61. I didn’t know whether I had enough to retire on, but I thought if things changed, I would adapt, once again.

That is how I look at the Conservatives new climate plan. A work in progress, where we set new specific objectives and see what they achieve. Along the way, we refine if they require refinements.

Adding new taxes to everything we do is not prudent, unless all other major countries do the same and the economic playing field stays relatively level. We should focus on our major emitters and see how they can be incentivized to reduce their emissions, rather than look at hairball schemes to shut them down. Looking to technologies can help, recognizing that governments have a role to facilitate this, both through regulation and funding.

I wholeheartedly agree that reducing emissions is a global issue, and if we don’t do similar things, then emissions reductions will not be achieved. As part of this, we, as Canadians, need to define our role within the larger world.

Is it our destiny to provide resources to the rest of the world, and, if so, how do we account for their emissions?

Is it smart for us to stop exporting our wealth-creating resources to meet a self-imposed target, only to watch other countries step in and fill that same void?

Should we stop exporting natural gas, oils, grains, legumes, lumber, pulp, meats, fish, and minerals, and only produce what we need? Bet if we did, we would meet our previously failed objectives, but in doing so, our country would likely look like Venezuela.

My flat earth view: Keep doing what you are doing PM Justin, and then we will be able to see whether Andrew Scheer is any better than the previous four in reading his tarot cards. 

Evan Saugstad is a former mayor of Chetwynd, and lives in Fort St. John. 

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