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The Syncrude oil sands extraction facility behind a lake reclaimed from an old mine near the town of Fort McMurray in Alberta Province, Canada on October 22, 2009. (MARK RALSTON)
The Syncrude oil sands extraction facility behind a lake reclaimed from an old mine near the town of Fort McMurray in Alberta Province, Canada on October 22, 2009. (MARK RALSTON)

Jeffrey Simpson

Once again, climate-change promises Ottawa can't keep Add to ...

We will all be hearing much, should we choose to listen, about the Canadian government's target heading into the international climate-change negotiations in Copenhagen.

The target is a 20-per-cent reduction in Canada's greenhouse-gas emissions from 2006 levels by 2020. Forget it. That won't and can't happen - at least not the way the Conservatives are suggesting.

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It's hard to know whom the Conservatives are fooling with this target. Other countries' experts know it won't be achieved with the policies on offer. Canadian experts know the number is for headline consumption only. The government must know its own policies will fail.

But if you can fool most people some of the time, or some people all of the time, or if you expect most people will not be paying attention because they do not care or the issue is too complicated, why not?

If you doubt these strong assertions, turn elsewhere in today's Globe and Mail, or go online, to read about the most comprehensive study yet of Canada's climate-change policy leading up to Copenhagen.

The study was financed by the Toronto-Dominion Bank, framed by the Suzuki Foundation and Pembina Institute, and done by the country's leading climate-change-simulation company, MJKA of Vancouver.

The study shows convincingly that the government's policies will not work and, as such, confirms previous studies done by other organizations. The bank, now housing the country's leading economic "think tank" (TD Economics), doesn't endorse the study, but finds its analysis and conclusions "robust," which means highly credible.

What would it take to meet the 20-per-cent target? A whole lot more than the government is suggesting. What would be the cost to the economy of doing more? It depends how aggressive Canada wants to be. But if 20 per cent remains the target, then necessary measures would take a mere 0.16 per cent off economic growth yearly from 2010 to 2020.

Put another way, there would be a small overall national economic cost, and significant interregional economic flows from fossil-fuel-producing Alberta and Saskatchewan to other parts of Canada. But, even after those interregional flows, Alberta would still experience the country's strongest economic growth, and Canada's overall economic growth would remain strong. (The cost of doing nothing is considerable, of course, in the long term for Alberta, Canada and the world.)

Scaremongers would have to eat their words if they gave this study a fair-minded report, but so, too, would those who paint cost-free scenarios of reducing emissions.

How to hit the target? Find a price for carbon of $40 a tonne by 2011, rising to $100 a tonne by 2020, above what the government contemplates. Back that price with a series of regulations on vehicles, home efficiency, switching to lower-carbon fuels, and carbon from flaring and venting in upstream oil and gas production. Even with these and other measures, Canada will meet the 2020 target only by buying emissions credits offshore - something the government has steadfastly insisted it will not do.

Environmental groups such as Suzuki and Pembina, of course, want Canada to go beyond the 20-per-cent commitment. They won't get their way, not with this government. But then this government won't get its way with current policies.

Technological breakthroughs might help to reduce emissions in the long term, but, as the TD Bank observes, "it's not reasonable to expect that technical advances will provide a solution." At least not by 2020 - and that includes Alberta's much-touted carbon sequestration (CCS) projects, two of which were recently announced.

If CCS projects work, they might bury carbon for a reasonable price (certainly far below the more than $700 a tonne that I wrongly reported last week). But the amount of reduction from CCS would still represent only a very small share of the province's total emissions. The rest of the measures will have to be much bolder than the ones contemplated by the government to reach its own targets, the ones Canada is taking to Copenhagen.

Once before, Canada went to a climate-change conference, at Kyoto, and made promises it could not and did not keep. It would appear a repeat performance is in the making. Or, to put things differently: new government, same script.

 

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