In the fight against climate change, Europe is often held up as a beacon of enlightenment.
German leader Angela Merkel was nicknamed Climate Chancellor early on in her tenure. France was the driver behind the 2016 Paris agreement to slay global warming. And Great Britain is often cited as a world leader in policy designed to mitigate the forward march of rising emissions.
Canada, on the other hand, is regularly viewed as a climate laggard. The Liberal government of Justin Trudeau has received criticism for not producing a plan that will allow this country to meet its obligations under the Paris accord.
But as it turns out, we may not be any more a climate straggler than those governments regarded as being more serious and reformist on this front.
Last week, Germany unveiled a new climate plan that is a mix of subsidies and regulations and, most notably, included a carbon tax. Reaction to the blueprint has been scornful. The price on carbon has been mocked for being far too low to do any good, starting at €10 a tonne in 2021, rising to €35 by 2025. The government failed to withdraw massive subsidies to fossil fuel industries.
"The whole package is just a big failure,” said Lisa Badum of the rising Greens, the German environmentally minded party. Except for Ms. Merkel and members of her coalition government, few believe the country will meet its goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. It will miss its 2020 targets by a wide margin, and most likely the 2030 marks also.
Meantime, over in France a newly appointed independent climate advisory council recently issued its first report. The verdict? France is falling way short of meeting its climate targets as emissions from transportation and buildings have not dropped nearly as much as planned. The country would have to triple its efforts to get back on track.
This will prove more difficult than imagined. Efforts to reduce emissions in the transportation sector through taxation spawned countrywide protests and the rise of Mouvement des gilets jaunes – the yellow vests. Any attempt to raise the price on gasoline to curb driving habits would likely lead to further protests.
French President Emmanuel Macron is encountering a problem faced by his counterparts around the world: While people say they want their government to do something about the climate emergency we face, they don’t want to be the ones affected economically by any of the measures taken to combat the problem.
Things aren’t much better in Britain. Its own Committee on Climate Change issued an update report this summer. Much like the report card Mr. Macron received, the British government’s was poor. The committee found that just one of the 25 emissions-cutting measures it insisted were necessary in 2018 had been delivered on 100 per cent.
It found that the emissions targets the government had set for 2020 and 2030 were going to be missed by even bigger margins than was calculated just a year earlier.
Britain has done many good things. For instance, it now goes several days at a time without generating any electricity from coal. This generates much back-patting among politicians. However, the truth is the country is still heavily reliant on fossil fuels. Similar to many jurisdictions around the world, not enough is being done there to hit targets considered essential if we, collectively, are going to halt the warming of the planet.
All this is to say that Canada is not the only major world economy struggling with this issue. Environmentalists can make it sound like it’s really not that complicated – all it takes to beat back climate change is politicians with courage. If it were only that simple.
The fact is, these politicians have tens of millions of people to worry about in the here and now. The Canadian government could take radical steps to meet its commitments under the Paris agreement and there would very likely be a revolt in the streets because of the hardship and dislocation it could well cause.
Angela Merkel is a scientist and a former environment minister. She understands better than most what is happening to our planet and, yet, after presenting her government’s latest climate plan, she said this: “Politics is what is possible.”
She knew it was not going to make environmentalists happy. But she also knew it was likely the best she could do in a complex world with many interests to serve.
Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.