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Kathryn Harrison of the University of British Columbia got it right. In a paper analyzing Canada's record before and after ratifying the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, she wrote: "While industry may have lost on the high-profile question of ratification, behind the scenes they have won battle after battle."

And they are still winning, while the climate loses.

This week's damp squib of a climate-change policy from the Conservative government had industry hesitations, objections and lobbying written all over it. No wonder business groups greeted it so enthusiastically; they could have written it.

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No greenhouse-gas (carbon dioxide and methane) targets until 2020. Intensity reductions for energy use rather than absolute ones. A very modest national target by 2050. No carbon taxes. And three years of consultation. Or we should say three more years of consultation.

Does anyone remember the National Climate Change Process of 1998, the year after the Kyoto negotiations? Likely not. It involved 450 experts, 225 stakeholders and 16 "issue tables." Notes Prof. Harrison: "Each met many times over several years to examine a different aspect or sector of the climate-change problem, an exercise one participant referred to as the 'Air Canada subsidy program.' "

Does anyone also remember the cross-Canada consultations the federal government launched in 2002 after the release of a "discussion paper"? Do we not remember the Liberal government's three climate-change plans, including the much-ballyhooed and almost totally useless 2002 Climate Change Plan for Canada that amounted to, again quoting Prof. Harrison, "a plan to develop a plan."

Some companies got it (let's mention Alcan as a fine example, with emissions down 30 per cent from 1990 to 2005) and a few industrial sectors did something serious about it. Business-as-usual plans - 1-per-cent annual reductions, improvements in "intensity" - weren't good enough. These companies and industrial sectors believed in Wayne Gretzky's slogan: Head for where the puck is going, not where it is. They got out in front of the issue, and have remained there.

Alas, most of Canada's business community focused on where the puck was. The Council of Chief Executives, the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce all lobbied hard against Kyoto, its ratification and serious steps toward reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

They published scary studies about hundreds of thousands of jobs lost, serious declines in Canada's standard of living, and "higher prices and higher taxes" (to quote from a business lobby ad). Time and again, they got the Chrétien and Martin governments to back off, slow down, weaken commitments.

Now they have the business-friendly Conservatives in office. Judging from this week's weak-kneed policy pronouncement, business has again triumphed. Things will get done, eventually, slowly. Emissions will keep on increasing for at least a decade, albeit less rapidly.

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Even the Conservatives' headline number - emissions reduced by 45 per cent to 65 per cent by 2050 - is a mirage. The government chose 2003 as its base-line year. Since 1990, emissions have grown about 30 per cent.

A reduction of 45 per cent to 60 per cent by 2050, taking account of the 30 per cent by which emissions have already grown, would mean a drop of only 15 per cent to 30 per cent from the year the rest of the world is using as a baseline. Almost every scientist who's studied climate change believes much more is needed.

Canadians are tied with Americans as the world's second worst per capita greenhouse-gas emitters. (Australians are the worst.) Canada's emissions increased from 1990 to 2004 more than any large country except Spain.

Where did these higher emissions come from? They rose 50 per cent in the oil and gas production, distribution and refining sector; 37 per cent in electricity and heat generation; 36 per cent in road transportation; and 22 per cent in agricultural emissions (mostly methane). Consumers account for 70 per cent of emissions, energy producers 30 per cent.

There isn't a single company that doesn't brag about what it's doing about emissions, yet they keep remorselessly rising. Companies blame consumers. Oil and gas companies point at utilities. Utilities blame government. It's been a merry-go-round of finger-pointing and inadequate inaction - which will now continue during another three years of Conservative "consultation."

Norway, a big energy producer, puts a tax on carbon and buries (sequesters) some of it in aquifers under the North Sea. Germany, Norway and the Netherlands all use graduated taxes on larger, more polluting vehicles. California has mandatory auto-emission standards, as do the northeast states. A hundred U.S. cities have greenhouse-gas abatement programs. Sweden uses garbage for city heating. Workable ideas are everywhere. They represent where the puck is going.

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Here's a prediction: After George Bush is mercifully gone from the White House, the Americans will move fast on emission reductions, leaving Canada behind and exposing once again the hollowness of Canadians' moral superiority about their American neighbours.

jsimpson@globeandmail.com



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