Weather Whys, December 16, 2012

From world events to our backyard
The United Nations (UN) acknowledged in 1988 that climate change was a critical global issue at a major meeting in Toronto. The UN has scheduled a huge climate change conference every December since the early 1990s. Perhaps the most important was held in Kyoto, Japan in 1997 which resulted in the Kyoto Protocol, a world treaty signed by all countries present.

It was a legally binding climate agreement and required developed and wealthy countries to reduce greenhouse emissions and co-operation between rich and poor nations to develop and install mechanisms that would reduce global emissions. Developing nations would join a broader agreement with negotiations beginning in 2005.

The first major snag took place with the withdrawal of the United States soon after the George W. Bush administration came into power in 2000. The US was responsible for 36 per cent of historical carbon in the atmosphere and the largest emitter at that time. Some countries, including Canada and Russia, held off any actions to comply with the Protocol. Most of Europe proceeded as required.

The Harper government began an assault on policies of emission reduction in Canada and at the international level immediately after election in 2006. The coup de gras came last December in Durban, South Africa when the Harper government announced that they were taking Canada out of the Kyoto treaty.

The latest December conference was expected to be a total fiasco with the end of the Kyoto Protocol and some vague hopes of another binding treaty to replace it sometime after 2020. For big oil and perhaps for those with big investments in oil and coal it would be a great way to end 2012. Even a sense of irony – imagine getting rid of the Kyoto inconvenience in Qatar – a tiny oil-producing country in the Middle East.

Kyoto limps on. The original Protocol still includes most of the world and 37 developed countries (Annex 1, of the original Protocol); all European Union nations, Ukraine, Switzerland, Norway and Australia. It does not include the US, Russia, Japan, New Zealand and Canada, because the actions of the Harper government.

The meetings in Qatar were a failure with no agreement to reduce emissions. However, almost all of the 194 countries present, including the US, agreed “to address loss and damage associated with the impacts of climate change in developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change.” John Baird, representing Canada, did not agree.

This latest agreement introduces a liability structure for climate change at the global level. Will the Harper government refusal avoid litigation and costs for current and future generations of Canadians? Only the future knows this, but current policies, subsidies and other favours to oil companies will not help Canada’s defence. Tobacco companies being liable for health damages and losing lawsuits was once unthinkable too.

Some developed countries are approaching this global emissions problem differently than Canada. A notable example is Germany which reduced greenhouse gas emissions by more than its original target and supports renewable energy technology and projects in less developed countries on a major scale.

Still, it is not all bliss and harmony there. Kai Konrad, a high profile advisor of the German government, states, “Germany and the European Union have taken a pioneering role on climate protection, under the mistaken assumption that other countries would follow our example”.

“I still hope for an international agreement, because we will only be able to stop climate change if as many countries as possible take part. But [presently] Germany and Europe are inviting Schmarotzen (parasites or freeloaders).”

Canada is in trouble if Herr Konrad is on the scene if and when this goes to a world court.

Canada’s energy policy
It would be naive to think we had one, but a glimmer of policy was recently announced by Stephen Harper immediately after approving sale of Canadian oil assets to China and Malaysia. Canada will in the future follow the example of Australia and avoid trade deals or purchases that would “constrain the ability (of the Australian government to make laws on social, environmental and economic matters”.

Of course, China, the US, India, South Africa and other countries have had such policies for decades.

I have been thinking about snow as well as climate change. It was iffy for a while but the region is quite likely to have a “White Christmas”. In Thunder Bay it remains very iffy – perhaps a technical “White Christmas”; a mere 2 cm is required.