Kyoto’s Benefits Aren’t Worth the Cost
by Margret Kopala

Published in the Ottawa Citizen, October 2, 2004

“Perhaps we are devoting too many resources to
correcting human effects on the climate without
being sure that we are the major contributor.”

Dr. Bill Burrows, climatologist,
member Royal Meteorological Society of Britain.

On August 24, Canada’s second largest single emitter of greenhouse gases announced the first Canadian purchase of certified emission reductions from a Chilean company under the Kyoto Protocol. “Meeting Canada’s Kyoto commitment will be a huge challenge,” said TransAlta President and CEO Steve Snyder at the signing ceremony in Santiago. “With emission trades like this one, TransAlta is able to cost effectively take action now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

At first blush, this is stunning news from an organization based in Calgary where the oil industry and much anti-Kyoto sentiment also reside. Stunning too because no Kyoto implementation plan is yet to hand and because the protocol - which calls for significant reductions in emissions by 2012 - has no legal force or effect until Russia ratifies it - something that only became possible when the Kremlin recently realized it would benefit by billions of dollars from Kyoto’s trading emission quotas.

Moreover, the causes, remedies and even the existence of climate change remain controversial. While none dispute that temperatures rose during the 20th century, Tim Patterson of Carleton University has written how the 15th century may have been hotter with higher temperature peaks. In addition, Ottawa University professor Ian Clark has shown how temperature peaks and valleys since 1860 more closely relate to solar sunspot activity than they do to carbon dioxide emissions. Not so surprisingly, he concludes, the sun is driving climate warming, not C02.

On second thought, it isn’t surprising either that one of Canada’s largest non-regulated power generation and wholesale marketing companies should pre-emptively safeguard its own business interests. After all, TransAlta’s coal-fired, gas-fired, hydro and renewable generation assets in Canada, the U.S., Mexico and Australia are considerable as is its consumer and investor base. Buying emissions credits is insurance, says spokesman Tim Richter. “The Canada Pension Plan is our biggest investor, and if governments require greenhouse gas reductions, emissions trading is the best and cheapest way to do this.”

TransAlta may have paid for these credits but they will recover the costs from consumers by increasing electricity rates, says George Fink, environment committee chair of Calgary’s 340 member Small Explorers and Producers Association of Canada. “It may even be a benefit to a utility since utilities are usually guaranteed a rate of return on expenditures.”

Never mind that countries from whom credits are purchased are under no obligation to reduce emissions; never mind that reductions in Canada’s carbon-dioxide emissions will have virtually no impact on the direct and indirect emissions of the world’s 6.3 billion people and natural emissions such as forest fires, ocean vapours, active volcanoes and plant decomposition; never mind that trading emissions effectively redistributes income between nations and between branch plants of multinational corporations. And because Canada’s immigration laws will produce increases in population (and therefore greenhouse gas emissions) beyond that which Europe, for instance, will experience, “the Federal Government will likely have to buy billions of dollars of credits on our citizens’ behalf,” says Mr. Fink.

Since the U.S. and Australia have refused to sign the protocol, and since China is not required to sign, Mr.Fink concludes that Canada cannot stay competitive. “These impacts are not well understood by our elected politicians and the general public,” he says.

A CROP poll released on September 5, agrees. While 81% of Canadians say they support the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, nearly two thirds have no idea what it is about, and half have never heard of it. Support shrinks, however, as people understand its impact. Meanwhile, one Fraser Institute study pegs the annual cost of Kyoto at $4,700 per Canadian for the next five years, about the same as per capita healthcare spending.

Canadians want to conserve resources and to restore those that have been damaged but Kyoto isn’t needed to achieve this. On the contrary, Kyoto could, in the worst case scenario, set the stage for cynical manipulation of nations, corporations and taxpayers that will bankrupt and ultimately destroy our ability to adapt to fluctuating and uncontrollable changes in the climate.

Margret Kopala’s column on western perspectives appears weekly.

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