In his 2013 inaugural speech following his 2012 re-election, President Barack Obama made it very clear that Climate Change would be the cornerstone of his second term:
We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations … The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it.
On June 2, President Obama rolled out a plan targeting carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants by 20%. The plan will cut carbon emissions from power plants by 2030 to an average of 30 percent less than 2005 levels.
Obama’s call for urgent action comes only days after the release of The National Climate Assessment, (written by America’s top scientists) which outlines the stark reality of the widespread effects of global warming on the United States – droughts, wildfires, worsening hurricanes, extreme heat, rising ocean levels and flooding coastal areas.
U.S. Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman has directly challenged Canada to join the world community in facing the climate change reality:
We need to continue that work together moving toward a low-carbon future, with alternative energy choices, with greater energy efficiency, and sustainable extraction of our oil and gas reserves. This is not a task that we can take on individually. It can only be successfully challenged together.
It’s Your Move Mr. Harper
In Canada, it’s a well-known fact that Stephen Harper has for years pledged to follow the American lead on curbing carbon emissions. He contends that Canada’s greenhouse-gas policy should be close to that of the United States. “Canada cannot act alone because our economy is closely integrated with that of the United States,” has argued Prime Minister Harper.
In the House of Commons this week, Mr. Harper attempted to back-track from his stated policy of imitating U.S. initiatives on cutting CO2 emissions. He alluded to regulations for Canadian coal-fired power plants pointing out that Obama is “acting two years after this government acted and taking actions that do not go nearly as far as this government went.”
Only the gullible will fall for such hypocrisy. Mr. Harper, the Obama proposal will cut overall U.S.emissions by 10% per cent by 2030. This is an amount equivalent to all of Canada’s emissions. Coal is not the same on both sides of the border. While Big Coal is king in America, the Tar Sands rule in Canada. Any attempt to follow the U.S. lead will inescapably mean regulating oil-based emissions in Canada.
Mr. Harper told Global News in December that oil and gas regulations “would be best done if we could do this in concert with our major trading partner … so that’s what I’m hoping we’ll be able to do over the next couple of years.”
President Obama has now put tremendous pressure on Canada to step up its efforts on climate change action. The ball is undeniably in Harper’s court. Five years ago in Copenhagen both countries committed to the same specific goal of reducing carbon emissions to 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020. It appears that Obama’s new plan will keep the United States on its 2020 target. Macleans’s recently reported that Obama’s plan “puts the heat on Canada.”
Canada’s national goal for emissions is 612 million tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere in the year 2020. But Harper’s current policies have us on track to spew 734 million tonnes of carbon into the air that year.
That reflects the dismal performance of the Harper administration in climate change policy and the utter failure of an economic policy focused almost exclusively on Tar Sands expansion. In order to meet its targets for 2020, Canada needs to reverse current trends in the growth of emissions. Nothing short of a national program on carbon pricing will provide any hope of reaching the 2020 target.
It’s Your Move Mr. Harper!