The way forward in Copenhagen: Rich countries must blaze a green path

This was read on-air on CBC's Maritime Noon and reprinted in the Cape Breton Post

The urgency to reach a deal on climate change seems lost on the Harper government. As world leaders gather in Copenhagen to negotiate a global carbon emissions reduction agreement, Prime Minister Stephen Harper continues to delay and disrupt talks by demanding carbon reduction parity, arguing that unless all countries accept equal cuts we run the risk that some will gain economic advantage over others.

Harper’s position is not only callously self-interested, but short-sited and wrong-headed.

Short-sited in that an economic disadvantage already exists, but not the one Harper is concerned with.

Developing nations are not responsible for the build up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere which is to blame for global warming, nor have they reaped the economic benefits during the last two hundred years of the Industrial Revolution. Developing nations are, therefore, not in an economic position to adapt to climate change.

The result is that those who will be hit first and hardest, due to geography, are also those most vulnerable to rising sea levels and extreme weather events due to lack of infrastructure.Harper’s position is also wrong-headed in that moving away from fossil fuels presents an economic opportunity.

Of the 44 countries committed to emissions reductions under Kyoto, only 4 are on track to meet their targets: Britain, Germany, Sweden and Denmark. (Canada’s emissions rose by 26 per cent between 1990 and 2007.) Yet far from experiencing economic contraction as a result of investing in a ‘green-collar economy,’ those countries are in fact outperforming other wealthy nations in terms of job and business creation.

Greater investment in a sustainable energy future will not only result in decreased emissions, it will bring down the cost of renewable energy technologies, thereby making it possible for all nations – including developing nations, and especially rapidly developing nations – to make the switch away from fossil fuels. It’s no wonder that the heaviest polluters are fighting such a move given that 55% of Canada’s emissions come from industry.

Harper has further warned that “without the wealth that comes from growth, the environmental threats, the developmental challenges and the peace and security issues facing the world will be exponentially more difficult to deal with.” This is surely true, and reinforces the urgency for rich countries to fulfil their commitments made under Kyoto for an adaptation fund to help developing nations cope with the effects of climate change.

But if the growth of which Harper speaks is fuelled by carbon, the challenges of climate catastrophe facing the world will be exponentially worsened.

To quote from the ‘Survival Pact’ by Mohamed Nasheed, President of the Maldives:

“It is not carbon we want, but development. It is not coal we want, but electricity. It is not oil we want, but transport.”

In other words, growth without environmental destruction is possible. But only if we break the link between energy and carbon. In order for this to happen, we first must break the link between energy companies and government.

The damage caused by the profligate burning of fossil fuels over the last two centuries must now be answered by a green energy revolution – one from which every nation would benefit, both economically and environmentally. Only a global Green New Deal, combined with a global agreement rooted in social justice, can rectify the historical economic disadvantage experienced by developing nations while ensuring a sustainable energy future for all.

The way forward must be led by rich developed nations, including – especially – Canada.