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Catastrophic climate change may decrease Canadian GDP by 25 per cent

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Stéphane Dion, MP and former leader of the Liberal Party, would like to see the headline above published everywhere. It reflects a finding buried on page 38 of the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE) report “Paying the Price.” “This headline would accurately represent the way things are headed right now,” Dion told an audience of SFU Public Policy students at a Carbon Talks presentation, “If this were the headline, it would stay in the minds of everyone. Instead, papers report that climate change impacts will reduce the Canadian GDP by $5 billion in 2020. This doesn’t mean very much to people.”

Dion set the stage for his advocacy of a global carbon tax with some items he found buried in the news: a new International Energy Agency study that states dangerous climate change (an increase of over 2 degrees) will be “locked in” if humans don’t act within five years and that business as usual will result in an 11 degree warming; and a recent report that global emissions increased by a record 6 per cent in 2010.

Dion first spoke of the upcoming UN Climate Conference in Durban, South Africa from November 28 to December 9. He told the audience that many critics would like the UN process to completely fail, so new efforts can take its place. He doesn't share this view, in part because he has been deeply engaged in the COP (Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) talks ever since he chaired the highly successful Montreal COP in 2005. He agrees that COP is unlikely to surmount the different interests of the developing and developed nations. But, if there are no big clashes in Durban, COP can facilitate progress in small, technical areas, as it did in Cancun. A complete failure of COP would weaken existing carbon markets as well as leaders who are  making progress in their own countries. 

But Dion doesn’t think COP can accomplish the most important goal: agreement on greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. “No one will accept a hard cap because it seems it will stop the 6-10 per cent rate of growth in developing countries,” he said. Dion would like to see a process parallel to COP implement a global harmonized price on carbon. Scientists would set the price at the level necessary to keep climate change under two degrees. Two degrees is the temperature at which scientists believe natural systems like the Arctic tundra would be irreversibly converted from carbon sinks to massive carbon emitters and create run away heating of the planet.

Dion sees a global harmonized price on carbon as the best and perhaps only tool that can reach the necessary reductions because it would resolve the impasse over fairness. All competitors would be equally subject to it; it would brook no “carbon free loaders.” “The Indian Minister of the Environment said that if any system would be accepted, it would be this one,” he stated.

Governments would choose how to invest the revenues generated by the carbon price. The revenues could support clean technology research and public transit, or be used to offset the higher price of fossil fuel energy for people with low incomes. Developed countries would be required to use some of the revenues to help developing countries with mitigation and adaptation.

Governments could implement the global carbon tax through existing bureaucracies rather than creating new bureaucracies as required by the Western Climate Initiative or the European carbon market. “The world carbon market won’t happen for decades,” Dion said. “We have until 2017 to stabilize the climate at the 2 degree increase.”

“When we tax profits, lawyers meet around a table to help companies reduce that cost,” Dion continued. “If we tax pollution, it will be engineers who gather around the table to help companies reduce that cost.” In Dion’s view, a global carbon price would create the momentum needed to de-carbonize the economy by rewarding countries that fight climate change.

One public policy student noted that voters have a visceral reaction to taxes but are willing to accept sectoral regulations and policies put forward in the name of health, jobs and livability. Dion noted that he fully understood this problem: his support for a Canadian carbon tax lead to the defeat of the Liberal Party in 2008. “I don’t do the happy messaging,” he said. “I tell the facts. That is why I will never run for PM again.”

The “happy messaging” point brought the conversation back to the press: voters won’t support the deep changes needed to stabilize the climate unless they clearly understand the catastrophic consequences of inaction, and those consequences are chronically under-reported, particularly in Canada. The Vancouver Sun headline on NRTEE report stated: “Canadian Environment Minister Not Surprised by Climate Change Costs.”  The fifth paragraph of that article quoted Environment Minister Kent as saying that the government is already on top of the situation. Not until paragraph sixteen does the reader learn that Kent has no plan in place to meet Ottawa’s relatively modest greenhouse gas emissions targets.

Such placating coverage builds the impression that things are well in hand instead of on the brink of staggering changes. Dion suggested that the mainstream newspapers’ failure reflect the magnitude of the coming climate impacts deprives leaders of the informed electorate that would support an effective response. 

(15) Comments

bill November 13th 2011 | 8:20 PM

Can you imagine what S. Dion would have done to our economy had we been dumb enough to elect this clown?!

I am frightened November 13th 2011 | 9:21 PM
Seriously... This is a joke right? People don't really believe this crap do they?
Sean in Toronto November 13th 2011 | 9:21 PM
Catastrophic Climate Change Rhetoric May Decrease Dion's IQ by 25%

 

Dion may be not made for politics, but at least he had the courage to tell the truth the way he was seeing it. As for what will happen in reality, this is not the first time civilization is busy preparing its own undoing. It'll be fun to watch, for those unlucky enough to see it. Cities abandoned, hunger, war, loss of whatever freedom and democracy existed. We'll all wonder how the hell we were so stupid.

malcontent November 13th 2011 | 10:22 PM

This is the man who named his dog Kyoto. Can you expect anything less?

Anti-denialism November 13th 2011 | 10:22 PM

To the previous commenters, ignoring catastrophic climate change is not going to make it go away. Scientists the world over concur that it's going on at an alarming rate. The evidence supports it. Actually go and read up on it before you brush it off as something that won't affect you. Become informed, not ignorant.

Then do something, on a personal level. Turn off the air conditioner. Maybe even push for the right decisions via movements like Avaaz.

I am frightened November 14th 2011 | 6:06 AM
There it is... Because I don't agree with your viewpoint I am ignorant. Actually I at one time would have considered myself an environmentalist before the movement got hijacked. I work in an industry that provides green alternatives to consumers. The fact is that most green products so very little to help the environment, they just are a way to make people pay more for things. I do care about the environment very deeply, but do not care for a movement that is really about money and power
Barry November 14th 2011 | 9:09 AM

The commenters attacking Dion are trying to shift the focus from the fact that two mainstream business groups have recently said that Canadians face "catastrophic" costs if we don't de-carbonize our energy system quickly.

Both our Canadian government's NRTEE and the International Energy Agency have used the term "catastrophic" to describe the costs of the carbon pollution bubble we are inflating right now. NRTEE puts the costs of continuing what we are doing today at 25% of GDP. The IEA says we are inflating $4 of debt for every one dollar we don't spend today on shifting to low-carbon energy systems.

klem November 15th 2011 | 6:06 AM

Wake up folks, anthropogenic climate change is a dead issue. It is political poison to even talk about it, that's why it is never discussed at G8 or G20 summits anymore, it is a no win for a politician. Dion is three years behind. We will see proof of the death of ACC at Durban, where only a few low level journalists will attend, no leaders will attend, and I'll wager Al Gore himself has another engagment at that time. Durban will be the biggest failure of them all.

Climate catastrophe is nothing more than happy hopes and dreams of the environmental left now. Its over greenies, you lost.

cheers

Celes Davar November 28th 2011 | 4:16 PM

Moral courage (leadership at all levels) in the face of climate denial is the antidote to the poison that faces us right now: a Canadian federal government deeply tied to the oil patch; Climate scientists and other scientists slowly and intentionally being removed from government positions so that no more data can be generated to be used in informing policy.

We are living in times which require a different kind of economic thinking. Unfortunately, we are mired in 1950's resource based economic thinking, when the reality is we need a new accounting system - one that accounts for the single most unaccounted for element so far - carbon. In 150 years, we have released anthropogenically generated (fossil fuels - coal, oil, gas) CO2 resulting in an unprecedented level of CO2 in the atmosphere. Unprecedented in over 800,000 years (carbon dating and temperature correlates that exist in glaciers in Antarctica and the Arctic going back over 1,000,000 years.) Fact: we are at 390ppm CO2 in the atmosphere today. Fact: In 800,000 years, CO2 due to volcanoes, and all kinds of natural phenomena, this planet's atmosphere never exceeded 290 ppm.

The largest insurance agents in the world Lloyds, Munich Re have confirmed that climate change and its subsequent effects with severe weather are now requiring insurers to re-think their models for insurance. Watch for an entire new insurance structure that will not provide coverage for people in flood plains, along sea coasts, in tornado zones to be covered without pre-planning for climate mitigation in the design of towns, communities, and structures. We are into a new global context. 

My read is that we cannot think ahead into the new reality because we have no history for it. Most of our economics is based on thinking from the past. We are in a new economic context that requires new economists and new thinkers, new leaders. Business will take the lead because they will act in accordance with real events. Governments, although we wish they would lead, have too short a time-line to act before the next election. We do need a Canadian and a global framework to account for the cost of carbon. In the absence of this, we are not accounting for the true cost of an industry.

 

klem wrote:

Wake up folks, anthropogenic climate change is a dead issue. It is political poison to even talk about it, that's why it is never discussed at G8 or G20 summits anymore, it is a no win for a politician. Dion is three years behind. We will see proof of the death of ACC at Durban, where only a few low level journalists will attend, no leaders will attend, and I'll wager Al Gore himself has another engagment at that time. Durban will be the biggest failure of them all.

Climate catastrophe is nothing more than happy hopes and dreams of the environmental left now. Its over greenies, you lost.

cheers

Celes Davar November 28th 2011 | 4:16 PM

This is what goes on behind the scenes. Shell and BP, who are significantly invested into the tar sands, lobby their governments to back Canada's fight against the EU proposal which officially labels oilsands fuel as "dirty" because it results in 22% more GHG emissions than fuel from conventional sources. Watch for the British vote later this week.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/story/2011/11/28/canada-britain-uk-oil-s...

The reality is that we are addicted to oil. We need to move past this addiction to investing significantly into other renewables and strategies in a parallel vein. Over time, we reduce our dependence on oil, increase our dependence on renewables, and reduce carbon emissions. How simple this sounds..if only!

klem December 12th 2011 | 9:09 AM

"The reality is that we are addicted to oil."

We're not as addicted as we're going to be soon. All of the talk about peak oil over the last 5 years has resulted in the discovery of more huge oil deposits than ever before, and the discovery of enormous deposits of natural gas in places that had none before. Even gas-free Britain now has a five trillion cubic meter deposit they didn't have last year, Britain might become a net exported of gas. If you thought we were addicted to fossil fuels before, you aint seen nothing yet. The next 20 years may be the new golden era for fossil fuels. Good bye solar and wind, hello fracking! Wahoo!

Cheers

Bob Loveless November 17th 2012 | 12:00 AM

I cannot believe the ignorance of many of the posters - yes I said igorance. If you did any research at all you would know that 96-97% of all scientist agree that humans are responsible for the current climate crises. The scientific evidence is irrefutable for heavens sake. And you don't need scientific evidence, just ask the native people who live off the land about the chnaging climate and how it is affecting them. If we do not address this problem soon future generations are facing a hell on earth! The good news is that the ignorant people posting on this page are in the minority, especially with younger people, so there is hope!

Lee Leeman January 18th 2013 | 3:15 PM

BOB LOVELESS...

 

Bob...perhaps you should research where that 97 percent stuff comes from and you might be surprised how bogus that is.

The truth of it is..that there are climate scientists ( like James Hansen ) who have mixed deep environmental activism with deep science.. and produced an alarming interpretation of the existing data.  At the same time, there are competent climate scientists like Richard Lindzen, who do NOT mix environmental activism with science and deduce an unalarming situation wrt to climate.  Who is right?

Is it just that one of these guys is incompetent? I dont believe so.  Is it that one of them has disagrees with the other because he did not exercise due diligence?  Is one of them a fraudster?

I think the answer to all those questions is NO.  They are both competent and respected in the field, yet they cannot agree on what the data is saying.  To me, that means that the SCIENCE itself is not strong enough to allow a decision and therefore not strong enough to accurately inform us to the degree that would justify rejigging the world's energy supply, with all the death, starvation and possible wars that would ensue.

I need a more certain interpretation in order to support THAT.

 

 

 

 

 

David J Wilson February 3rd 2013 | 9:21 PM

Lee Leeman, you've been suckered in by the deniers' classic gambit (the science isn't decided yet).  How will you atone for your sins in 25 years?