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We're losing the climate fight thanks to Harper's lax coal regulations

Canada's economy and ecosystems are facing serious emerging threats from climate changes beyond worst case scenarios. Already climate change is contributing to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and reducing global GDP by over $1.2 trillion dollars a year, according to a major new study.

Climate scientists are warning that these climate changes are accelerating and now pose a "planetary emergency" that requires "urgent" action to prevent them from "crippling civilization."

"The sea ice in the Arctic is toast, but (action) may change whether or not we are toast too." – U.Vic. climate scientist Andrew Weaver [Canadian Press]

The primary cause of these rapid changes to our climate system is pollution from burning dirty, fossil-carbon fuels – oil, coal and natural gas.

Despite the growing threats, Canada is busy pumping increasing amounts of dirty carbon fuels through our economy. While much of this carbon is kept off the books, all of it still threatens what we care about in two ways.

First, it makes our economy more dependent on carbon and thus more vulnerable to the future need to limit climate pollution. Keeping much of this carbon "off the books" just hides the risk and makes it easier to inflate a bigger carbon bubble. Secondly, all the extra carbon we are pumping out makes us more vulnerable to the extreme weather, crop losses and ecosystem collapses created by burning it.

To understand how badly we are failing at reducing our exposure to fossil-carbon, look no further than the Harper Government's new coal pollution regulations.

For years the Harper government promised their regulations for coal-fired power plants would be "stringent", "tough", "responsible" and "dramatic". That would have been great.

The final regulations however were just published after being watered down significantly by years of industry lobbying. The reductions in climate pollution turn out to be so tiny––and so far into the future––that they are basically useless even to help meet Stephen Harper's own promises.

Too little, too late

To appreciate just how little and how late this latest effort really is, let's take a look at our government's own numbers.

Stephen Harper became Prime Minister in early 2006. A full decade later, in 2016, his government's coal regulations are expected to slash climate pollution by … uh … let's see … zero.

To me, doing nothing on coal emissions for a decade is an extremely leisurely start, to put it mildly. Clearly Mr. Harper's doesn't think coal emissions are an urgent problem facing Canadians.

In fact, it won't be until 2020––another eight years from now––before his coal regulations will require the first tiny decline in climate pollution. How tiny? As my chart below shows, it will be just one half of one per cent of Canada's current emissions.

 

It turns out that 2020 is also the year our Prime Minister pledged to the international community that Canada would get its climate pollution down to 607 million tonnes of CO2 (MtCO2) per year.

How will his new signature coal regulations help in meeting his climate pledge? They were supposed to play a starring role. Instead they ended up being less than three per cent of what is needed. Take a look:

 

As my chart above shows, our government expects Canada will need to find a lot more climate pollution cuts to meet our Prime Minister's climate pledge for 2020. Additional cuts of 116 million tonnes of CO2 (MtCO2) to be exact.

The new coal regulations will deliver just three MtCO2 of that. If you click the chart to get a bigger version, you may actually be able see the tiny difference these coal regulations will make.

Moving the goal posts

This chart also highlights another reason Canada is losing the battle to remove carbon risk––repeatedly weakened goals.

Our Prime Minister's most recent pledge to hit 607 MtCO2 by 2020 was made at the Copenhagen climate summit. That target however was much weaker than his previous pledge of 581 MtCO2 by 2020. And even that, as most Canadians know, was much weaker than our nation's Kyoto pledge to hit 554 MtCO2 by 2012.

No heavy lifting for Mr. Harper's generation it seems.

Wiped out by tar sands tsunami

Finally, let's compare the Harper government's coal regulations to the exploding growth of climate pollution coming out of the Alberta tar sands.

More in Climate Snapshot

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A flood of mega-carbon projects threaten to quickly turn British Columbia into one of the world's dirtiest economies.

Car Carbon series: cool new animation, plus the jaw-dropping impact it left out

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