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Kyoto: High Risk For No Reward

Winning in industry doesn't have to mean wasting the environment
Published in Canada's Globe and Mail, Tuesday 5th March 2002

Eric Reguly
Creating a winning industrial strategy in Canada doesn't require a lot of imagination. When things get tough, all you have to do is threaten to blow a few employees out the door. That's usually enough to guarantee a financial freebie from the government -- as Air Canada got after Sept. 11 -- or remove a new regulation that may crimp profits.

At various times in recent decades, mining and pulp and paper companies threatened to kill jobs if regulations were to prevent them from choking the air and the water with poison. This year, the tried and trusted strategy is back in force. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, backed by the petroleum industry and premiers Ralph Klein and Mike Harris, want to ensure that Canada follows the American lead and rejects the Kyoto protocol on climate change. They will succeed. When jobs are at stake, politicians' backbones turn to rubber.

The figures used by the anti-Kyoto crowd are as compelling as those found on Enron's financial statements. The Chamber of Commerce claimed that meeting the Kyoto requirements would lop $30-billion a year from GDP by 2010. Not to be outdone, the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters trotted out a figure of $40-billion, plus the loss of 450,000 manufacturing jobs. The Alberta government tossed in a cost range of $25-billion to $40-billion and as many as 70,000 jobs. Why stop there? Do we hear $100-billion and a million jobs? A lobby group could invent any figure and the media would dutifully report it as if it had some basis in reality.

Putting aside the environmental benefits of lower greenhouse gas emissions, Kyoto's economic costs are unknown. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions could very well trim economic growth. But there's also a good chance that Kyoto may not be nearly as expensive as the shockmeisters warn; it could even result in a net financial gain for industrial companies.

The acid rain debate of the 1970s and the 1980s is a case in point. For years, Inco, Falconbridge, Ontario Hydro and the other monster sources of sulphur dioxide used every technique in the book to fight emission restrictions. When combined with water, sulphur dioxide creates sulphuric acid -- acid rain -- which was killing thousands of lakes in Eastern Canada and the United States. As far as Inco and the others were concerned, dead lakes were a cost of doing business. What was not okay was forcing them to invest in new technology to reduce emissions. The companies would become uncompetitive. Smelter jobs would be lost. Romantic Sudbury, Ont., the Paris of the north, would survive only as a training site for future moon astronauts. The Soviet Union's smelting companies would take over the world.

In the mid-1980s, as more and more lakes looked like they were covered in astroturf, and as acid rain became an international issue, Jim Bradley, Ontario's environment minister at the time, finally got his way. Emissions would be reduced. Suddenly, sulphur dioxide went from a PR issue to an engineering issue. Inco wasn't as thick-skulled as it liked to let on. It found an ingenious way to burn high-sulphur nickel ore in an oxygen-rich environment as a fuel, as if it were low-grade coal. The process had two benefits: a) it created enough energy for primary smelting, thus vastly reducing the need for natural gas and b) it captured much of the sulphur before it went up the smokestack. As a result, Inco created a lovely win-win situation. It saved money because its nickel production has become more efficient, and the environment became cleaner.

Not all industrial users, of course, were as lucky as Inco. Cleaning up copper smelters has not been as easy. But other big polluters are finding that technology can help save costs while reducing pollution. Smelting aluminum creates a nasty greenhouse gas called polyfluorocarbon. The aluminum industry has made great progress in reducing the output of this gas; more efficient production has been the economic byproduct. Noranda is working on plans to create a win-win situation by cutting the emissions of sulphur hexafluoride, another ugly gas, from its magnesium operations.

If you listen to the Kyoto naysayers, though, there is no possible way that meeting the accord can produce anything but an economic loss for Canada. Rolling back emissions to 1990 levels would put hundreds of thousands of workers on the dole, and if you're unemployed, you don't really care whether the planet is getting warmer or not. The possibility that rolling back emissions might create production efficiencies has not even been examined. Has anyone asked the engineers what they think?

Kyoto: High Risk For No Reward
Published in Canada's National Post, Thursday 21st February 2002

Terence Corcoran
Ottawa just released its Third National Report on Climate Change, a 270-page stock-taking of Canada's emerging climate control program. If you can make your way past the standard global warming scares -- more people dying on the streets of Toronto, drought in Alberta, malaria in our forests and Lime disease in the Rocky Mountains -- the report offers the strongest reasons ever for Canada to get out of the Kyoto Protocol.

Nothing in the report offers any support for Canada's participation. To meet the Kyoto targets, Canada would have to contort its economy with massive cuts in energy use to achieve objectives that would have zero -- underline that word -- impact on the world's overall emissions of carbon dioxide and therefore zero impact on global warming.

Never mind the science (which is uncertain) and the scary impact (which is all speculation and agit-prop cranked out by Environment Canada). Instead, let's start with Canada's proportionate contribution to the world's carbon emissions. The standard claim is that Canadians are among the biggest energy users on the planet. But that measure is based on carbon dioxide emissions per capita, about 15 tonnes each year. That puts us fourth in the world behind the United States, Luxembourg, and Australia. But measuring carbon tonnes per capita for a country like Canada is like measuring the amount of rainfall in the Amazon and then accusing Amazonians of being the world's greatest water hogs.

Energy use in Canada is higher because the country's geography dictates that it be high. This week's report from Ottawa lists all the reasons for Canada's per-capita energy consumption: a cold climate, huge distances, small population and a specialized economy that sells energy to the United States. High energy use, moreover, does not mean wasted energy. We use more energy because we produce more stuff that uses energy that serves a purpose, including the essential business of keeping us alive, warm and healthy.

The total Canadian economy accounts for only 2.2% of world carbon emissions. The entire population of Canada could disappear and the change in world totals over the next decade would be minor. A better measure of Canada's share of world emissions -- assuming we must measure it in the first place -- would be as a proportion of our land mass and our geographic capacity to absorb emissions. Canada's 10-million square kilometres of land and fresh water account for 7% of the world total.

If Canada's true proportionate contribution to world carbon emissions were presented fairly and accurately, Ottawa would have no justification for backing Kyoto. Here's a rough calculation of Canada's carbon emissions per square kilometre of land mass compared with some other industrialized countries: Canada 50 tonnes; Germany 2,600 tonnes; Belgium 4,000 tonnes; Singapore 12,000 tonnes.

The global warming bureaucracy, however, prefers to use measures that imply waste and extravagance on the part of individual people, and then use that implication to browbeat citizens of different nations into submission. Under Kyoto, Canada would be forced to reduce energy consumption by almost 20% by 2010, a gap the new paper concedes is "roughly equivalent to all of the emissions in 2010 from the industrial sector" across the country.

Where will the burden of such a massive cut be borne? Since western provinces are expected to increase energy use by up to 40% in the next decade under normal circumstances, the implication is either that the West will have to give up that growth or other regions of Canada (Ontario, perhaps especially) will have to slow development dramatically.

All of the calculations also assume there is solid logic behind the convoluted methodology used to arrive at any of these numbers. Climate change economics and emissions calculations are as wonky as climate science. Ottawa continues to fudge around the science, quoting the ambiguous statements of the global agency that concluded only that greenhouse emissions are having a "discernable" impact on the world's climate, but how discernable remains unstated.

Ottawa has spent $2-billion so far on climate change programs, but very little on testing the actual validity of the science. Most of the money has gone into creating impact scenarios: What would happen if temperatures were to rise by so much? The objective, for the most part, has been to generate propaganda for the global warming scare. The malaria threat is a typical example of junk science in the service of bureaucrats with an agenda. If malaria were a function of hot climates, the mosquito-spread disease would have infected much of the United States. And even if malaria risks were higher, controlling it is easy.

The same messy theorizing surrounds other claims, including heat-death numbers and other health threats. The risks of climate change are, so far, hypothetical and unproven. But there can be no denying the real risks -- including health and death exposure -- that would occur if Ottawa were to deliberately impose Kyoto. The Kyoto cuts are a far-from-hypothetical plan to knock 20% off the energy use of a country whose people depend on energy to keep warm and stay cool -- and alive.

René Coignaud replies...

I felt angry reading Mr. Corcoran's article. With his attitude to dismiss climate change science, reminds me of those who still advocate that tobacco is not harmful and that nicotine is not addictive. Presenting a scientific concensus as junk science and marginal industry backed science as the truth is junk journalism.

When Mr. Corcoran says that Kyoto Protocol and that Canada's effort will have no impact on global warming, he seems to forget that scientists say we need to reduce by 60%-80% our worldwide emissions below 1990 levels in order to avoid changes that we could not adapt to. The first - underline the word first - is therefore simply a first tiny step. In fact, we should see this commitment period as a test-run for parties to familiarise themselves with the course, to test the rules and to develop the thinking of minimizing our emissions before launching out in the true race from the second commitment period onwards. Your analogy with amazonian rainfall to try to dismiss canadians responsibility as one of the world's worst polluters doesn't work as canadians emit greenhouse gases while brazilians don't cause rainfall. Your claim that Canada's geography dictates that we produce a lot of greenhouse gases is a classical argument but I am not sure wether it is a good one or not. Yes, Canada is huge. However, although I'm Canadian, I don't cross Canada on a regular basis and I guess it's the same for most people. Yes, goods need to travel but I am not sure they travel a longer distance then anywhere else in the world. Most of the Canadian population is concentrated in not such a huge area, no ? One thing is for sure, europeans definitely have more efficient cars and they don't seem to suffer too much from that. As for the cold climate, you are certainly wrong. Nordic european countries are certainly as cold as Canada and they use energy way more efficiently - and their economy doesn't crumble and they don't starve to death ! Just as we have standards of quality to ensure your house won't fall on you, we need to have strong efficiency standards so that houses use energy as efficiently as possible and, hence, saves you cash in the not so long run. Also, is having simple devices to reduce water consumption without even noticing it such a huge sacrifice ? Is reducing the heat of your water heater so that you don't have to cool it down with cold water such an offense against your comfort ? Furthermore, Mr. Corcoran doesn't seem to understand that along with using energy more efficiently, Kyoto is also about clean energy.

As for the argument about carbon absorption, it is not much better than the argument about rainfall. First, sinks should be used to absorb already too high carbon concentrations rather than new ones. Once carbon is emitted, it will keep circulating for a long time. We need to avoid putting new carbon in the atmosphere while we absorb carbon that has already been emitted. Furthermore, Canada is huge, so it has more potential to absorb emissions. We therefore have the responsibility to absorb emissions not only for ourselves but for others too.

I sent your article to a friend of mine in Britain and he couldn't believe it. "Our government over here is obsessed with reducing our energy use by 40% by 2020 because it will boost the economy!" he says. This is while the British economy grew by 2.4% last year - making it the fastest-growing among the G7 - while UK greenhouse gas emissions fell by 14.1% between 1990 and 1999.

If you think Kyoto is a bad thing, that's ok but please have real arguments to sustain your opinion. By the way, if you could keep in mind there will hopefully be future generations on this planet, it would be appreciated !!!

René Coignaud
Laval, Québec, Canada

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