Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Canada, California, Cancun and Climate Change

Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Wednesday.

A huge upset happened this week in the fight against climate change and to curb our world's carbon output. In Canada, C311, the Canadian Climate Change bill, was defeated in the Canadian Senate.The Canadian Federal bill would have done the following;
...ensure[d] that Canadian greenhouse gas emissions are reduced, subject to the ultimate objectives of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change,
(a) as a long-term target, to a level that is 80% below the 1990 level by the year 2050; and
(b) as a medium-term target, valid prior to the target plan referred to in subsection 6(1), to a level that is 25% below the 1990 level by the year 2020.
This bill, which had been passed through the House of Commons, was destroyed by the Conservative controlled branch of the Canadian Federal legislature.

Canada, which is still subject to the British Royal Crown, has a bicameral legislature made up of the elected and sovereign House of Commons and the Senate. The Senate is a 105 member "upper house" that is appointed by the representative of the British Crown; the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister. In this most recent instant, the Canadian Senate had a swing in power where the majority of appointees were from the Conservative party, as a result of the Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper's pushing. While it is democratic tradition that the House of Commons is the dominant branch of parliament and the Senate and Crown rarely oppose its will, in this case the most current precedent has been set with the Senate deliberately and completely destroying C311. From a press release by Alberta Senator Grant Mitchell;
It is unprecedented that unelected Conservative Senators have defeated this bill even before the committee stage. The Conservatives’ disregard for the House of Commons and this bill is underlined by the fact that not a single Conservative Senator has debated the bill even though it was presented in the Senate 193 days ago.
Many are angered by the fact that what thus represents is the truly undemocratic process in the Canadian Parliament. The Senate held no hearings or debates in committee on this hugely important bill which would have put serious bench marks to reducing their greenhouse and carbon gas emissions. Canadian environmentalists (and much of the Canadian media) seem outright furious about this situation. As written by Susan Delacourt of the Toronto Star;
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s defiant views on democracy and the environment have exploded together in one Parliament Hill uproar, as unelected Conservative senators killed a climate-change bill passed by a majority of elected MPs in the Commons.
While this process of killing a bill on its arrival has been virtually unheard of in Canadian government, the worst aspect of this is the ramifications on the upcoming UN Climate Change talks set to take place in Cancun.

A tourist boom in Cancun is devastating the ocean and reefs. (Reuters: Henry Romero, file photo)

With a major post-industrial nation like Canada coming to the talks on the 29th with virtually nothing on the table, and the recent failure of the American Federal Green Energy bill and the virtual impossibility that a Climate bill will be passed through by the currently elected Congress, the outlook for Cancun's talks doing anything meaningful is rather dismal.

Many fear that Cancun will be another Copenhagen, with little if anything being actually accomplished. Many of these fears have actual basis based on the behavior of the largest developed countries, such as Canada and the USA, and the short comings of their financial and action-oriented promises. As Corbin Hiar writes in the UN Dispatch;
Vexing questions remain about the money set aside in Copenhagen for adaption. A paper released today by the International Institute for Environment and Development found that developed countries are not delivering on the $30 billion in so-called fast-start climate finance pledges. This precursor climate aid is intended to build the capacity and trust needed to ramp up the climate funding to the $100 billion annual level promised by rich nations in last year’s Copenhagen Accord after 2012.
While it is rather frustrating and frightening that the support does not seem to be there for real change from the largest delegations' home countries (noted by many writers even for more conservative publications such as the Wall Street Journal), some are hopeful that real progress and action can truly take place.

Jake Schmidt of the Natural Resources Defense Council wrote an amazing blog that outlines key elements that can accomplish real progress without a "binding agreement" being reached. I suggest everyone who sees this and has read this far to check it out. He finishes up his thoughts with the following hopeful words;

In Cancun countries need to begin to outline the key steps they are taking to reduce their emissions, improve the transparency and accountability of their actions, and support the creation of a new global fund for climate change. This agreement also needs to begin to implement key efforts to reduce deforestation emissions, deploy clean energy, and help developing countries adapt to the global warming impacts they are experiencing right now.

As I have mentioned previously; the solution to Climate Change is a global one, but it is up to Regionalities and Municipalites to try and sidestep the red-tape that Nations and even States can be tripped up by. With local action and local innovation regarding solutions, we can impact higher strata of government, thus moving forward, instead of dragging behind to be left in the global warming aftermath.

It seems like California and other regions are doing just that for these upcoming talks. R20, the apparent brain child of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, is an organization made up of about 100 regional leaders including local officials from countries such as South Korea, Japan, Mexico, and poignantly Canada whose mission is to develop and execute low-carbon and green energy projects. The plan is to circumvent national and even international organizations through the cooperation of subnational governments around the world. This coalition was created just as the negotiators for the upcoming global climate-change treating deliberations, a process that is looking grim. As written by Kim Chipman in the financial software, news, and data company Bloomberg's blog;

“We can’t afford to wait for national and international movement,” Schwarzenegger said in a statement. “Action is needed now.”

The regional leaders will strive to move beyond gridlock by helping public-private partnerships and accelerating development of clean-energy initiatives, according to the news release.

I must commend the Governor on this effort, I am pleasantly surprised at this innovative and timely effort. More can be found on this coalition in a great article from Reuters.

It is not just Government agencies and NGOs that would like to see a resolution and real progress at these talks. Businesses and investors, much like the Copenhagen conferences, have been pushing for real change. As written by for the Guardian;
A group of the world's largest investors have issued a call to governments, asking them to take action at the upcoming UN climate summit in Cancun or face a potential economic recession more severe than the recent financial crisis.... The release also comes on the same day as the Cancun Communiqué, signed by approximately 250 businesses around the world, calling on world leaders to deliver significant progress in Cancun... The statement acknowledges that there is unlikely to be a binding agreement in Cancun, but it argued that investors want to see progress towards a deal that can be agreed upon in South Africa next year.
Hopefully with all these elements pushing, there will be some real successes, but if not, there is always the local efforts that can meet immediate needs and create change through open and progressive cooperation.

For more information on the upcoming meeting please take a look at the official site here.

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