Global Warming, Global Worries

When will Environment Minister Peter Kent finally be given the green light to present a realistic perspective of climate change?
Published on October 17, 2011

When will Environment Minister Peter Kent finally be given the green light to present a realistic perspective of climate change?

In his testimony last week before the Senate committee on energy, the environment and natural resources, Kent said, "In the case of climate change, our goal remains to have a new international regime that includes all major emitters and which will take concrete actions to limit global warming."

Referencing "short-lived climate forcers" such a methane and soot, Kent said, "It is critical that we address these climate forcers if we wish to meet the two targets set out in the Cancun Agreements."

Humanity cannot control our planet's climate like a home thermostat. The system is so complex that we are yet unable to even make meaningful forecasts of long-term climate variability. No one really knows whether warming or cooling lies in the decades ahead — the science is simply too immature.

"Climate is one of the most challenging open problems in modern science," assert professors Chris Essex (University of Western Ontario) and Ross McKitrick (University of Guelph) in their award-winning book Taken by Storm (2007). "Some knowledgeable scientists believe that the climate problem can never be solved."

While there is a range of opinion among scientists who question political correctness on climate, on one thing there is general agreement — observational evidence does not support the hypothesis that humanity's greenhouse gas emissions are causing dangerous climate change. While the causes of climate change are an interesting topic of scientific inquiry, it should only be a public policy issue, and so worth the many billions of dollars that are currently being spent on the topic, if our contribution to climate change is dangerous. So far, this appears highly unlikely.

This is not merely a fringe view. Kent need only ask his staff to review the Non-governmental International Panel on Climate Change report (, the latest version of which was released on Aug. 29. Therein, they will see thousands of reputable, peer-reviewed scientific publications that refute the assertions of activists such as David Suzuki and Al Gore.

The minister was justified to also focus in his Senate testimony on the important climate adaptation work of the government. Preparing for inevitable climate change should be the primary emphasis of all climate-change-related work at Environment Canada.

However, Kent should have acknowledged that preparation for and adaptation to climate change must not be limited to possible warming impacts. Instead of indicating that the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE) report released on Sept. 29 merely echoes the government's adaptation approach, Kent should have chastised the NRTEE for consistently ignoring the far more dangerous impacts of cooling.

British Columbia Sen. Grant Neufeld asked Kent whether he was confident that rapidly developing nations such as China and India would accept mandatory greenhouse gas emission restrictions by the 2020 target date set forth in the Cancun Agreements. Neufeld worried about "what we're putting on our kids in the future to actually live with tough emission restrictions not necessarily shared by our trading partners, because we're going to be using fossil fuels for a long, long time." Neufeld asked, "I really worry that we are going to hamstring ourselves in the long run, and for what at the end?"

The minister did not directly answer but said, referencing Canada's part in helping bring about the Cancun Agreements, "Canada is still seen as a moral leader." The minister explained that all efforts are being made to bring the world's largest emitters on board with mandatory targets.

Neufeld is justified to feel concerned. If we are held to severe GHG limitations while our major trading partners are not, the economic impacts on Canada could be catastrophic. Even if other nations do sign on to a legally binding version of the Cancun Agreements, how likely are they to keep their commitments? Canada signed on to the legally binding Kyoto Protocol and, when the government realized we had no chance of meeting our commitments, they simply announced that Canada would not meet them rather than withdraw from the treaty. Can dictatorships be trusted to behave more honestly?

This concern is compounded by the fact that developing nations appear to have an "out clause" in recent UN climate agreements while developed countries do not.

Section 3, Part B of the Cancun Agreements starts: "Reaffirming that social and economic development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of developing-country parties, and that the share of global emissions originating in developing countries will grow to meet their social and development needs… "

It seems unlikely that there will ever be a time in the foreseeable future when reduction in greenhouse gases in developing nations will not interfere with their "social and economic development and poverty eradication." So Neufeld is justified to worry. Any future UN climate agreement based on Cancun may not be very different than the skewed approach of Kyoto.

Until Minister Kent is given permission to address these issues more critically, the Senate committee needs to revisit these concerns before Canada makes any more UN climate commitments.1

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