The special issue of Policy Options on the Kyoto Protocol (December-January) was a timely one, coming as it did just before the historic House of Commons vote on December 10, 2002. It is rare for a gov- ernment in Canada to seek parliamen- tary consent on an international accord. After a debate characterized more by heat than by light, 196 MPs voted in favour, an impressive majority of parliamentarians from several par- ties, and from all parts of the country.
Signed by Canada’s prime minister and delivered to the United Nations by the minister of the environment, the Kyoto Protocol will become operative when fifty-five nations whose CO2 emissions equal 55 per cent of devel- oped-country emissions at the 1990 level, ratify it. At present, eighty-four nations have ratified. The ratification by Russia, expected this year, would trigger the accord into action.
In the weeks preceding the Kyoto vote, parliamentarians were subjected to an intense anti-Kyoto campaign by the corporate sector. Letters poured in from oil company presidents, cham- bers of commerce presidents, the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, the petroleum industry and the Canadian Coalition for Responsible Environmental Solutions””a decep- tively sympathetic-sounding organiza- tion made up of representatives from the same industry lobby groups. Parliamentarians were warned that planned investments would be can- celled (an old chestnut frequently used by business), investments already made would be withdrawn and people would lose jobs (all threats we heard before when legislating the removal of lead from gasoline in the 1970s). We were also told scientists were divided, that glaciers had actually started melt- ing 400 years ago, the cost of imple- menting Kyoto would be astronomic, and so forth.
Another threat conjured up by organized business was the alleged loss of competitiveness with the US econo- my, a claim which flies in the face of elementary economics: energy effi- ciency will lead to lower production costs and in turn to enhanced compet- itiveness. In other words, Kyoto goals will push Canada towards greater ener- gy efficiency and thus greater compet- itiveness. British Petroleum, as University of Alberta’s Ian Urquhart noted in his article, is a case in point, having achieved its target of reducing emissions to 10 per cent below 1990 levels by 2002, eight years ahead of its own schedule. Needless to say, it has also improved its bottom line.
Despite the intense efforts by organized business, most parliamentari- ans concluded Kyoto was also much more than a cost-benefit exercise. In addition, considerable weight was given to the recognition of Kyoto as an inter- national issue requiring global action.
Looking back a couple of decades, the current position of the United States on Kyoto bears a striking resemblance to its initial position on acid rain in the 1980s. Only long after European nations, jointly with Canada, recog- nized the necessity to act, did the White House decide to accept the science on acid rain and cut CO2 emissions, thus reversing its initial position taken under the same president, Ronald Reagan. History may very well repeat itself with the forces of climate change and suc- cessful international negotiations bring- ing about in the White House another change in attitude made necessary by domestic and international pressures.
The ”œyes” vote of 196 parliamen- tarians on Kyoto also has potential at the constituency level to enhance citi- zen participation. In the Climate Change Plan for Canada, Canadians are asked to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by one tonne per year by adopting a variety of initiatives and lifestyle changes. In a mature democra- cy such as Canada’s, citizens are asked to give a hand in achieving a national and international goal. Indeed, public support and close co-operation with individual citizens is desirable just as it is with labour, with business and between levels of government.
By 2012, Kyoto is likely to deliver a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions sufficient to flatten the greenhouse gas curve. For the curve to be turned down- ward””so we are told by scientists””and for the damage we have inflicted on cli- mate to be repaired, we will need a ”œKyoto 2.” To the next generation, ”œKyoto 1” will appear as a milestone on the ”˜energy road’ connecting the popu- lations on this planet.
The Kyoto journey started with an agreement produced for the world community under the auspices of the United Nations. It was presented as an issue of global security. It is now being implemented through the will of national governments and parlia- ments. In retrospect, Kyoto may well appear to be a baby step, but it is a nec- essary one in launching a new trend: that of repairing a damaged climate.