Economy versus ecology
Al Goldis / The Associated Press / File
Smoke pours out of stacks at a Michigan power
plant in this December 2000 file photo. The Kyoto
Protocol aims to cut greenhouse gases to limit climate
change. The U.S., the world's biggest polluter, says it
will not ratify the accord.
Eric Wynne / Herald Photo
controversy (over the Kyoto Protocol) should be over an
all-out attack on the United States for their
selfishness in not ratifying,' Dal prof Bill Freedman
Volker Dziemballa / The Associated Press
Leaving the car at home and walking and cycling
more will help ease greenhouse gases a little, says a
KYOTO FOR DUMMIES
Q. What is the
A. The protocol, finalized in December 1997 in
Kyoto, Japan, requires industrialized countries to
reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about five per
cent below 1990 levels between 2008 and '12. As of
this past Sept. 25, 84 countries had signed on and
95 had ratified the deal or indicated their
intention to sign.
Q. What are greenhouse gases?
A. Greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide,
are created when fossil fuels are burned. The
gases act like a blanket over Earth's atmosphere,
keeping it warmer than normal. The result is
drought, floods, intense storms and heat waves.
The six major greenhouse gases covered by the
Carbon dioxide: Manmade - combustion of natural
gas and petroleum products - for energy.
Natural - volcanoes, trees, forest fires,
vegetation and oceans.
Methane: Manmade - combustion of coal, natural
gas; decomposition of waste in landfills.
Natural sources - animal waste, wetlands,
Nitrous oxide: Man-made - fertilizers;
industrial combustion of fossil fuels.
Natural - Moist soils.
Hydrofluorocarbons: Aerosol additives.
Perfluorocarbons: Aluminum production.
Sulphur hexafluoride: Semiconductor
- Gas reduction targets:
Canada, six per cent; European Union, eight per
cent; Japan, six per cent. None of 134 developing
countries, including China, India, Mexico, Brazil
and South Korea, is required to set any limits.
- Biggest obstacle:
The United States, responsible for up to 30 per
cent of global emissions, backed out of Kyoto last
year. The U.S. has been assigned a seven per cent
reduction but President George W. Bush refuses to
ratify the protocol for economic reasons. Instead,
he wants to reduce pollution and greenhouse
emissions by connecting environmental protection
directly to economic growth.
- Action plan:
There is general agreement on the need to
reduce reliance on fossil fuels. Alternatives
include promoting renewable energy resources,
developing new energy-efficient technologies and
more sustainable agriculture, and protecting and
enhancing forests. However, Kyoto negotiators have
yet to agree on how the protocol will be
implemented and how to deal with non-compliance.
- Cost to Canada:
Unknown. Supporters say Kyoto may actually
improve the economy by creating jobs in new
technology sectors. Critics predict implementing
the accord would cost $30 billion by 2010,
resulting in widespread job losses.
Scientist condemns 'shortsighted' lawmakers who oppose
the Kyoto Protocol, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas
emissions. Critics ay the accord will hurt business and cost
By Susan Bradley / Staff Reporter
HALIFAX BIOLOGIST Bill Freedman scoffs at the controversy
surrounding Canada's commitment to the Kyoto treaty, an
international effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
"The real controversy should not be over Canada's brave and
sensible decision to ratify," said Mr. Freedman, chairman of
Dalhousie University's biology department.
"The real controversy should be over an all-out attack on
the United States for their selfishness in not ratifying."
The U.S. leads the world in fossil-fuel consumption and
resulting emissions of carbon dioxide, which cause a warming
of the earth's surface known as the greenhouse effect.
Scientists theorize that this, in turn, is contributing to
significant climate change.
Last year, the U.S. dropped out of Kyoto, saying the
protocol was fatally flawed. Instead, President George W. Bush
announced an environmental protection plan that would be tied
to economic production.
Canada and 185 other countries are committed to cutting
greenhouse gas emissions by an average 5.2 per cent below 1990
levels by 2010-12.
Prime Minister Jean Chretien announced in September he'll
ask Parliament to approve ratifying Kyoto before the end of
But Mr. Freedman said the treaty, finalized in Kyoto,
Japan, 1997, only puts the brakes on the rates of increase in
greenhouse gas emissions.
Even if every every country including the U.S. ratified the
deal, and all objectives were achieved, carbon dioxide (CO2)
concentrations in the atmosphere would continue to increase.
"It's really rather a tepid response to this environmental
problem," he said.
"It's astonishing some of our politicians are short-sighted
in their response."
Alberta Premier Ralph Klein fiercely opposes Kyoto.
His province's economy - and balanced budget - have long
depended on revenue from the oil and gas sector.
Mr. Klein's Conservative government has launched a
$1.5-million public relations campaign warning of massive job
losses, higher taxes and skyrocketing electricity and gas
prices if Ottawa ratifies the treaty.
Greenhouse gases, which also include methane, nitrous oxide
and chlorofluorocarbons, have been increasing in the
atmosphere. CO2 concentrations, for example, have increased to
370 parts per million today from 270 parts per million 150
years ago - about a 40 per cent jump, Mr. Freedman said.
"That's a humongous increase in CO2 concentration."
Most predictions about global warming show it'll be most
intense at high latitudes, including Canada and the Arctic.
But although there's compelling evidence the phenomenon is
occurring, there's controversy over the cause - whether it's
natural or manmade.
For example, water vapour is a big contributor to the
greenhouse effect. Kyoto aims to reduce manmade contributors.
The treaty focuses on the most developed economies, which
are responsible for most of the emissions.
"This is because our lifestyle is dependent on the use of
fossil fuels and other sources of emissions of greenhouse
gases," Mr. Freedman said.
The U.S. has five per cent of the world's population but is
responsible for up to 30 per cent of global greenhouse gas
Canada has an almost identical rate per capita.
No one knows how Canada plans to meet its Kyoto goals.
Energy Minister Herb Dhaliwal said recently an implementation
plan won't be presented until the federal and provincial
energy and environment ministers meet Oct. 21 in Halifax.
Meanwhile, Nova Scotia premier John Hamm said some initial
investigation done by the Energy Department shows the
timelines laid out for reducing greenhouse gases will cost
jobs, hurt business and slow offshore oil and gas exploration.
The premier said he is also leery about cost implications
for power users in Nova Scotia, where 38 per cent of the
greenhouse gases are produced by coal-fired generating
"It would have a huge impact on business and residents.
That's what we want Ottawa to clarify. Will they share the
burden?" he said.
A reduction in the use of fossil fuels as an energy source
is a given under Kyoto.
For individuals, that might mean more use of public
transportation, car pools and bicycles - even more walking.
Mr. Freedman estimates 80 - 90 per cent of traffic to and
from work each day involves vehicles with only one person in
"There are sensible ways of allowing people to commute more
efficiently than they do now," he said.
Mr. Freedman supports new initiatives such as a Halifax -
Bedford commuter train service being touted in some quarters.
He also said each person has a responsibility by engaging
in a "green" lifestyle or by paying more for gas and heating
For example, there's been talk of a "sin" tax on
gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles that have become a hugely
popular status symbol across North America.
"It would be sensible to raise taxes on gasoline to lower
consumption and make people more interested in efficient
commuting," Mr. Freedman said.
"For example, Canada has very cheap gasoline compared to
much of the rest of the world."
Other solutions include better insulated homes and
buildings, conserving energy year round.
"Planting trees is an excellent way of reducing emissions.
As they grow they take carbon dioxide out of air," Mr.
"Even preserving existing forests in a mature or old-growth
condition is another way of achieving a net reduction of CO2
Mr. Freedman said climate aside, fossil fuel resources
"Future generations are going to curse us having wasted all
their fossil fuels."
The U.S. and Alberta governments aren't the only opponents
A business lobby group, the Canadian Coalition for
Responsible Environmental Solutions, says the treaty would
cause widespread job losses and devastate the economy.
Nancy Hughes Anthony, president of the Canadian Chamber of
Commerce, said the coalition has "a very, very serious doubt"
Canada can meet the Kyoto targets and time frames without
destroying the economy.
The coalition predicts at least 200,000 Canadian jobs will
be lost if the protocol is implemented.
The deal gives an advantage to competitors in the U.S. and
Mexico, which have no plans to ratify Kyoto, it says.
Business opposition isn't surprising. Mr. Freedman said.
"If you cut to the chase, their interest is in short-term
profits and short-term economics, rather than in environmental
quality and resource conservation over the longer term."
The Metropolitan Halifax Chamber of Commerce has yet to
take a position on Kyoto.
Chamber spokesman Matthew Fox said the group will likely
survey its 2,000 members before deciding on a policy.
Mr. Freedman said the Canadian economy is relatively strong
and won't collapse under Kyoto.
"The economy may actually become healthier, based on
renewable resources," he said.