Saturday, October 12, 2002 Back The Halifax Herald Limited

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
'The real 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 says.

Volker Dziemballa / The Associated Press
Leaving the car at home and walking and cycling more will help ease greenhouse gases a little, says a Halifax scientist.


Q. What is the Kyoto protocol?

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 protocol are:

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, natural gas.

Nitrous oxide: Man-made - fertilizers; industrial combustion of fossil fuels.

Natural - Moist soils.

Hydrofluorocarbons: Aerosol additives.

Perfluorocarbons: Aluminum production.

Sulphur hexafluoride: Semiconductor manufacturing processes.


- 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.

Economy versus ecology
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 jobs

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 the year.

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 emissions.

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 stations.

"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 them.

"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 oil.

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. Freedman said.

"Even preserving existing forests in a mature or old-growth condition is another way of achieving a net reduction of CO2 emissions."

Mr. Freedman said climate aside, fossil fuel resources aren't infinite.

"Future generations are going to curse us having wasted all their fossil fuels."

The U.S. and Alberta governments aren't the only opponents of Kyoto.

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.


Copyright 2002 The Halifax Herald Limited