Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Linda McQuaig’s nettle gift to Tom Mulcair

About to grasp the McQuaig nettle?
One of the NDP’s prize candidates has opened a can of worms that Mulcair wishes was not opened.

Here’s one report on what Mulcair said, trying to douse the flames (note the part I have bolded and reddened):

He pledged that an NDP government would bring in sustainable development legislation, including a polluter pay system where companies that damage the environment are responsible for cleanup costs.

Environmental assessments would also include an analysis of whether or not the project allows Canada to meet internationally agreed upon targets for greenhouse gas reductions, he added.

"We're in favour of creating markets for our natural resources, we're in favour of developing them,” he said. “But that has to be done sustainably, and sustainable development is not a slogan, it's something that has to become very real."
Canada's track record on climate change and the environment has been poor, Mulcair said, particularly because it is the only country to have withdrawn from the Kyoto Protocol.

Let’s parse that bold part.

Mulcair’s NDP party policy is “sustainable development” of the oil sands, whatever that means. It cannot mean phasing the development over time because there is a shortage of oil sands to develop: we have enormous reserves of oil sands. It might mean legislation to control the number of new oil sands plants, so as to lessen the impact on costs of materials and on labour costs. String them out so as to reduce these impacts. Whatever, right now the meaning of the NDP’s “sustainable development” of oil sands is unclear.

But back to that bold part. Mulcair’s NDP will require environmental assessments that have to include an “analysis” of whether or not any new oil or gas pipeline or oil sands extraction plant “allows Canada to meet internationally agreed upon targets for greenhouse gas reductions.”

Presumably, if such a pipeline or project does not allow Canada to meet the Canadian target, then that plant will not be allowed to be built.

So where does this leave us?

What targets?

First, what are the “internationally agreed upon” targets that apply to Canada with respect to greenhouse gas reductions? Harper’s Luddite party took us out of the Kyoto Accord.

Does Mulcair intend rejoining the Kyoto Accord? If so, what targets are in that Accord for Canada’s reduction of greenhouse gases?  Is there room for more pipelines and more oil sands plants under those? What is Mulcair’s position on this Accord and these targets? He has not answered that, nor has any journalist asked that question. Why not?

What about total worldwide greenhouse gas emissions?

Most of our oil and gas exports will result in greenhouse gas emissions, not only when the oil and gas is extracted, but when it is physically transported to its markets, whether by pipeline or train, and finally, when it is used as a source of energy by the end user.

So our natural resource will inevitably increase greenhouse gas emissions. Does Mulcair agree with this assumption? How can he not agree?

But why should Canada bear the brunt of the greenhouse gas emissions of our oil and gas resources, when its end users use them to produce energy for their own uses?

If China uses our exported gas to heat its factories, what portion of the greenhouse gas emissions of that gas should count towards Canada’s “internationally agreed upon targets” for reductions of GHG? Only the GHG emissions that result from developing the reserves and transporting them to the country’s border via train or pipeline? That seems fair, not so?

Or does Mulcair think the GHG emissions that arise from the actual use of the gas or oil by a third country should be added to the total emissions of GHG by Canada? So that Canada’s oil and gas industry must be responsible for all the GHG emissions caused by the finding, recovery, transport AND use as energy of our exported oil and gas? Is that fair?

Or should the end user bear the burden of the GHG emissions arising from the use of the oil and gas, rather than Canada? How does that fit into the current Kyoto Accord targets? Or other “internationally agreed” targets?

It seems implicit in Linda McQuaig’s statements that she thinks Canada should bear all the burden of reducing GHG emissions:

NDP leader Thomas Mulcair tried to smother a political fire on Sunday caused after a star candidate said much of the oil in Alberta's oil sands might have to remain in the ground.

Toronto Centre candidate Linda McQuaig told a CBC television panel discussion on Friday that curbing oil sands production might be necessary for Canada to meet its environmental targets.

What about the rest of the dog?

The oil sands represent only a small portion of Canada’s GHG emissions:

McQuaig was speaking about the steps needed to meet certain climate change targets, but the oilsands represent less than 10 per cent of Canada’s overall emissions. It’s not clear why she singled out the oilsands, or even what she meant by “a lot.” The party reiterated its own vague support for oilsands extraction, but it was hardly a repudiation.

What about the 90%? How does Mulcair shoehorn that into his statement of NDP policy?

And what production facilities would have to be cut back to meet the “internationally agreed” targets for Canada? The rump of manufacturing that still remains in Ontario? The cattle industry – the GHG emissions from cows are immense?

What about the use of the cap and trade mechanism?

Mulcair’s NDP prefers the use of a cap and trade mechanism to put a price on carbon, and reduce GHG emissions; the Liberal Party so far is in favour of a carbon tax. Harper’s Conservative Party is all over the place on the issue, and really really prefer not to talk about anything like this aspect.

The Kyoto Accord allows a polluter to avoid having to reduce GHG emissions by passing that duty on to third parties, through paying a price via the cap and trade mechanism. As we put it in our novel, Obelisk Seven:

“Yes, including me. The Bulldog is a thorough dog.”
He thrust both hands out before him.
“Put the cuffs on, Bulldog! I did it! Take me away!”
Kate mimicked unlocking his handcuffs with her fork.
“There! Now you are free and can answer a question which popped into my mind early this morning,” Kate said, putting her fork down.
“Does your emissions trading scheme mean that a company can buy permits to pollute from others and then keep on doing that? Pump out more gases than its quota?"
"Yes, it could."
"So they can buy an indulgence allowing them to commit even more sins?" she said, pretending to be puzzled.
"In a way, yes. We want to make it a money-making industry for those who can reduce their own emissions - so that those who can, make money, and those who cannot ..."
"Buy indulgences?" she interrupted. "And you don't find something distasteful about this?"
He shrugged off her accusation.
"We have to use a carrot and a stick for our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to succeed," he said defensively. "Any company which does not meet its quota and does not buy credits to fill the shortfall, has to pay a fine."
"Uhuh." She did not believe him.
He smiled at her over his glass, changing his mind.
"Okay, I will admit that you've got a point," he conceded reluctantly. "I agree: the emissions trading scheme is a bit like the indulgences which the Catholic Church used to sell in medieval times.  In a sense we permit the trading of sins, if you view the pollution of the earth as a sin."
"A Sin Trader," Gliffy said with mock horror. "Man, you better be careful. You could be skinned alive in some places with that profession!"
I confess that I prefer the indulgence system (cap and trade) to just a carbon tax, but could easily live with a mix of both methods; the test is whether we reduce GHG emissions enough to save the earth.

The question journalists should ask Mulcair is whether a produce of oil or gas in Alberta and Saskatchewan would, under the NDP policy, be allowed to buy indulgences under its cap and trade system, and pass on to others the responsibility to reduce GHG emissions. This would put a price on GHG emissions of the oil sands and gas industry, but still allow them to extract and export those resources, if the price of the gas or oil can still earn them a profit.

Unexplained issues:

McQuaig should be complimented for raising this important issue during this long campaign. We have a month or two for Mulcair and his party to spell out a few more details of just who will pay what to reduce Canada’s “internationally agreed” target for GHG reductions; these answers can then be compared with the answers of Harper’s Conservatives (assuming any journalist can get within five miles of that politician).

Gonna be an interesting time, folks!

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