Amid dire warming warnings, Canada is MIA

Author: 
Jeffrey Simpson
Source: 
Globe and Mail
Date published: 
Sat, 2011-11-19

Later this month, the countries of the world will gather in Durban, South Africa, to discuss climate change. The omens for progress are poor; the forecast for global warming is worse.

So says the International Energy Agency, hardly a left-wing pinko organization but, rather, one that collects and analyzes information for energy-importing industrialized countries.

The IEA minced no words. “On planned policies, rising fossil-fuel energy use will lead to irreversible and potentially catastrophic climate change.”

“Irreversible and potentially catastrophic” are words not written lightly. They don’t come from the United Nations, the favourite target of the climate-change deniers and skeptics. They don’t pour forth from the David Suzuki Foundation, Greenpeace or the Sierra Club. Rather, they come from the blue chip of energy analysts, relied on by government and industry alike around the world.

The IEA, charged with tracking energy use, reported that, in 2010, emissions of carbon dioxide – the principal greenhouse gas – rose by 5.3 per cent. Little is being done, says the IEA, to “quench the world’s increasing thirst for energy in the long term.” Demand for oil, natural gas and coal continues to rise.

If these trends continue, the world will blow past the target most scientists – and the world’s governments – have said must be achieved if climate change is not to produce negative consequences. That target is a rise of 2 degrees Celsius. Ideally, greenhouse-gas emissions should be reduced sharply so warming doesn’t occur. But anything above that increase, say scientists, would bring on a series of very undesirable events.

The IEA, however, says the trends of energy use and the failure to begin reducing greenhouse-gas emissions worldwide has put the planet on a trajectory to a “long-term global temperature increase of more than 3.5 degrees Celsius.” Such an increase would lead to the “irreversible and potentially catastrophic” changes the IEA is warning about.

It is sometimes said that the world is awash in oil. Not so, says the IEA. Global oil demand will rise slowly to 99 million barrels a day; conventional oil supply will be 69 million barrels. Part of the gap will be filled with what are called “unconventional sources,” such as oil from the tar sands in Canada. The peril there is that extracting this kind of oil, using today’s technologies, is more polluting per barrel than conventional oil. More greenhouse-gas emissions, in other words.

Coal is everywhere abundant – with reserves estimated to be a trillion tonnes, or 150 years of current production. Most of the increase in coal production and use will come in the developing world, especially China and India. Coal is the baddy of baddies as a source of greenhouse gases, and it accounted for nearly half the increase in global energy use over the past decade.

Renewables such as wind and solar will make small gains in the total energy mix. They need large subsidies, and critics have a field day assailing those subsidies. What critics forget, but the IEA reminds us, is that fossil fuels around the world are estimated to receive subsidies of $400-billion a year.

Moreover, the pollution from burning fossil fuels is not captured in their pricing, which constitutes another kind of hidden, huge subsidy. Include the price of pollution in the retail price of fossil fuel energy and the playing field with other energy sources would be made somewhat more even.

At Durban, once again, Canada will be excluded from any serious deliberations. Canada is widely considered a climate-change miscreant. Nobody who knows the climate-change file in Canada or abroad believes the federal government’s intention to reduce emissions by 17 per cent by 2020 from 2005 levels.

So Canada’s delegates will try to keep the lowest possible profile in Durban, while the government’s spin machine will be in high gear talking up a target no one believes will be achieved, and fighting off complaints about this country’s poor record by pointing fingers at others.

Meantime, according to the IEA, if the world stays on its current course, there’ll be dire long-term consequences.

            

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