Seeing the world heading towards global warming Armageddon is particularly painful to watch from Canada. With each mega-drought, record ice melt or super storm, our federal government appears to be more determined to obstruct climate progress, both domestically and abroad. International efforts to fight climate change seem to slow down at the same rate as emissions and climate impacts worsen.
Few people are shocked anymore that Canada ranked 58th out of 61 countries in the Climate Change Performance Index 2013, released by the Climate Action Network during the climate summit in Doha, ahead of only Kazakhstan, Iran and Saudi Arabia. The index measures current emissions levels, emissions trends, energy efficiency, efforts at renewable energy, and government climate policy.
This month, Canada became the only country to formally exit the Kyoto protocol, the world's only international binding climate agreement. According to environmental organizations reporting from Doha, Canada stood for strong inaction throughout its remaining time at the Kyoto-table.
The speaking points of the Canadian government are now so illogical that it's easy to see through to the true motivation: putting oil companies' profits above all other interests. When a government touts itself as an upcoming energy superpower with an eye on its fossil fuel reserves while simultaneously claiming that its emissions are miniscule and irrelevant in the fight against global warming, something doesn't add up.
Canada is not only an influential and significant country in terms of both energy and climate policy. In fact, it is hard to see any other nation on the planet with more potential for a real U-turn that could inspire global climate action.
Why? Canada has by all means an unusual country profile. We are the second largest country of the world, with a relatively small population (ranking only 35) and one of the least densely populated. We have spectacular natural resources -- among the top three nations in the world when it comes to oil reserves. However, unlike many other resource rich countries like Venezuela or Iran, Canada belongs to the club of the richest countries in the world.
Compared to poorer countries with fewer economic options, Canada has greater manoeuvring room to set a new course for our economy and become a superpower for energy efficiency and renewable energy, instead of a petro-state. We have a fantastic potential for renewable energy. Three coastlines, vast plains and mountain ranges offer endless opportunities for wind power, as well as solar, carefully planned hydro projects, geothermal and other forms of low-carbon energy production.
Investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency means not only investing into the solutions of the future, but also creating more jobs than would be created through extraction of fossil fuels. According to a new study commissioned by Blue Green Canada, we could create over 15,000 more new jobs if the $1.3 billion tax subsidy currently given to fossil fuel companies would be invested in renewable and efficiency. A number of European countries like Germany and Denmark created hundreds of thousands of jobs in these sectors.
With over 20 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually, Canada is among the few nations with the highest per capita emissions (by comparison: China 6.7 tonnes). Therefore, it would be relatively easy for us to reduce significant portions of our emissions in the short term, compared to many other western countries with lower per capita emissions.
The most important reason why Canada could inspire and lead to climate action is the scale of its fossil fuel resources. The math of climate scientists is clear: the world can only burn about 565 Gigatons of fossil fuel if we hope to stay below two degrees of warming. However, there are 2,795 Gigatons of emissions locked up in all the known fossil fuel reserves currently on the books of energy companies, some of which are in Canada. In light of the math, the only ethical oil, coal and gas is that which remains buried.
Who is likely to show some climate leadership among those nations with the largest oil reserves, and declare that a chunk of what is available should remain under ground? Iran's Ahmadinejad? The Saudi Kings? Venezuela's Hugo Chavez? War torn Iraq? Or maybe Canada?
Canada has a population of 34 million. On a per capita basis, we share more responsibility in terms of land mass, coast lines, per capita emissions and gigatons of carbon still safely locked underground than almost any other citizens on this planet. Time is running out and Canadians and our government must make up our minds which way we want to tip the balance.