Today, Environment Minister Jim Prentice announced that Canada would provide $400 million to developing countries to help them cope and adapt to the impacts of climate change. If this money is additional to Canada's existing aid pledges, as prescribed in the Copenhagen Accord, then it is a welcome down payment toward fulfilling Canada's responsibility to poor and vulnerable countries. Although these nations are less responsible for causing global warming than wealthy nations, they are experiencing the brunt of the harmful effects such as severe drought. However, if the government is raiding funds from official development assistance to provide this financing, then developing countries suffering under both poverty and the impacts of global warming are no better off.
The government could maximize the impact of this financing by ensuring that it flows through existing UN funding institutions such as the Adaptation Fund or the Least Developed Country Fund. A similar contribution in so-called "fast track" financing for 2011 and 2012 would also be welcome.
Fact: Industrialized countries like Canada that make up one-fifth of the world's population are responsible for 75 per cent of the harmful build-up of global warming emissions.
A quick phase-out of coal-fired power plants in Canada would be a praiseworthy contribution to fighting climate change and saving lives from air pollution. However, today's policy announcement is neither quick nor a phase-out. The policy will not begin to take effect for five years, and new coal plants will not be required to meet the government's new proposed emission standard for 10 years after that. This policy will have no effect on any of Canada's existing coal plants, either in reducing their emissions or hastening their retirement. The weakness of this measure is made clear in the emission-reductions figures cited by Minister Prentice, since most of the emissions reductions claimed by the federal government will actually be achieved through the work of Ontario's government to close its coal-fired power plants over the next four years.
Instead of claiming the province's emission reductions as its own, the federal government would be better off to borrow Ontario's policies (and its resolve), by accelerating the shutdown of existing coal-fired power plants and banning the construction of all new plants that burn dirty fuels such as coal.