- The Fight Against Climate Change:Why Is Canada Doing So Little?
Canada is one of the most admired countries in the world. That is what several comparative studies have shown. Most recently, an international survey conducted by the Reputation Institute ranked Canada as the most admired and esteemed nation, first out of 50 countries.1
Canada is liked for its quality of life, tolerance and political stability, and for the role it plays on the world stage. Canada never aggressed another country, never had an empire, used its army only to promote peace, justice and democracy, and fought bravely in two world wars. For their leadership in building multilateral institutions, with contributions such as drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, creating the concept of peacekeeping forces, and advancing the Anti-Personnel Landmines Convention, Canadians have earned a strong reputation as model global citizens. But Canada is also liked for its open spaces, majestic landscapes and countless lakes, rivers, forests and mountains.
President Chirac lyrically expressed the world's admiration for Canada: "an immense country, land of First Nations peoples, land of the Inuit, a land, at the same time Anglophone and Francophone, that is perfecting, in peace and tolerance, the art of living together."2
Canadians appreciate these compliments and like to think they deserve them. One of the most famous Canadians, former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, said: [End Page 21a]
"Canada is known to its inhabitants and to others as a human place, a sanctuary of sanity in an increasingly troubled world. We need not search further for our identity. These traits of tolerance and courtesy and respect for our environment and for one another provide it. I suggest that a superior form of identity would be difficult to find."3
Many Canadians are thus shocked to learn that in one area, which is destined to become one of the most crucial concerns of humanity, their country is in the dock. In the fight against the crisis of human-induced climate change, Canada looks nothing like a good global citizen; it is seen as a pariah, or even a saboteur.4 Year after year, Canada is rated among the worst in the Climate Change Performance Index. In the 2011 report, it was ranked 54th of 57 countries (France was ranked 6th).
Is Canada's record really that poor? I will endeavour to show that a sober and objective analysis reveals a more nuanced situation: Canada is not the worst, but it must be ranked among the bottom of the class. A class of dunces, one must add, given the chasm that exists between the countries' performance in reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and the reduction levels recommended by scientists to limit global warming to less than 2°C above preindustrial temperatures.5 Beyond that climate point of no return, the effects of global warming could have very serious consequences, and Canada would not be immune, as we shall see.
Put another way, Canada's record is among the lowest of the low. How can it be that a country that usually performs admirably on the international stage in many areas has such a pitiful record in the area of climate policy?
Could it be because Canada itself is immune to climate change? As I will show, the opposite is true: as a Northern country, it is particularly vulnerable.
Canadian leaders invoke a series of mitigating factors: the harsh climate; the vast distances between cities in a country as large as Europe but with a population of only 34 million; sustained economic and population growth; and an economy that is still very much based on industry and natural resources. They also claim that the North American economy is so tightly integrated that Canada would have a hard time acting alone, without the U.S. We will see that these claims have some validity: a transport truck hauling a heavy load from [End Page 22a] Halifax to Vancouver will obviously emit substantially more GHGs than one travelling from Lille to Marseilles. However, these factors are not enough to absolve Canada, particularly its leaders whose climate policies are far from being stringent or vigorous enough.