Cutting emissions is more than an act of faith
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/12/2015 (2612 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
To hear Premier Greg Selinger speak, Manitoba is the altar at which the country should bow when it comes to living green. Yet, nowhere on his government’s websites can Manitobans find out how we’ve been doing in the battle to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
There’s a reason for that. Across all sectors, emissions have risen with few exceptions within the sectors. If Manitobans want to see the province’s record, they must look elsewhere.
Environment Canada’s reports show Manitoba is a bit player in the national greenhouse gas emissions game; we’re small, we have limited heavy manufacturing and we are blessed with hydroelectric power — heating and powering homes and businesses is a big culprit in emissions.
But our record is nothing to brag about.
Canada ratified the Kyoto accord in 2002, and Manitoba’s emissions have risen steadily but for a noticeable drop after the 2008 global recession. The NDP government had to concede Manitoba could not meet a 2008 pledge to cut emissions to 17 megatons from 21 megatons. Today, they sit at 21.5 megatons.
Only fools expect a little humility from politicians. On Thursday, Mr. Selinger again made more promises. The premier has set a bolder target for emissions by 2030, cutting them back to 13.8 megatons of carbon-dioxide equivalent greenhouse gases.
In what sector? How? There will be no carbon tax — the NDP no longer has the stomach for that. Cap-and-trade, part of the plan, has limited value in a province with few high emitters.
So, details to come, was the response. Now the premier is off to Paris, to stand beside Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who, hand over heart, told the global climate change meeting Canada was back again, faithful to the war against climate change. (That plan awaits details, too.)
Battling pollution that warms the planet demands more than fervent belief in possibilities.
Manitoba’s emissions rise and fall more or less with the economic output. When mining operations close smelters, or Manitoba Hydro shuts down coal-burning plants, there’s a noticeable drop in some sectors.
The key is to cut the burning of fossil fuels, primarily in transportation moving goods and people. The next biggest sector for emissions is agriculture, from the application of fertilizer on soil to the gases of burping and farting livestock.
Manitoba Hydro’s new “demand-side management” agency may entice ratepayers to burn less gas and electricity, but that won’t get the province near to cutting emissions by one-third in 15 years.
The agriculture sector is on board for doing more, but short of a huge reduction in the number of cows and pigs living here, it will take a dramatic overhaul of farming practices to see real effect in 15 years.
The obvious target is transportation. Unless Manitobans ease up on the love affair with driving, especially trucks and SUVs, it’s hard to see Mr. Selinger’s greenhouse gas dream materializing. The movement of commodities favours the trucking industry, rather than rail.
The 2008 pledge came with legislation that was essentially hollow, making noise about standards and regular public reporting, but it put the gun to no sector’s head.
This new plan speaks of stewardship — an expectation industries will sign up for the green scene, enticed by subsidies and provincial “investments,” perhaps.
Getting to much lower emissions is all about hard work. There is nothing yet in the premier’s plan compelling Manitobans to change their daily lives. That will produce predictable results.
Mr. Selinger is not worried. He set a target date far enough ahead that he won’t suffer the embarrassment of another failed promise.