Prentice has it right with climate lockstep

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Sun Media, Friday, April 9, 2010

The problem in any concerted Canada-U.S. effort to address global warming is to get the two countries to speak in the same vernacular, and then to get them on the same policy page.

For starters, the issue Canadians know as climate change is now referred to in the U.S. as clean energy, as in the Canada-U.S. “clean energy dialogue,” linking the environment and energy. In his February State of the Union Address, Barack Obama made seven references to “clean energy” and only one to “climate.” Words are important.

Then, if there’s going to be an effective continental approach with a level playing field, Canada and the U.S. have to engage at the same time on emissions mitigation as they have on reducing tailpipe emissions on cars and light trucks, mostly SUVs, which account for 12% of North American greenhouse gas emissions.

Beginning with the 2011 model year through 2016, the Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency, or CAFE, standards of automakers will result in about a 25% reduction of GHG emissions from the light fleet.

While you will be paying more for your next car, you’ll be getting more kilometres to the gallon, while making your own modest contribution to reducing global warming.

What Detroit gets out of the harmonized regulations, announced by the federal government and Washington last week, is clarity about the rules of the road. With an integrated auto industry on both sides of the border, nothing but a single standard makes any sense. So now there is no California standard or no Quebec standard, just a single North American standard by 2016. After grandstanding on the issue for months, Quebec quickly fell into line by declaring victory.

Other modes of transportation — heavy trucks, ships and airplanes — account for another 15% of North American GHG emissions. Environment Minister Jim Prentice expects to announce harmonized regulations for this segment later this year.

There’s something to be said for the quiet way Prentice is getting things done—without fuss or fanfare. There’s no bill, no hearings, no protesters climbing the Peace Tower. He’s just publishing these regulations in the Canada Gazette and they have the same effect as law.

It’s a mirror approach to what the Obama administration is doing in Washington because it’s the only way they can accomplish anything on climate change — I mean clean energy. Obama is choosing a regulatory route because the legislative process is gridlocked.

For example, the U.S. Senate is sitting on a House bill that would reduce emissions to 17% below 2005 levels by 2020, with a cap-and-trade regime as part of the deal. There is no chance that the Senate will pass an energy bill before the U.S. midterm elections in November. This is also the voluntary target that Obama set for the U.S. in his take-note agreement at the failed Copenhagen summit, an open-bar process with every country writing down its own mitigation number.

Canada had gone to Copenhagen advocating a 20% reduction below 2006 levels by 2020, but has since adopted Obama’s mitigation target as part of a harmonization strategy.

There are issues of sovereignty that arise over being so closely aligned with U.S. targets, but in the real world Canadian business should not be put at a competitive disadvantage in the integrated North American economy.

Prentice has got it right.

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