By: Shawna Stirrett
Just prior to Environment Minister Peter Kent’s announcement in December 2011 that Canada had decided to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol, the Canada West Foundation and the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRT) wrapped up a series of meetings in western Canada on developing a low-carbon growth strategy for the country. One of the key themes that emerged from these meetings was the role of national and international emission reduction targets such as those in the Kyoto Protocol.
Interestingly, there was consensus among the participants that Canada should not be overly focused on emission reduction targets. Participants argued that reduction targets have a tendency to send the wrong signals to producers and consumers. A focus on targets that are not accompanied by a clear strategy for meeting them can have a paralyzing effect rooted in uncertainty and fear.
For example, did every province under Kyoto need to reduce emissions by 17% by 2020, or was the target meant to be a national average? If it was a national average, did that mean that if some provinces did not meet the target, other provinces would have to make up the difference?
Another reason participants took issue with an emphasis on targets was that they can have the unintended consequence of promoting competition rather than cooperation. Targets can create the perception of a zero-sum game in which, as long as a province or country is doing better than another, it wins.
A final reason participants argued that there should be less emphasis on emission reduction targets is that they often overshadow other environmental considerations such as land management, water quality, protection of biodiversity and so on.
Instead of relying exclusively on emission reduction targets, participants argued that Canada should be setting environmentally quantifiable goals that are holistic in nature. These goals would ideally foster interprovincial cooperation, account for all aspects of environmental protection, encourage energy efficiency and facilitate the creation of a nationally coordinated plan for dealing with energy and environmental issues.
While the consensus of participants was that emission reduction targets should not be the main focus of environmental management in Canada and it’s path to a low-carbon future, this does not mean that they were in favour of pulling out of Kyoto. Nonetheless, there was a clear sense of the limitations of Kyoto-like targets for achieving our environmental goals.
For the full summary report of the western Canadian roundtables on a low-carbon growth strategy for the country, see the Canada West Foundation report entitled: “Cautious Optimism: Western Perspectives on a Low-Carbon Economy.”