Canada and Alberta are about to find out. When the federal government joins the Paris climate talks on Monday, with provinces gathered around like adoring pupils, Canadians will quickly discover whether all this hype over a new commitment to clean air has convinced world leaders that we have suddenly found religion.
If those leaders are paying close attention, they will notice a few cracks in the utopian vision. Maybe, however, they will choose not to look that closely.
As audacious as Alberta’s climate initiative is, it is the action of but one province, a province that is making – let’s not fool ourselves – a flamboyant PR gesture aimed at optics as much as action. It’s not that the province isn’t doing something, but it is also that it wants desperately to be seen to be doing something. The hope is that the resulting wave of good vibes will pave the way to pipeline permits.
“This will be the first time Alberta will be able to hold its head high,” crowed Alberta Environment Minister Shannon Phillips.
Canada, too, is equally riding a wave of good PR that is as much image as substance. The Trudeau government doesn’t actually have a cohesive climate plan, relying instead on the provinces to carry the ball. Across the country, results vary considerably in both style and expected outcomes.
Even the federal government’s stated commitment is no better than the pledge made by the Harper government, at least at a time when it had its back against the political wall and realized it had to pick up its game on the climate file. Harper set a target of greenhouse-gas emissions 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. Justin Trudeau is going to Paris promising no more than Harper did.
If those world leaders choose not to peer under the hood (a wise move, since such scrutiny invites a response in kind), Canada may actually be able to pull off one of the most dramatic “re-branding” coups in recent history. And that could save the oilsands.
There has been a lot of hypocrisy behind smug G8 countries labelling Canada as the black swan. The United States pumps out many times more GHGs from its coal-fired plants than the entire oilsands produces. The U.S. produces 15 per cent of the world’s total GHG emissions. India and China (24 per cent of the world total) and India (six per cent), meanwhile, are also far bigger emitters than Canada (two per cent). And last year, China’s emissions from coal rose by 17 per cent.
When U.S. President Barak Obama killed the Keystone XL pipeline, he talked a lot about making choices for the environment. Curiously, he neglected to mention that the U.S. has increased its rate of oil production in the past four years more than Canada did in 70 years, or that the U.S. has allowed seven times the length of pipeline to be built as what the Keystone pipeline represented. Is green really the driving factor for Obama, or market share?
So, any sanctimony from south of the border is more than a little hard to swallow. Now, it is time for Canada to turn its image around.
On the world stage, Canada has to simply do some solid marketing to wipe that smudge off its face. We can concede that our oilsands have been a dirty way to capture oil, seek forgiveness, and then re-brand them as the new, clean, responsible, and sustainable model for world oil production.
We can, if we play our cards well, turn Paris into an opportunity to embrace the suddenly cleaner-looking oilsands technology that has, until now, been a matter of international scorn.
Veteran political commentator Doug Firby is president of Troy Media Digital Solutions and publisher of Troy Media.