Hot Air

Meaghan Beattie and Tristan Laing

Hot Air: Meeting Canada’s Climate Change Challenge is a concise and virtually up-to-the-minute examination of Canadian climate change policy: past, present, and future. Jeffrey Simpson, Mark Jaccard, and Nic Rivers do a good job of laying out the technical and political issues involved and, while one cannot help taking issue with some aspects of their analysis, this book is definitely a good place to start, when seeking to evaluate Canada’s climate options.

Emission pathways

Hot Air presents two possible emissions pathways: an aggressive scenario that cuts Canadian emissions from 750 Mt of CO2 equivalent in 2005 to about 400 Mt in 2050, and a less aggressive scenario that cuts them to about 600 Mt. For the sake of contrast, Canada’s Kyoto commitment (about which the authors are highly critical) is to cut Canadian emissions to 6% below 1990 levels by 2012, which would mean emissions of 563 Mt five years from now. The present government has promised to cut emissions to 20% below 2006 levels by 2020 (600 Mt) and by 60 to 70% by 2050 (225 to 300 Mt). George Monbiot’s extremely ambitious plan calls for a 90% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 (75 Mt for Canada, though he is primarily writing about Britain).

While Monbiot’s plan aims to reach stabilization by 2030, a much more conventional target date is around 2100. It is as though the book presents a five-decade plan to slow the rate at which water is leaking into the boat (greenhouse gasses accumulating in the atmosphere), but doesn’t actually specify how to plug the hole before it the boat sinks (greenhouse gas concentrations overwhelm the ability of human and natural systems to adapt). While having the hole half-plugged at a set date is a big improvement, a plan that focuses only on that phase seems to lack an ultimate purpose. While Hot Air does not continue its projections that far into the future, it is plausible that the extension of the policies therein for a further 50 years would achieve that outcome, though at an unknown stabilization concentration. (See this prior discussion)

Policy prescriptions

Simpson, Jaccard, and Rivers envision the largest reductions being achieved through fuel switching (for instance, from coal to natural gas) and carbon capture and storage. Together, these account for well over 80% of the anticipated reductions in both scenarios, with energy efficiency improvements, agricultural changes, waste treatment changes, and other efforts making up the difference. As policy mechanisms, the authors support carbon pricing (through either a cap-and-trade scheme or the establishment of a carbon tax) as well as command-and-control measures including tightened mandatory efficiency standards for vehicles, renewable portfolio standards (requiring a larger proportion of energy to be renewable), carbon management standards (requiring a larger proportion of CO2 to be sequestered), and tougher building standards. They stress that information and subsidy programs are inadequate to create significant reductions in emissions. Instead, they explain that an eventual carbon price of $100 to $150 a tonne will make “zero-emissions technologies… frequently the most economic option for business and consumers.” This price would be reached by means of a gradual rise ($20 in 2015 and $60 in 2020), encouraging medium and long-term investment in low carbon technologies and capital.

Just 250 pages long, with very few references, Hot Air takes a decidedly journalistic approach. It is very optimistic about the viability and affordability of carbon capture and storage, as well as about the transition to zero emission automobiles. Air travel is completely ignored, while the potential of improved urban planning and public transportation is rather harshly derided. The plan described doesn’t extend beyond 2050 and doesn’t reach a level of Canadian emissions consistent with global stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations (though it would put Canada on a good footing to achieve that by 2100). While the book’s overall level of detail may not satisfy the requirements of those who want extensive technical and scientific analysis, it is likely to serve admirably as an introduction for those bewildered by the whole ecosystem of past and present plans and concerned with understanding the future course of policy.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

12 thoughts on “Hot Air

  1. There was an interesting review in the Globe and Mail, but you need to pay for it now.

    Climate change: How much does Canada care?

    Meeting Canada’s Climate Change Challenge
    By Jeffrey Simpson, Mark Jaccard and Nic Rivers
    McClelland & Stewart,
    261 pages,

    Planet Earth lost 1.2 million square kilometres of Arctic sea ice this summer. That’s an area larger than Ontario. The loss of so much highly reflective ice will result in much more solar energy being absorbed into the ocean, altering currents and affecting weather patterns worldwide.
    The full text of this article has 1369 words.

  2. Embassy, October 10th, 2007

    Taking Canada’s Temperature on Climate Change

    Three influential authors take a passionate look at Canada’s polarized debate on issues surrounding the Kyoto Protocol.

    By Anthony Cary

    Hot Air: Meeting Canada’s Climate Change Challenge
    By Jeffrey Simpson, Mark Jaccard and Nic Rivers
    McClelland & Stewart
    280pp. $29.99

  3. “I was disappointed that the authors accuse Sir Nicholas Stern of exaggerating the case for early investment in carbon reduction by assuming, in his report, an unrealistically low discount rate. Sir Nicholas, as a former chief economist of the World Bank, understands very well the principle that a dollar today is worth more than a dollar tomorrow. What he will not accept is that a human life today is worth more than the lives of generations that succeed us. His argument is ethical rather than economic.”

  4. An article in this week’s Economist refers to gamblers as “the mathematically challenged.” It seems a pretty fair assessment.

    Climate change deniers and those who seek to delay action fall into the same camp.

  5. News release via Canada NewsWire, Toronto

    TORONTO, Oct. 10 /CNW/ – CIBC (CM: TSX; NYSE) –

    The next U.S. administration will implement a national carbon cap and trade system to cut greenhouse gas emissions and pressure Ottawa to do the same, forecasts Jeff Rubin, the chief economist and chief strategist at CIBC World Markets. Speaking at the launch of the Conference Board of Canada’s latest Carbon Disclosure Project in Toronto today, Mr. Rubin stated that growing public pressure and the existence of trade and cap systems in most U.S. states will force the next administration in Washington, Democrat or Republican, to implement a hard national cap and trade system to deliver absolute reductions in carbon emissions.

    “When Washington adopts firm and hard emission reduction targets, you can rest assured that it will require that its major trading partner, Canada, do the same,” says Mr. Rubin. “Just as most environmental legislation in this country finds its genesis in earlier U.S. state legislation, Ottawa’s carbon polices for tomorrow is being drafted by U.S. state legislatures today.” Mr. Rubin notes a cap and trade system is the best way to achieve a sustainable reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in our economy because it turns to the market for solutions. “For environmental progress to be sustainable it must first become economically viable. I for one believe that the market mechanism should be and will be the principle means for sustainable reductions.

  6. “In January 2007, the European Commission issued a communication stating that “the European Union’s objective is to limit global average temperature increase to less than 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels”.

    Andrew Weaver and colleagues at the University of Victoria in Canada say this means going well beyond the reduction of industrial emissions discussed in international negotiations.

    Weaver’s team used a computer model to determine how much emissions must be limited in order to avoid exceeding a 2°C increase. The model is an established tool for analysing future climate change and was used in studies cited in the IPCC’s reports on climate change.

    They modelled the reduction of industrial emissions below 2006 levels by between 20% and 100% by 2050. Only when emissions were entirely eliminated did the temperature increase remain below 2°C.

    A 100% reduction of emissions saw temperature change stabilise at 1.5°C above the pre-industrial figure. With a 90% reduction by 2050, Weaver’s model predicted that temperature change will eventually exceed 2°C compared to pre-industrial temperatures but then plateau…
    “People are easily misled into thinking that 50% by 2050 is all we have to do when in fact have to continue reducing emissions afterwards, all the way down to zero,” Lenton says.”


  7. China’s most famous teacher, philosopher, and political theorist (551-479 BC) is, of course, not still here to advise the Canadian prime minister on how to react to this country’s embarrassing failure to come anywhere close to meeting it’s Kyoto commitments. Fortunately, however, Confucius left some all-purpose aphorisms that might offer Harper wisdom. In this case:

    “When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.”

  8. Hot Air – the book

    By Jan Triska, Greenerpolitics correspondent

    What Simpson and Jaccard argue – and, in my humble opinion, prove – is that our federal government has been caught in a difficult spot, unprepared, insufficiently aware of basic underlying facts, and facing a tall order that Canada had originally set out for itself. Our GHG emission reduction targets, as adopted under the Kyoto protocol, are nowhere close to being met, even with the increasing number of policy tools and methods available to policymakers. Despite having no fewer than seven distinct ‘Climate change action’ plans or similar federal strategies over the past decade, Canada has not made any significant headway. Simpson and Jaccard discuss the root causes, point out the political context, and, ultimately, try to provide some alternatives to get Canada back on track.

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