Showcase, don’t shun, economics of climate at G20
— Dr. David Suzuki is a Canadian scientist, broadcaster, author, and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Any views expressed here are his own. —
For the past two years, the global economy has been at the top of peoples’ minds. And so has the environment.
Indeed, most people probably care about both. The fact is these two issues are inextricably linked. As we’ve seen after the economic meltdown, we tend to focus on them as if they are separate.
On the heels of the U.N. Conference on Climate Change last December in Copenhagen, climate change remains a major concern and now often dominates meetings of international heads of state, including the G8 and G20 summits.
This G20 Summit in Toronto would be the perfect time to address climate change policy given that Canada might be the industrialized country most at risk of climate change. However, our prime minister is not up to that task. Stephen Harper’s desire to deal with anything but climate change at the G8/G20 meeting is palpable. This Canadian government has consistently treated climate change like a minor but persistent sideshow rather than an issue warranting urgent international diplomacy.
With the urgent need to establish meaningful climate policies being pressed by many leaders heading into the G8/G20 – even in the face of a fragile global economy– Canada’s government needs to take a fresh look at the debate around the economy and climate change.
For years, the scientific evidence of human-induced climate change has been compelling. Each year we are surprised at the speed with which nature responds to small thermal changes. The impending consequences of climate change loom as the greatest challenge that has ever confronted humankind and it’s all of our own making.
We are a northern nation and for two decades, the Inuit indigenous people of Arctic Canada have been telling us they can see the effects and are urging action. With the longest marine coastline of any country, Canada’s coasts will be transformed by sea level rise from both thermal expansion and ice sheet melt. Our economy remains heavily dependent on climate-sensitive sectors like agriculture, forestry, fisheries and tourism. And as a wealthy nation, our action (or inaction) serves as a model for the developing world.
Historically, governments have been like penguins about to leap into the ocean, waiting till others take the first plunge for fear of predators. So we are reticent to take even the first steps to meaningfully address climate change. On one level this is quite understandable. The perception among politicians, fed by the PR pronouncements of the fossil fuel industry, is that meaningful action to combat climate change involves huge risks – economic, social, and, of course, political. What’s more, the payoff comes only later – long after the politicians who took decisive action are no longer in office.
Contrary to the received wisdom in Canada, most projections paint a very positive picture for economic growth and job creation for jurisdictions that do choose to address climate change in a meaningful way.
For instance, by putting a price on carbon emissions, Canada’s economy would grow aggressively well into the double digits nationally and in every province over the next 10 years even if our biggest trading partners do not match the price Canada sets.
The reasons for this positive outcome are fairly straightforward. Less than one-third of Canada’s economy is composed of carbon intensive industries such as the auto and aerospace manufacturing sectors. Even Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada’s two most carbon-intensive provincial economies, would fare very well under an aggressive climate policy. Our study shoes that Alberta’s growth would still remain by far the strongest in the country.
Job creation would continue at a pace of 11 percent, which is the current national job growth rate. Jobs would not be lost because there would be a substantial cut in the personal income tax rate funded by the revenue from a carbon price. Moreover, the large-scale introduction of green technologies which, as other G20 nations recognize, creates jobs.
Critics and the Canadian government point to a tiny short-term slowdown in the rate of GDP growth, which would accompany the decarbonization of the economy, as the basis for rejecting climate change.
If the international heads of state assembled in Toronto this weekend for the Group of 20 nations summit could have a conversation with their great grandchildren at the end of this century, they would surely tell them that shaving a fraction off the rate of short-term GDP growth is a mere pittance to pay in return for what will be gained by addressing climate change once and for all.
Photo shows a woman holding a sign during a demonstration for indigenous sovereignty ahead of the G8 and G20 summits in downtown Toronto, June 24, 2010. REUTERS/Mike Segar