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It's all a matter of perspective
December 21, 2011
WINNIPEG, MB, Dec. 21, 2011/ Troy Media/ – Well, it’s official: Canada is out of Kyoto.
While critics were quick to chastise our government for its decision to withdraw from the international accord, supporters have passionately jumped to Ottawa’s defense, arguing it really makes no difference whether we are involved in the agreement. After all, they say, our country is responsible for only about 1.85 per cent of global emissions, which makes Canada an insignificant source of carbon pollution.
As is often the case with statistics, however, whether our country is a big CO2 emitter is a matter of perspective because our seemingly paltry less than 2 per cent of global emissions are enough to make Canada the eighth-largest overall greenhouse gas-producing nation in the world.
Canada one of the bad guys
To put that another way, if the 184 lowest-emitting countries banded together against just the top 10 worst polluters on the planet, Canada would be one of the bad guys. So while our 1.85 per cent does not look troublesome in isolation, it does make the great white north a larger contributor to the problem than almost all other countries on earth.
Currently, China is the world’s largest national polluter, pouring a whopping 23 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. The Asian giant is followed by the United States at about 20 per cent, India at 5.7 per cent and Russia at approximately 5.6 per cent. Undoubtedly, there will never be a meaningful reduction in total CO2 output without action on the part of these nations.
Still, though per capita American emissions are higher than those north of the border, in Russia they are only about half the Canadian total, while Chinese and Indian carbon output per person is just one third and one-tenth the Canadian figure, respectively.
With only 0.49 per cent of the world’s population, our 1.85 per cent of global emissions is about 3.7 times more than what could be considered our fair share. As such, it is rather hypocritical of us to tell the Chinese (or Russians or Indians) that they should significantly reduce their emissions without working to bring down our own per capita pollution.
Citizens of those countries are likely to question why they should undertake the effort and expense of reducing their emissions, while we can burn carbon in excess. How is it just, they may ask, that a typical Canadian is allowed to pollute far more than the average Chinese citizen, simply by virtue of the fact they were born in a country with a much smaller population? When our contribution to the problem is greater relative to our size, expecting changes from others while staying our own carbon-intensive course can only be perceived as unfair, and our demands will likely be ignored.
Of course, some defenders of the status quo suggest the reason we emit so much is because Canada produces the energy supplies other countries crave – and certainly, this does play a role in our pollution rate. Yet, Saudi Arabia, responsible for over 11 per cent of global oil production versus Canada’s 4.3 per cent, generates only 1.45 per cent of all CO2 emissions. Similarly, Norway produces about four times the amount of oil per citizen as we do, but is responsible for just 0.17 per cent of world greenhouse gases and has per capita emissions half those of Canada.
Whether the Kyoto Accord is the best vehicle for reducing the global carbon footprint is in doubt, with good reason. Nevertheless, while no longer part of the treaty, Canadians should not become complacent about our impact on pollution simply because it is ‘only’ 2 per cent of the world total.
Canadians must become part of the solution
We are not the very worst offenders, but we still emit 370 per cent more CO2 than is our fair share. Perhaps this is because our lifestyle is overly pollutant, compared to those of our global counterparts, or because our energy sector is considerably dirtier than those of other nations – as environmentalists have been arguing all along. Either way, if Canadians believe reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a valid environmental challenge, then there is ample reason for us to make a concerted effort to be part of the solution.
Benjamin Gillies is a political economy graduate from the University of Manitoba, where he focused on urban development and energy policy. He works as a consultant in Winnipeg.
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