Imaginary Treaty Tops Season of Political Weirdness

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Appeared in the Saint John Telegraph-Journal and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal
Of all the peculiar goings-on in this odd political season perhaps the strangest was Prime Minister Jean Chrétien commitment in Johannesburg to sign an imaginary treaty.

In a speech to the UN conference on sustainable development, the Prime Minister appeared to promise to bring the Kyoto treaty on greenhouse emissions to a vote in the House of Commons by year’s end.

Oddly, no one knows what Canada has agreed to sign, what commitments Canada is making, how Canada will meet those commitments, how much they will cost, or who will bear those costs.

Let’s take these issues one by one. The first and oddest is Canada’s commitment to sign a treaty that doesn’t exist. Environment minister David Anderson has made it clear Canada won’t sign the Kyoto treaty as the rest of the world understands it. Instead, Canada has agreed to a Kyoto treaty as altered by an amendment that exists only in the minds of Ottawa politicians and bureaucrats.

Ottawa insists that Canada get credit for exports of “clean” fuels, like natural gas. Such credits would cut by a third the reductions Canada would be required to make under Kyoto. Instead of reducing greenhouse emissions by the 240 megatonnes as required by Kyoto, Anderson says Canada will need to cut admissions by only 170 megatonnes. The problem is that the Kyoto treaty has no provision -- absolutely none -- for giving Canada, such credits.

Other signatories have tried to explain that the treaty Ottawa says it will sign exists only in a thought bubble hovering over the Parliament
Buildings. As European Union spokesperson Roy Christensen said, “Either we’ve got an agreement or we don’t. Either you meet it or you don’t. You can’t just say we make up our own rules.”

Canada has agreed to sign a treaty that does not exist.

That makes it impossible to know Canada’s commitments or their costs. Estimates range as high as an economic loss of $40 billion annually to as low as $8 billion annually, with the David Suzuki foundation providing the loony tunes marching band for this already weird story, by suggesting the Kyoto agreement will boost economic activity and lead to the “creation of thousands of jobs,” never mind the tens of thousands of jobs that would be destroyed.

How about a plan for how Canada will meet the Kyoto commitments? Well, there is none, at least none that has been shared with the unwashed masses of Canadian premiers, let alone the general public.

Needless to say, this non-existent plan was developed during the non-existent public consultations that Ottawa promised it would undertake prior to agreeing to sign anything. It’s fortunate Canada has agreed to sign a non-existent treaty -- it keeps everything on the same epistemological level.

Who will bear the costs? Who knows? That, of course, all depends on our non-existent plan to meet the commitments in the imaginary treaty we’ve agreed to sign.

If the costs of Kyoto reductions target producers of hydrocarbons, as Alberta fears, the big losers will be Alberta and potentially Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. If they target energy users, then Ontario and Canada’s cold northern territories will get the short end of the stick. Of course, both producers and users will be hurt, but the balance of pain is unknown.

This confusion hardly suggests that the federal government has carefully considered or even understands the science behind Kyoto, or the magnitude of the global costs. Even some environmentalists have begun to question the cost of Kyoto compared to the costs and benefits of, say, improving water quality in poor nations.

So here’s the situation. Canada has agreed to sign a non-existent treaty to achieve unclear goals. Canada boasts a similarly non-existent plan to meet the commitments in the imaginary treaty. The non-existent plan provides non-existent information on the costs of meeting the treaty’s non-existent provisions.

Who says Canadian politicians lack imagination?

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