The following was broadcast as a CBC Commentary on 15 August 2002.
The last thing most Canadian politicians want is to make a decision that could hurt their chances of being re-elected.
There's no better example of this than the Kyoto Accord. It ties politicians' hands, binding them to reduce greenhouse gases by a specific amount by a date that's getting ever closer.
There's no doubt that meeting the target will change our lives. Some of us might eventually have to abandon our SUV's and take the bus or worse yet -- walk.
No wonder then that for more than a decade Canadian politicians have set and reset emissions targets and deadlines -- always making them weaker. The emission reductions called for in the Kyoto Accord are a fraction of what Brian Mulroney agreed to when he was Prime Minister. Canada's politicians have tried to get other countries to recognize our "unique" circumstances -- asking them to lower our reduction target by crediting us for our exports of so-called clean energy -- like natural gas. We actually did get the international community to accept the idea that our forests are absorbing a significant amount of carbon dioxide. Anything to reduce our target.
Federal politicians aren't the only ones feeling the Kyoto pressure. Realizing that road paving gains more votes than raising taxes on SUVs, some of our provincial politicians have started grasping for anything to delay making a decision. At the recent Premiers' conference in Halifax, John Hamm of Nova Scotia and New Brunwick's Bernard Lord called for "more science" before we ratify Kyoto.
If "more science" means absolute proof that human induced climate change is real, we may be in for a long wait. It will never be possible to prove it absolutely. Of course, this is exactly what most Canadian politicians want, so they'll never have to make a decision.
However, decisions are being made outside of Canada that will affect us. A few weeks ago, Swiss Re, one of the world's largest re-insurers forecast insurance premiums are about to rise significantly because of climate change. Its report noted shifts in the weather, including fewer rainy days, a lower incidence of frost, and a few more particularly warm days. Loses that were once the exception are now becoming the rule, forcing insurance companies to reassess climate-related risks. According to the report, it will soon be difficult to obtain insurance for low-lying beachfront property, dwellings in high-risk forest fire areas, and for lack of snow at ski resorts.
Almost five years have passed since Canada signed the Kyoto Accord. Since then, millions of tax dollars have been spent on meetings and reports, discussing the impact of climate change on Canada and Canadians. It is time for a decision to be made. Our politicians must decide whether to ratify Kyoto. Canadians must decide whether our environment is as important as our lifestyles.
For Commentary, I'm Larry Hughes in Halifax.