By Joe Oliver
Why should Canada fight climate change?
Finally, someone proclaimed an obvious truth that few dare to utter publicly. According to Moody’s Analytics, Canada will benefit from climate change. Although it will shock many, this forecast should surprise no one. Canada is a very large, cold country, with 90 per cent of its population huddled within 100 miles of its southern border and an enormous agricultural potential if the land warms up. There will also be new opportunities for oil, gas and mineral development in the Arctic. And let’s not ignore the greater personal comfort of living in a more hospitable climate.
According to a CBC story about Moody’s study, “when all the changes to things like tourism demand, crop yields and the growing season are factored in, there’s a slight net positive.”
Assuming a one-degree Celsius temperature rise, Moody’s calculates that our economy would be unaffected in 2048. A rise of 2.4 degrees would increase GDP by 0.1 per cent and four degrees would boost it by 0.3 per cent. Not much, but still positive, and certainly not the terrifying calamity we are warned to expect.
The impact on farming, however, would be dramatic. In the three Prairie provinces alone, an area more than twice the size of France, arable land could increase between 26 and 40 per cent by 2040, according to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. With improvements in farm technology, drought-resistant crops and new harvesting methods, Canada would have a wonderful opportunity to help feed a hungry world. And not a moment too soon: according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, agricultural output needs to increase by 50 per cent over the next 30 years to keep pace with world population growth.
Paradoxically, Canada is imposing burdensome costs and regulations to try to prevent what for us would be beneficial warming. But let’s not be so selfish. Other countries will be hurt by climate change, so we need to do our part as good global citizens. Unfortunately, at only 1.6 per cent of global GHG emissions, Canada cannot achieve a measurable impact on global temperatures, even if it met the latest UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change target, which would devastate our economy.
OK, we cannot make a practical difference, but surely we have to try, if only as a symbol of our determination to help the world counter an existential threat. Mind you, that is tantamount to elevating a meaningless gesture to a moral imperative. Moreover, once you get past all the doomsday prophesying and virtue-signalling, other countries’ commitments are honoured mainly in the breach, as global emissions continue to rise.
In a last-gasp rationale for sacrifice to the climate gods, we are urged to serve as a shining example of rectitude, presumably to inspire or shame others into action for their own good. Now we have truly arrived in fantasyland. Does anyone seriously imagine Canada can convince the four biggest carbon emitters, China, the U.S., India and Russia, who together are responsible for 57 per cent of global emissions, to follow our example of sequestered resources and undermined prosperity? The prime minister’s hectoring has zero influence on his counterparts. Two benefit from our inability to export energy overseas. Three barely tolerate his presence. And the fourth, Donald Trump, has abandoned the Paris accord.
Meanwhile, we are not doing what we can to address extreme weather, which directly and severely harms our economy and endangers Canadians. According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, insured damages for extreme weather events amounted to $1.9 billion last year, with an estimated triple that for damage to public infrastructure.
Our focus needs to be on adaptation, reduction and protection, as well as on building resilience and increasing survivability. Initiatives could include: new land-use plans and building codes; incentives for moving homes and businesses away from high-risk areas, especially coasts; constructing flood defences and raising the levels of dikes; developing drought-tolerant crops; making forests less vulnerable to storms and fires and setting aside land corridors that permit species migration. Other collaborative strategies are early warning systems, co-ordinated emergency preparedness and public education about insurance protection and flood- and fire-prevention best practices.
Right now our overall approach is piecemeal. Canada badly needs competent leadership rather than dead-end ideological obsessions, rent-seeking and bureaucratic empire-building. We have witnessed the current government’s ineffective reaction to this pressing environmental challenge. Leading into the election, the other party leaders, and especially Andrew Scheer, head of a government-in-waiting, should tell Canadians how they would take it on differently, possibly with a federal-provincial-municipal action plan.
Instead, the House of Commons declares a “National Climate Emergency,” the emperor struts around with invisible policy clothes and the official climate jeremiad simultaneously scares our children and encourages progressives to seek an ever-larger role for an all-knowing government. Things will go very poorly for both the economy and the environment if we stubbornly continue to work against the national interest, pursue unachievable objectives, posture to unimpressed foreigners and inadequately prepare for extreme weather. Alas, the disconnect between belief and reality seems destined to endure for some time.
Joe Oliver served as minister of natural resources and minister of finance in the Harper government.