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Why has there been so much fuss about the “leaked” document at Copenhagen? After all, there was nothing new or surprising in it: developing countries want richer countries to do all the paying and make all the carbon reductions, not them; developed countries don’t agree. The best explanation I’ve read is: underemployed journalists. There are more than 5000 accredited journalists at Copenhagen, plus thousands of others who are expected to blog or otherwise write home about their experiences. What are they all to write about? The major issues are well defined, and most of the endless speeches are predictable. The real negotiations never take place in public.

Sadly, it is equally predictable that real carbon reductions are hard to achieve without open and honest carbon pricing, which Canada has mostly ducked. Still, it was discouraging to read the Ontario Environmental Commissioner’s Report, Finding a Vision for Change: Annual Greenhouse Gas Progress Report 2008/2009, especially since the current provincial government has an unusually strong commitment to environmental issues.

According to the Commissioner, Ontario will not meet either its 2014 or its 2020 GHG reduction targets and implementation of its reduction plans may be beyond its control. For example, three-quarters of Ontario’s forecasted emission reductions by 2014 are tied to one initiative: the phase-out of coal as a fuel at four remaining power plants. The ECO believes that there is considerable short-term risk in this plan, because of “[e]xternal [f]actors…beyond the control of the government” such as “demand for peak electricity either from within or outside Ontario’s jurisdiction”. He is also concerned about government’s focus on electricity conservation “with an apparent blind spot for natural gas, the source of 26 per cent of the province’s GHG emissions”.

ECO had expected to see a greater focus on initiatives to reduce GHG emissions associated with transportation, such as road pricing.

He is also worried about the government’s heavy reliance on a proposed North American cap-and-trade regime. “The ECO remains concerned about the risks inherent in a process where key decisions about a future trading regime are largely in the hands of other jurisdictions.”

Meanwhile, billions are being spent on infrastructure that may not be well designed for a world of climate change. “The ECO is concerned that much physical infrastructure renewal (which includes projects that may have up to 50-to-100-year expected lifespans) could proceed without a solid integration of adaptation considerations.”

Matthew Glass’s gripping novel, Ultimatum, is based on the premise that we won’t get serious about climate change, despite rounds of international promises, until after it triggers a nuclear war. Read it and weep.

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