Answering Saskatchewan government talking points #9: Our share of global emissions is very small

The Saskatchewan government’s 2016 White Paper on Climate Change claims that “we are having the wrong conversation” by focussing on the need for emissions reductions in our own patch.  The authors make a number of questionable claims to back up this opinion.  Here is a response to one of them.

When it comes to climate change, Canada is having the wrong conversation.  The “solutions” currently being discussed play at the margins of the issue, considering that Canada’s share of GHG emissions is just 1.6 percent of the global total.

– Government of Saskatchewan White Paper on Climate Change

Brad Wall’s administration has been keen to divert attention away from Saskatchewan’s obscenely high per capita greenhouse gas emissions – about 67 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per person per year in 2015 (the most recent year for which data is available).  This is the highest figure in Canada, and one of the highest in the world.  For comparison, Canada as a whole averaged 21 tonnes per person, and Sweden 5.6 tonnes per person in the same year.  Saskatchewan (population a little over a million) has a GHG emission rate similar to Morocco (population about 34 million) or Tanzania (population about 48 million)1.  While we contribute a relatively small proportion of the overall global total, our emissions are disproportionately high in relation to our population, and that leaves us with a particular moral responsibility to achieve rapid reductions.

The reality is that – if the science-based Paris temperature goals are to be achieved – the world needs to reach zero energy-related emissions by mid-century, and zero or negative net total emissions soon thereafter.  That means that every jurisdiction in the world needs to achieve this.  Including Saskatchewan.  Evading action by pointing to China or India is irresponsible and shows a total disregard both for those throughout the world already suffering from climate change impacts and for the multiple generations at home who will have to endure the consequences.  (Even if we disregard the hypocrisy of pointing the finger at China while vocally supporting pipelines enabling sales to that country of unrefined diluted bitumen.)

Five countries and one bloc (China, the USA, the EU, India, Russia, Japan) are responsible for about 70% of global emissions.  Those jurisdictions certainly have a particular responsibility to achieve reductions.  But to suggest – and this is the logical implication of Mr Wall’s position – that the 160-odd countries responsible for the other 30% should do little or nothing to reduce their own emissions is absurd.

Alternatively, we could ask: should Beijing be seeking to reduce its emissions? – they amount to about 0.5% of the global total, from its population of about 20 million.  Or Shanghai (0.5%), or Delhi (0.1%), or Britain (1.4%), or Germany (2.2%), or France (1.2%)?  The world is made up of many small-percentage emitters, all of whom need to achieve reductions – but especially the wealthy jurisdictions which have made the greatest historic contribution to the climate crisis.

In that context, it is particularly impressive that 48 low-income member nations of the Climate Vulnerable Forum have committed to be supplying 100% of their energy for all purposes from renewables by 2050 – in some cases by 2030.  Faced with their example, Mr Wall should first experience shame and then seek to follow their excellent lead.

For answers to more talking points click here.

1 Also almost identical to that of Austria (population 8.5 million), and larger than those of Ireland (population 4.6 million), Norway (population 5.2 million), Finland (population 5.5 million), Denmark (population 5.7 million), Switzerland (population 8.2 million), Sweden (population 9.7 million) and Portugal (population 10.4 million) – all wealthy industrialised countries.