10 April 2009

Woe is us, we may have to go green

Our federal government's malingering when it comes to action against global warming is becoming an embarrassment. Yesterday's headline in The Globe and Mail is an illustration. "Ottawa faces pressure to align with U.S. on green plans," it reads. Our neighbours have to force us to accept our environmental responsibilities? How sad.

The U.S. Congress is proposing legislation that would include border duties on imports from countries considered lax on limiting greenhouse gas emissions, and God knows we are lax. Leading Democrats, with President Obama's support, intend to strictly limit the emissions that industries are allowed. In order to protect their industries against competition from countries with lower standards, the proposed legislation would require the U.S. government to take action when American manufacturers lose market share to foreign companies that enjoy an unfair environmental advantage. This approach is essential if global warming is to be dealt with. Without counter measures, countries with low standards will not only have an unfair trade advantage but will be more attractive to investment and thus undermine environmental efforts. The only alternative to unilateral action is strong international standards.

Needless to say, the legislation will be opposed. Republicans and conservative Democrats, particularly those from coal-mining states, will seek compromise. Predictably, the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters association is complaining. China is not happy with the legislation, particularly about suggestions it will protect American jobs. China has profited greatly from both low labour and low environmental standards; perhaps the American action will put pressure on them to at least raise the latter.

It will certainly put pressure on us. Even our reluctant Minister of the Environment, Jim Prentice, admits as much. "There are clearly measures that would have trade related consequences for Canada if we don't have equivalent environmental legislation in place," he says. So there you have it. The Conservatives may not care unduly about threats to the planet, but threats to trade get their attention in a hurry.

I would prefer to see us leading the way in the fight against global warming rather than being whipped along by economic threats, but if threats are the only way to get us to do the right thing, then I welcome them.

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