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UN climate summit: We’re following the US

We’ll match US vehicle emissions standards, curb HFC coolants.


UNITED NATIONS — Canada made two main commitments at the United Nations climate summit, where countries were urged to bring bold policies to fight climate change. And both borrow heavily from industrial regulations the US president has already set in motion.

One was to match American vehicle-emissions standards. The other, to curb the use of HFC coolants – several days after the White House announced plans for executive orders, and convened a meeting of business leaders who’ve committed to slashing hydrofluorocarbons by 80% by 2050.

Both of those things came up in passing in the President Barack Obama’s speech to the conference Sept. 23, among the list of measures he’d already announced. In that speech, he also announced plans to incorporate climate-change considerations into US foreign-development projects, and referred to his far more controversial executive order to regulate the highest-polluting sector in the US, old power plants.

He urged everyone else to get moving on a post-2015 treaty, in remarks that appeared to be aimed primarily at the Chinese.

“Nobody gets a pass,” Obama said.

“The emerging economies that have experienced some of the most dynamic growth in recent years have also emitted rising levels of carbon pollution. It is those emerging economies that are likely to produce more and more carbon emissions in the years to come.

He also made a specific reference to an effort made in Canada – although that reference was to the 1987 Montreal Protocol, which he said would help guide new efforts against fast-rising and potent HFCs.

Obama spoke just after noon. About five hours later, Canada’s environment minister Leona Aglukkaq said her government would be releasing details soon on a plan to reduce hydrofluorocarbons.

There were a number of announcements at Tuesday’s climate summit – but also ample evidence of the multi-directional, international fingerpointing that has hampered greenhouse gas reduction efforts.

One particularly colourful example came from Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who scolded wealthy polluting countries for causing an “evil of such planetary dimensions” and then trying to offload their responsibilities on developing countries.

Just after Obama spoke, Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli said the world should treat developing countries – including his – differently when imposing climate rules.

That being said, China also promised to reduce its emissions per GDP ratio by 45% by 2020, using a 2005 baseline. That wouldn’t result in an actual decrease, because China’s economy has grown so rapidly. Environmentalist groups at the conference, however, saluted the pledge as going beyond anything China had previously committed to doing.

The UN also endorsed a call for putting a price on carbon. The idea, led by the World Bank, has the support of 73 countries including China and Russia, and more than 1,000 businesses including six oil companies.

It has not received the endorsement of either Canada or the US, where a cap-and-trade system or carbon tax stand virtually no chance of getting adopted by Congress. That’s what has prompted Obama to proceed with administrative regulations wherever possible, much to the consternation of critics who accuse him of overstepping his constitutional authority.

Seven US states and three Canadian provinces did sign onto the World Bank commitment: Alberta, BC and Quebec.

© 2014 The Canadian Press

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