Sometimes we can all be pretty gullible. Ever make a major purchase because it was “30 per cent off” or choose a bag of chips because it had “50 per cent more?” More than what? More than a bag with 50 per cent fewer chips? The ads make us feel like savvy shoppers, but without a frame of reference, it’s pretty meaningless.
One lesson learned from the recent G8 summit in Italy is that the Chinese, Indians, Brazilians, and Mexicans are better shoppers than we are. While G8 countries were hailing the agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 50 per cent by 2050 (80 per cent for developed economies), and to limit global average temperature increases to two degrees over pre-industrial temperatures, these developing economies were asking what it all means.
Like the bag of chips, the agreement lacks meaning as it lacks any frame of reference. A 50 per cent reduction from what year? And what is the baseline for pre-industrial temperature? If we choose 1830s versus 1850s (last minimum of the “Little Ice Age”) it makes a major difference. The agreement reached in Italy is not a plan, and without frames of reference it does not set any real goals.
These frames of reference are to be worked out in advance of the December UNFCC Conference in Copenhagen, but it is disappointing that G8 leaders left Italy without establishing them. While we’re at it and talking about frames of reference, somebody better verify with the Americans that we mean Celsius.
Of course, it’s not just that the Chinese, Indians, Brazilians, and Mexicans are more cautious shoppers. Even with benchmarks, it will be difficult to get these countries to buy in to any carbon emission reduction plan. Until recently, that has been a justification for Canada to walk away from its Kyoto Protocol obligations, and for the U.S. to not even ratify Kyoto. But these decisions showed a lack of understanding of our own economy, and have really put the North American market at a disadvantage. Like other G8 countries, the Canadian and American economies are built on innovation. We have let European countries take the risks, hence the lead in green technologies. Adopting stringent carbon reduction targets now will have us playing catch-up for years, but further delays will only broaden the gap.
Further, a more expansive view of our commitment to reduce carbon emissions that includes not only use of products in Canada, but carbon emissions during their manufacture and transportation, will give developing economies incentive to reduce emissions to remain competitive. So far, however, product life cycle goals for carbon emissions remain outside the scope of the major international agreements and conventions. Hopefully, someday they find their place.
Beyond the technology gap
• The economies of China, India, Brazil, and Mexico are not built on innovation but rather on taking innovative products and making them less expensively. If we are innovative in designing products that are more efficient, and are innovative in developing new, greener manufacturing technologies, who do you think will adopt those technologies and make those products?
– Sophia Dore is an environmental scientist with Conestoga-Rovers & Associates. Andrew Laursen is an assistant professor at Ryerson University; firstname.lastname@example.org.