Saturday, November 19, 2005

Symbol over substance

The Star reports on some of the measures being taken to make next week's climate-change conference environmentally neutral:
Since the aim of the two-week conference is to negotiate steps to curb climate change, those involved feel obliged to make at least a symbolic contribution...

(T)o make the conference climate-neutral will require nearly 50,000 tonnes of savings.

One way to come up with them is to buy carbon "credits" from projects, such as wind or solar energy, that replace sources of greenhouse gas emissions, like coal-burning electricity generating stations.

Environment Canada is buying up to 14,000 tonnes of credits from an Alberta wind farm, at a cost that could hit $112,000.
The article discusses many far more worthy measures being takenas well, including the use of bio-diesel and ethanol-burning vehicles, "green-defensive" techniques for drivers, and the simpler measure of placing most hotels within walking distance of the convention centre. And there's plenty of merit to such measures, both to demonstrate the technology that's already available and to highlight how easy it can be to reduce emissions.

But the credit-trading idea has long been a controversial one, and for good reason. While Kyoto may be a start, the fight against climate change will be tough to win in a system based primarily on cancelling immediate gains out against immediate losses. And I'd be highly disappointed if Environment Canada can't come up with a better way to invest its money for long-term gain than to buy credits in order to keeping the convention symbolically neutral.

Regardless of how many emissions are generated by the convention itself, the convention's success or failure should be measured by the degree to which it encourages future action on a far larger scale than the scope of one gathering. Unfortunately, with the organizers apparently more interested in current symbolism than in the best long-term use of resources, it's difficult to expect much better from the delegates.

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