Saturday, May 11, 2019

On definitive statements

Following up on this post, I'll take a step back point out how Scott Moe's insistence on attacking any carbon price through the courts is only enshrining in Canadian jurisprudence - in both the majority and dissenting decisions - some of the points he's trying to soft-peddle for the climate denialists in his base.

Moe has just barely reached the point of being willing to acknowledge the existence of climate change in public in a sentence or two before trying to change the subject. But it's well worth pressing to see whether he'll admit facts were as uncontroverted in the Court of Appeal's decision (including though the best argument Moe could muster to claim climate change isn't a matter of national concern) as they are in the scientific community.

To start with, the basic facts of the global crisis were set out by the majority after being accepted by all parties - including Saskatchewan (italics in original, underlining added):
[15] The general character of the GHG phenomenon and the basic science of climate change are not contested by any of the participants in this Reference. In simplest terms, planet Earth absorbs energy from sunlight. When that energy is emitted, GHGs capture some of it. This slows the escape of such energy into space and, over time, heats the atmosphere and the surface of the earth. These higher temperatures disrupt global climate patterns.

[16] The broad contours of the impact of anthropogenic emissions of GHGs and of the nature of the climate change issue are summarized in Climate Change 2014 Synthesis Report Summary for Policymakers [Climate Change 2014]. It was prepared by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC], which was established by the United Nations Environmental Programme and the World Meteorological Organization. The IPCC, as described by John Moffet, Assistant Deputy Minister with Environment and Climate Change Canada, in his affidavit of October 25, 2018, is “the leading world body for assessing the most recent scientific, technical, and socio-economic information produced worldwide relevant to understanding climate change, its impacts and potential future risks, and possible response options”. Climate Change 2014 concludes as follows:
(a) “Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history. Recent climate changes have had widespread impacts on human and natural systems” (at 2).
(b) “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, and sea level has risen” (at 2).
(c) “Anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions have increased since the pre-industrial era, driven largely by economic and population growth, and are now higher than ever. This has led to atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide that are unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years. Their effects, together with those of other anthropogenic drivers, have been detected throughout the climate system and are extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century” (emphasis in original, at 4).
(d) “Changes in many extreme weather and climate events have been observed since about 1950. Some of these changes have been linked to human influences, including a decrease in cold temperature extremes, an increase in warm temperature extremes, an increase in extreme high sea levels and an increase in the number of heavy precipitation events in a number of regions” (at 7).
(e) “Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems. Limiting climate change would require substantial and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions which, together with adaptation, can limit climate change risks” (at 8).
(f) “Surface temperature is projected to rise over the 21st century under all assessed emission scenarios. It is very likely that heat waves will occur more often and last longer, and that extreme precipitation events will become more intense and frequent in many regions. The ocean will continue to warm and acidify, and global mean sea level to rise” (emphasis in original, at 10).
(g) “Climate change will amplify existing risks and create new risks for natural and human systems. Risks are unevenly distributed and are generally greater for disadvantaged people and communities in countries at all levels of development” (at 13).
(h) “Without additional mitigation efforts beyond those in place today, and even with adaptation, warming by the end of the 21st century will lead to high to very high risk of severe, widespread and irreversible impacts globally (high confidence). ...” (emphasis in original, at 17).
None of these conclusions were challenged or put in issue by the participants in this Reference.
And due to the position pushed by Moe, the majority decision also recognized the essential nature of both carbon pricing and multijurisdictional action in order to mount an effective response:
[147] What then of the idea of minimum national standards of price stringency for GHG emissions? Significantly, the factual record before the Court indicates that GHG pricing is not just part and parcel of an effective response to climate change. It indicates that GHG pricing is regarded as an essential aspect or element of the global effort to limit GHG emissions. The following unchallenged features of the record are noteworthy in this regard:
(a) “There is widespread international consensus that carbon pricing is a necessary measure, though not a sufficient measure, to achieve the global reductions in GHG emissions necessary to meet the Paris Agreement targets” (Moffet affidavit at para 46).
(b) “A well-designed carbon price is an indispensable part of a strategy for reducing emissions in an efficient way” (High-Level Commission on Carbon Prices, Report of the High-Level Commission on Carbon Prices (Washington, DC: World Bank, 2017) at 1).
(c) “There is a widespread trend in favour of carbon pricing … Overall, 67 jurisdictions … are putting a price on carbon” (Moffet affidavit at para 49).
(d) “The existing literature is highly convergent in finding that carbon prices that have been implemented around the world have been successful in reducing greenhouse gas emissions” (Nicholas Rivers affidavit affirmed October 5, 2018, at para 6(b)).
[156] All of this said, a good deal of the real significance of individual provincial failures to price GHG emissions to a minimum level plays out on a different plane. Climate change is a global problem and, accordingly, it calls for a global response. Such a response can only be effectively developed internationally by way of state-to-state negotiation and agreement. This, of course, is the story of the Framework Convention, the Kyoto Protocol, the Copenhagen Accord, and the Paris Agreement. In participating in these international processes, Canada is expected to make national commitments with respect to GHG reduction or mitigation targets. Those commitments are self-evidently difficult for Canada, as a country, to meet if not all provincial jurisdictions are prepared to implement GHG emissions pricing regimes – regimes that, on the basis of the record before the Court, are an essential aspect of successful GHG mitigation plans. This is not to suggest Parliament must somehow enjoy a comprehensive treaty implementation power in relation to the GHG issue. But, it is to say that the international nature of the climate change problem necessarily colours and informs an assessment of the effects of a provincial failure to deal with GHG pricing.
What's more, even the dissent which was supposed to have justified the waste of resources in challenging a backstop carbon price includes some of the definitive acknowledgment of the importance of climate change that's glaringly lacking in Moe's public statements and official actions:
[236] GHGs are gases that absorb and re-emit infrared radiation, the most prevalent of which is carbon dioxide [CO2]. GHGs are a significant contributor to climate change. For this reason, the parties and intervenors all agree that the governments of Canada and the Provinces must take steps to mitigate the anthropogenic emission of GHGs. Because none of the Attorneys General dispute the causative effect anthropogenic GHGs have on climate change or the attendant and existential necessity of mitigating anthropogenic GHG emissions, the proof or truth of these facts is not at issue. That is, they are proven and true.
[476] Before summarising our opinion, we would reiterate two points. First, we agree that all levels of government in Canada must take action to address climate change. The anthropogenic emission of GHGs is an issue of pressing concern to all Canadians and to the world. Second, Parliament has a number of constitutional powers, legislative means and administrative mechanisms at its disposal to achieve its objectives in this regard.
Needless to say, I'll be shocked if Moe is willing to publicly acknowledge the existential threat of climate change which he didn't even bother to dispute before the Court of Appeal. Instead, I'd fully expect him to keep pairing gross understatements of the threat of climate breakdown with disingenouous attempts to distract his audiences.

But if that's true, then Moe's loss in court has not only entrenched the federal carbon price, but enshrined in Canadian jurisprudence some of the truths about our climate crisis which he continues to deny. And Moe himself should only lose credibility for refusing to admit and act on the reality of climate change.

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