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OPINION: Kyoto hindsight makes task clear for copenhagen

In just a few weeks, world leaders will gather in Copenhagen to address climate change. Twelve years ago in Ky...


November 24, 2009
By Pulp & Paper Canada

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In just a few weeks, world leaders will gather in Copenhagen to address climate change. Twelve years ago in Kyoto the lurking question was whether there was really a need for global action on climate change. Parties reached a deal there that put us on the right path, but we all knew it was deeply flawed. Our mission now, as we start the Copenhagen process, is to avoid the mistakes made in Kyoto.

This time there is no question about the need to act. And this time, the bar needs to be set higher. Simply achieving a “deal” can no longer be the reference point. Instead the reference point has to be a solution that actually works in mitigating the climate change threat. The test for the next deal has to be its effectiveness.

I joined the Forest Products Association of Canada in 2002 after 25 years in the public service and after leading, for Environment Canada, the development of our government’s policy position for Kyoto. That effort , and my subsequent work with Canadian forest industry leaders on achieving the Kyoto targets, (in fact we surpassed them 10 times over),  has forced me to spend a lot of time thinking about what we all need to do better in Copenhagen.

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The bottom line is simple:  you cannot address climate change with the kind of thinking that created it. Climate change is the result of our failure to see, acknowledge, and act on how things in this world are connected to each other; how our actions impact the environment; how the world is not divided into polluters and innocents; and how there is no safe haven from global environmental issues. We like to think in safe, comfortable slices but the world works as a system. Much of where Kyoto failed was the result of this type of thinking – focusing on the separate pieces of the puzzle rather than on their interconnectedness.

So looking toward the Copenhagen process, this is what we need:

– Cumulative global targets and actions that are ambitious enough to seriously impact the climate. Gestures, pilot projects and half measures have been defended in the past as ways to get things going, and they have. But people need to believe that we are doing something effective if they are to buy into the cost of making real change.

– Far less emphasis on offsetting emissions and far more emphasis on the deep retooling needed to reduce them. We can’t hide the greenhouse gases under the bed – we need to stop emitting them. Of course, offsets help in the short run but they distract us from the real work of retooling our industries and infrastructure.

– Controls and counting regimes that are based on total carbon footprint. The use of massive amounts of fossil fuel to support the production and use of bio-fuel in the U.S. is one example of what happens when you don’t measure total carbon footprint.

Also, the movement of production from one country to another may allow one country to claim a reduction in emissions, but that doesn’t help the climate. 

– Better integration of other environmental imperatives into the climate program. Biodiversity, air and water quality are severely impacted by climate change and in need of protection. Sacrificing them for carbon reasons is to repeat the mistakes of the past.

– A far more robust acknowledgment that we need to live within nature’s cycles rather than trying to reverse-engineer our way out of nature’s imperatives.

– A willingness to deny access to global markets to those who choose to ignore their environmental responsibilities. For example, banning products that caused deforestation or that came from illegally logged forests.

In Canada, the forestry sector realized years ago that it must transform itself to meet the challenges of climate change. 

Over the past few years, our industry has seen at close range the dangers of climate change.

Warmer winters have allowed pine beetles normally killed by the cold to multiply. The destruction they have left in Canadian forests has resulted in 25,000 families in this country losing their livelihood.

This is just one problem, in one industry, in one nation. And it is just one reason why we in the forest industry have realized that climate change is not an abstract threat for the future, but today’s reality.

We have made much progress but the challenges remain daunting. That is why we are going further in addressing our total carbon footprint by committing to becoming carbon neutral from cradle (the forest), to grave (recycling), without purchasing carbon offsets.

With 300 communities across this country relying on the forest industry and one in 25 Canadians working directly and indirectly in the forestry sector, we realize action on climate change is crucial.

Kyoto accommodated the sceptics, we need Copenhagen to empower the believers.

Avrim Lazar is the president and CEO of the Forest Products Association of Canada