Sunday, April 6, 2014

Stories tell numbers: Macleans silly Aglukkaq attack

John Geddes, sorta, has an article in Macleans: Aglukkaq touts emissions cuts, numbers tell another story.
Sorta, because the article is basically a longer version of claims made by economist Andrew Leach, a frequent contributor to Macleans, on Twitter.

According to Leach, "This answer from Min Aglukkak grossly misrepresents what the business as usual case in GHG modeling is":
Mr. Speaker, our government is committed to protecting the environment while keeping Canada economically strongly. Thanks to our actions, carbon emissions will go down by close to 130 megatonnes from what they would have been under the Liberals.
I described Leach's description of the Minister's answer as "a silly statement about a meaningless statement."
The Macleans articled subsequently calls the "130 megatonnes from what they would have been" a "meaningless comparison."

If life is a search for "meaningless", Macleans has done better than I: Minister Aglukkaq may have communicated that the government has the economy in mind as well as the environment, and that "carbon emissions will go down... from what they would have been under the Liberals."
Which would be a good political message in ~40 words.

In their ~900 word rebuttal, Leach/Geddes get obsessed with the numbers Aglukkaq cited. The numbers are not only secondary, and their main use in defining a narrative comes from them being relatively meaningless.
But offensive?
I don't think so.

I found the concluding paragraph of the Macleans article offensive in that it begins:
When the Harper government signed the so-called Copenhagen Accord in late 2009, it pledged to reduce Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions to 607 megatonnes in 2020, or 17 per cent below 2005 levels...
Numbers few in the electorate care about; many aren't able to evaluate the veracity of figures, and some, like me, will realize the veracity is irrelevant.

Here's the few words of that January 29th, 2010 commitment:
17%, to be aligned with the final economy-wide emissions target of the United States in enacted legislation.
"in enacted legislation"

A brief history of Canadian and U.S. emission reduction commitments on the global stage is required to understand this cheeky commitment, and why it is highly unlikely to end up being a firm commitment to do anything at all.

The Kyoto Protocol was signed in December 1997, with signatories including Canada and the United States.  The signing was anticipated by 1995's "Berlin Mandate".  In the interim period the U.S. Senate, including the poorly chosen current Secretary of State, John Kerry, had unanimously passed the Byrd-Hagel Resolution, which stated the U.S. should not sign anything that committed them to emissions reductions without similar reductions being committed to by developing nations, or harm to the economy of the United States. [1]

The Kyoto Protocol never was ratified by the Americans "in enacted legislation,"leaving Canada in an agreement it negotiated poorly and did little to honour. The same Canadian government that negotiated in Copenhagen pulled Canada out of the Kyoto agreement.
The concept that it's unacceptable to have obligations trading partners are exempt from is behind America's non-ratification of Kyoto, Canada's withdrawal from Kyoto, and Canada's feigned commitment under Copenhagen.[2]

The American commitments under Copenhagen resemble those under Kyoto in that the prospects of legislation passing the Senate were already known to be poor.  The proposed 17% reduction by 2020 was in the American Clean Energy and Security Act that had passed in the U.S. House of Representatives in the months leading up to Copenhagen.

The bill never got passed in the Senate, and there is no indication that any subsequent bill will pass in the near future. President Obama is now, in the absence of legislation, operating around Congress, primarily using the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to work on reducing emissions.

Good luck to him - and his planet - but Canada's Copenhagen commitment doesn't really exist without U.S. legislation.


1. From the Byrd-Hagel Resolution:
Now, therefore, be it
Resolved, That it is the sense of the Senate that--
(1) the United States should not be a signatory to any protocol to, or other agreement regarding, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change of 1992, at negotiations in Kyoto in December 1997, or thereafter, which would--
(A) mandate new commitments to limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions for the Annex I Parties, unless the protocol or other agreement also mandates new specific scheduled commitments to limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions for Developing Country Parties within the same compliance period, or
(B) would result in serious harm to the economy of the United States; and
(2) any such protocol or other agreement which would require the advice and consent of the Senate to ratification should be accompanied by a detailed explanation of any legislation or regulatory actions that may be required to implement the protocol or other agreement and should also be accompanied by an analysis of the detailed financial costs and other impacts on the economy of the United States which would be incurred by the implementation of the protocol or other agreement.
2.  The Copenhagen consensus occurred in 2009. America's commitments borrowed from Germany's victorious strategy in 1997's Kyoto protocol - meaning the selection of a base year that resulted in them already have achieved significant reductions in emissions prior to signing.  In Germany's case in 1997, over half of their commitment to reduce emissions by 2020 compared to a base year of 2020 had been made by the time of the commitment; in the U.S. case, 2009's emissions were almost exactly half of the promised 2020 reduction against a base year of 2005.

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