Canada and the The Kyoto Protocol

There was a fatal flaw with the 1997 Kyoto Protocol as far as Canada is concerned.

The Kyoto targets for greenhouse gas emissions were fixed for each country. They did not change with population, but remained frozen at 1990 populations.

Kyoto targets meant that countries who made life so miserable for their citizens that they fled were rewarded; they kept their emigrants' quota. Kyoto targets meant that generous countries like Canada who gave immigrants a chance for a new life were penalized; our quota per capita was reduced with every immigrant.

Canada has one of the fastest growing populations in the world due to immigration from other countries. Immigration to Canada over 1 January 1990 to 1 May 2007 was 3,173,179. This is 11.8% of the 1 January 1990 population of 26,913,212.

Kyoto targets demanded that we reverse over a century of Canadian tradition, that we close our borders to further immigration, in fact that we should have done so in 1990. Given this, Canada should never have signed Kyoto. It was a betrayal of all those who have come from other countries and stayed to build the Canada of today.

There was only one answer that is true to Canadian values. Canada had to leave Kyoto, adopt per-capita targets equivalent to Kyoto, and continue to welcome immigrants.

The first and third happened, the second didn't. That left Canada with a lot of work to do.

According to data from the US Department of Energy, the world average per capita greenhouse gas emission was 4.24 metric tons CO2 equivalent per year in 2004. The matching figure for Canada then was 20.

Of course, most Canadians must live in a climate that does not offer any possibility of living without effective shelter from cold as people can in many tropical countries. Our living standard must match that of the USA or all our able people would head south. Our long shipping distances add to emissions as well. However, there is more to it than that.

In the 1970's I was working on energy matters at the National Research Council of Canada. We had a newly created energy division to coordinate and focus work that was spread across 3 divisions. The opposition that NRC encountered for this work was fierce. Alberta led the charge, demanding that we stop work that would reduce the market for Alberta oil and gas and thus keep Albertans subservient to the east. The opposition of the province of Quebec, through Quebec Hydro who wanted to expand their nuclear power, was very strong as well. The end result was that NRC eventually felt impelled to close the energy division.

In my own division, I was working on radiation control using atomic-thickness thin films on windows to quadruple their insulation value without impacting solar heat gain. (You want solar heat gain for Canadian single-family residences, you need to stop it for almost all commercial buildings.) The Bank of Canada wanted us to work instead on anti-counterfeiting measures, and offered effective and generous financing for such work; the federal police force (RCMP) offered enthusiastic support for that as well.

Even the RCMP considered that counterfeiting only cost Canada some $20 million a year at that time. If the windows I designed were to be used in all new residential construction, the net savings to Canada as a whole would have been $300 million per year after ten years due to reduction in heating costs of new conventionally constructed homes.

To show the potential of these windows in moving beyond conventional construction, I had modified my farm home to use windows to achieve 15% totally passive solar heating even though I was limited to plain triple-glazing. The new windows would have doubled that. The design was considered the best of its type in Canada by a major report at that time.

My director, faced with the decision between what was much the best for NRC and what was best for the country, had really only one possible choice: NRC. We developed the maple leafs that Canadian bills used until recently. You still can't buy windows even half as good as we could have had.

The same fate befell my work on reducing the heat wasted by long runs of pipe between domestic central hot water tanks and remote bathrooms, and on improving the then-abysmal efficiency of domestic refrigerators, as well as able and potentially effective contributions by many others at NRC.

Those who sell and control energy have had far too much power in Canada for meaningful energy reduction here to have had a chance. We need to change that before the average person can make more than a token contribution to greenhouse gas reduction.

John Sankey
other notes on community matters

The numbers above are scaled from Statistics Canada census data for 1991, 1996 and 2001, the data available at the time this page was written.