Canada’s conservatives have spent decades denying the fundamental scientific reality of climate change and disputing the central role human activity plays in creating and exacerbating it. But as those arguments became increasingly untenable with the public, they’ve had to retreat to attacking the proposed solutions for it, most notably carbon pricing. Now, it seems, they’ve landed on a new explanation for why we shouldn’t do anything about a warming planet: China.
Lorrie Goldstein, the Toronto Sun’s emeritus editor, mooted this new “why even try” argument last weekend. “Making people pay more to heat their homes in Atlantic Canada isn’t going to stop wildfires in Alberta, or for that matter in Atlantic Canada,” he wrote. “Subsidizing electric vehicle battery plants in Ontario isn’t going to stop flooding in British Columbia.” Nobody actually expects Canada’s climate policies to single-handedly solve the growing threat of wildfires or flooding, of course, and these sorts of straw man arguments are nearly as old as Goldstein.
This is to be expected from Postmedia pundits, whose employer has long had a direct financial relationship with Canada’s oil and gas industry and its various proxies. Their audience is one that wants to be told where and how to hate Justin Trudeau, and climate change is a very familiar (and easy) target. But it’s a little more unusual coming from the Globe and Mail, which has traditionally been a bit more sensible when it comes to its analysis of Canada’s climate policy. And yet, longtime columnist Tony Keller wrote a piece last week that traded in almost all the climate clichés and straw men that have become Postmedia’s stock in trade. And while knocking down bad-faith arguments made by the failing chain’s pundits would be a form of self-defeating masochism, Keller’s piece deserves a more thorough response.
Keller begins by acknowledging “we’re part of the problem, and we’re part of the solution,” but proceeds to emphasize just how small a part that is. “China produces a third of the world’s emissions, more than all of the developed world. That’s more than 20 times Canada’s carbon output.” It is. But when you look at cumulative emissions — the total volume of greenhouse gases emitted by a country — China’s role starts to look much less outsized. Despite having 37 times Canada’s population, it has produced less than eight times our cumulative emissions.
And while China continues to build new coal-fired electricity capacity, it’s doing that to backstop massive investments in renewable energy. The country produced nearly 50 per cent more wind power last year than all of continental Europe, and the 10.4 gigawatts of capacity it added in the first quarter of 2023 was a 32 per cent increase over the same period in 2022. This month, the province of Guangdong will accept bids to build 23 gigawatts of offshore capacity, which is more offshore wind power than the world has ever added in a single year.
Its solar capacity is growing even faster, with 34 gigawatts of new solar added in the first quarter of 2023, more than triple the figure from a year earlier. China’s just getting warmed up here, too. According to the International Energy Agency’s latest renewable energy market update, there will be 107 gigawatts of capacity added in 2023, which is 24 per cent more than it expected just six months earlier. China is expected to deliver an estimated 55 per cent of this additional capacity both this year and next, which the IEA said will consolidate “its position as the undisputed leader in global deployment.” Case in point: by 2024, China will be delivering nearly 70 per cent of all new offshore wind projects worldwide, 60 per cent of new onshore wind and half of new solar power.
As a result, China’s emissions are almost certainly going to peak sooner than people like Keller seem to think.
Swithin Liu, the China lead at Climate Action Tracker, thinks that will happen as soon as 2025. So does the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air. Even if that’s a year or two early, the trend here is still unmistakable — and irreversible. “The boom in China’s renewable power, combined with rising official acceptance of slower growth rates and the long-overdue shift away from heavy industry towards services and advanced manufacturing suggest the turning point is in sight, if not already in the rear-view mirror,” Bloomberg’s David Fickling wrote.
Oh, and when it comes to electric vehicles, China is rapidly cornering the market. The country already sells more than half of all EVs worldwide, and it’s making a major push into European and now North American markets. At home, meanwhile, the internal combustion engine is getting crushed, with sales in the entry-level portion of the market ($22,500 to $30,000) down 20.5 per cent in the first quarter of 2023 compared to a 68 per cent gain for EVs and plug-in hybrids. At that rapidly accelerating pace, it’s only a matter of time before oil demand in China starts to plummet — and gets priced into the barrels of crude being sold in Canada.
Conservatives might be mad as hell about China right now, but they're more than happy to use it as a beard for their indifference to climate change. Here's the thing: the China they imagine isn't the one that actually exists, @maxfawcett writes.
This is a far cry from the picture Canada’s climate slow-walkers want to paint. “Unless China, India and other developing countries make a U-turn on emissions,” Keller wrote, “Canada’s carbon reduction plans will be so much emptying a pool with a soup spoon, as someone else fills it to overflowing with a firehose.”
This is just defeatism masquerading as wisdom, and it misrepresents what’s really happening right now — and why Canada needs to pay attention. Climate policy is a tool of economic development right now, and a means of attracting capital and investment. It’s about capturing the biggest economic opportunity of our lifetimes and avoiding the obvious downside that comes with missing it.
In a country where the notion of “skating to where the puck is going” has been a cliché longer than most of us have been alive, some people seem determined to keep putting the puck in our own net. And as anyone who’s played hockey understands, skating with your head down is a good way to get hurt.