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.

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Great column, wish more people could read it and use the data when talking to all the "but China....." people out there who are against Canada doing anything to combat climate change.

Great article, someone should send it to the entire collection of conservative MPs who are constantly in denial or just so far in bed with oil and gas, they have put on the blinders. Conservatives are more interested in spreading O&G disinformation than fact.

It just shows the conservatives have nothing to offer Canadians or a policy when it comes to climate change. Or we could say, the conservative policy on climate change is to spread disinformation in order to appease oil & gas and their greenwashing propaganda.

You continue to shine a bright light in a dark time, Max. Thank you, from the smoke-shrouded national capital. It has long been my theory that the fact that southern Ontario/Quebec has escaped some of the worst consequences of climate change, partly explains the lack of urgency on this issue in federal politics. In Alberta, on the other hand, where the impacts have been dire and repeated, there must be another explanation.

No single nation can solve the emissions problem alone.
Climate change cannot be stopped if only the biggest nations or top emitters reduce emissions. Even if the top 3 emitters reduced emissions to zero, that would still leave about half of global emissions on the table. Unless smaller national emitters do their part as well, global targets remain out of reach.

The "Little Canada", "Little Alberta", or "Little USA" argument — a favorite of U.S. Republicans — is bogus. Canadians' carbon footprint is 3x the global average. Canada has a small population of top-ranking emitters (who live a lot like their high-emitting U.S. neighbours). High emitters are the problem. If other nations followed our example, global emissions would skyrocket.
If Canada is "too small to matter," what message does that send to the 183 nations with smaller carbon footprints than ours?
Canadians contribute disproportionately to a collective problem; we need to contribute to the collective solution.

"One of the key Republican arguments deployed against U.S. climate programs is that action from the U.S.—which is responsible for less than 15% of global emissions—alone cannot meet the world's climate targets." (Time, 2022)
Sound familiar?

"Yes, it's a drop in the bucket globally
"If the rest of the world does absolutely nothing to curb carbon emissions then yes, Canada's carbon tax will absolutely go down in history as a Quixotic enterprise. However, this is nothing new: Canada has a long history of committing to things that would be utterly pointless unless other countries were doing it too. Canada helped bring about the end of Apartheid South Africa thru sanctions, but Pretoria could have easily ignore us if the U.S. hadn't joined in. Canadians did a stellar job of capturing Juno Beach on D-Day, but the Normandy invasion would have been an utter disaster if the British, Americans, Australians hadn't shown up too. There's also the tiny issue of Canada being one of the highest per capita emitters of carbon in the entire world. When it comes to figuring out ways to curb global carbon usage, the fruit doesn't hang much lower than in the Great White North."
"What the carbon tax will actually do to fix climate change" (National Post, 2018)

The West has outsourced much of its manufacturing, emissions, and pollution to the developing world, including China and S Asia.
China is a now major manufacturing centre, after the post-industrialized West exported much of its manufacturing and emissions there. Whose emissions are those really?

Tony Keller's argument on the Globe and Mail is innumerate.
If anybody argues on the basis that all nations are equivalent entities, regardless of size and population, just smile and walk away. Obvious nonsense.

Comparing China's total emissions with Canada's, Calgary's, or Cardston's emissions is absurd. Obviously, large groups of low emitters have greater total emissions than small groups of high emitters.
The average Canadian's carbon footprint is more than twice that of the average Chinese and 8x that of the average person in India.

Who should reduce emissions? The smaller group of high emitters or the larger group of low emitters?
How can we ask the people of China and India to tighten their belts when our emissions are far higher?
China could solve its emissions problem by subdividing itself into 40 smaller nations, each equal to the population of Canada.

The energy hogs live over here, not in China and India.
Many Canadians drive everywhere they go in single-passenger vehicles in sprawled cities. Idle at drive-thrus. Live far from work and school. Long commutes in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Lights and computers are left on in office towers and homes. Live in big houses stuffed with things they don't need. Shop till they drop. Single-use disposables. Fly around the world for vacations. Holiday in huge RVs. Eat a heavy meat diet. Throw out 40% of their food.

Canada has the worst vehicle fuel economy in the world. Canada's vehicles have the highest average fuel consumption and CO2 emissions per km driven (IEA). Canada's vehicles are also the largest and the second heaviest in the world.
Canadians produce more garbage per capita than 16 other OECD nations.
Canada is one of the biggest food wasters on the planet.
The emissions intensity of Canada's buildings, transportation, and agriculture are all well above the G20 average.
"Canada among worst offenders as world falls short of climate-change targets" (CBC)
"Canada produces more greenhouse gas emissions than any other G20 country, new report says" (Toronto Star)

Canadians have countless opportunities to reduce discretionary energy use and waste.
Canadians contribute disproportionately to a collective problem; we need to contribute to the collective solution.

Yes, China and India are building a lot of coal plants.
But, as Fawcett says, China and India are building renewables far faster.
In 2021, coal growth in developing nations was nearly offset by coal retirements in the West.
Coal increased by 12 GW in China and 5 GW in India.
12 GW of coal were retired in the USA. Europe down 14 GW. 5 GW retired in Spain alone.
[Global coal capacity annual additions peaked in 2007.]

In 2021, global coal capacity increased by 1.5 GW = 0.1% of total new capacity.
How much is 1.5 GW? Alberta's average demand is close to 10 GW. The increase in global coal capacity was much less than Alberta's average demand.

So the argument that Canada does not have to do anything about climate change because China and India are building out coal is ridiculous. So is the proposal that Canada should ramp up LNG exports to Asia, for the same reason.

China is building solar and wind faster than it is expanding coal and gas. Five times faster in 2021.
[China is building coal plants not because solar and wind are failing, but because hydro and nuclear fail during protracted heatwaves and droughts.
If solar and wind were a failure, China would not be building them even faster than it is expanding coal and gas. Five times faster in 2021.]

In China, 83% of new capacity installed in 2021 was renewables.
Wind + solar: 70%.
Fossil fuels: 15%.
Coal: 8.3%.
Coal capacity increased by 11.9 GW = 8.3% of total new capacity.
Fossil gas: 5.0%.
Nuclear: 2.4%.

In India, 72% of new capacity installed in 2021 was renewables.
Wind + solar: 67%.
Fossil fuels: 28%.
Coal: 28%.
Coal capacity increased by 5 GW = 28% of total new capacity.

To be sure, an increase in power capacity does not translate to a proportionate increase in generation. Intermittency significantly reduces the capacity factor of non-hydro renewables.
The next renewables' milestone is to overtake fossil fuel generation.

So my understanding is 25% of cars sold in China last year were EVs. If that keeps increasing at 50%/year, which is less than the 68% increase they showed last year, they'll be over 50% in two years, close to the whole market in four. Of course the actual fleet will lag behind as existing cars won't just disappear, but dang. As mr. Fawcett says, that could mean some serious reduction in oil demand.

Andrew Fanning and Jason Hickel's new research on historical carbon emissions is extremely relevant to this. What a shame that we're still trying to raise awareness and political pressure against this kind of journalism.

Canada is part of the collection of smaller countries that contribute something like 50% global emissions. As a collective thus basket of smaller countries is every bit as essential to solutions as China and every other major contributor. It’s nonsense to argue otherwise.
Would any Conservative argue Canada shouldn’t have done our part in WW2? We played a small but essential part that Canadians are proud of. Same logic applies to the world response to climate change. The hypocrisy of Conservatives is stunning and dangerous.