5 ways to sort the substance of the spin in climate policy


Our planet is changing. Our journalism too. This story is part of a CBC News initiative called Our changing planet to show and explain the effects of climate change and what is being done about it.

It can sometimes feel like you need a doctorate to sift through the “blah blah blah” of political rhetoric around climate change, as activist Greta Thunberg calls it, but then the negotiations at the top of COP26 continuing, political experts say there are ways to ignore the spin and figure out what leaders are really saying.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stood behind a podium at COP26 and urged the world to follow Canada’s lead in limiting warming to 1.5C, the target set in the Accord from Paris.

The Prime Minister highlighted the example set by his government’s carbon pricing framework and announced that Canada will also begin to cap emissions from the oil and gas sector because “what is even better than pricing emissions, it’s to make sure they don’t happen in the first place ”.

The problem, climate experts point out, is that since Trudeau’s plan does not cap oil and gas production and exports, this policy will not actually prevent emissions from occurring.

This is just one of the many ways that leaders tend to choose themselves and present themselves in their best light when it comes to tackling climate change.

Kathryn Harrison, professor of political science at the University of British Columbia specializing in climate policy, attended the Glasgow summit, an annual meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP), the global decision-making body established in the 1990s. Implement the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and subsequent climate agreements.

She also noticed how Saudi Arabia and Kuwait were dressing their “already unambitious” targets in language such as “the circular economy”.

A circular economy aims to fight climate change and pollution by reusing and reusing existing products as much as possible.

“It looks good,” Harrison said. “Except that their carbon capture and sequestration plan, which essentially consists of injecting waste underground, is not consistent with the idea.”

CBC asked Harrison and other experts for advice on how to sort the substance from the spin:

Tip 1: Trust independent experts, not politicians

Taryn Fransen, international climate policy expert and senior fellow of the World Resources Institute, said his main advice was to pay attention to what independent climate analysts are saying.

“There are a lot of independent experts who will give you their blunt take on the ambition of the goal,” she said.

“All politicians want to paint their performance in the best possible light.”

Tools like the Global Carbon Atlas, Climate Action Tracker, and this interactive graph created by the World Resources Institute can also help compare countries and track progress without selective framing.

Leaders can be quite hesitant in how they measure their country’s progress in reducing emissions, as countries were allowed to choose different base years under the Paris Agreement.

Concordia University assistant professor Sam Rowan, whose research focuses on climate policy, said this leads to a host of goals that are not always linked to reality.

“Scientists and researchers are able to sift through the noise, but it makes the whole talk more difficult,” he said.

Trudeau, right, participates in a panel discussion on oceans at COP26 on Tuesday. (Sean Kilpatrick / The Canadian Press)

Tip 2: Listen to the politics, not the pretty words

COP26 was an endless parade of world leaders announcing new emission reduction targets and percentages, and political experts say people should look beyond those promises to see if there is substance to back them up.

“You want to think about the policies put in place by the government. What concrete steps are governments taking to keep their promises? Because these percentages don’t tell the whole story,” Rowan said.

  • Do you have questions about COP26 or climate science, politics or policy? Send an email to [email protected]

Harrison said she noticed many countries had launched a net zero goal without a real plan.

“Net zero is an increasingly popular concept that can hide all kinds of sins,” she said.

“Some countries pledge to reach net zero in the distant future, but do not support it with shorter-term reduction commitments, which are necessary for this to be credible.”

Tip 3: ask lots of questions

Another way to cut through the noise of the political spin is to ask questions – either to your elected official or to an independent expert.

It’s not just about whether leaders have plans to meet their climate goals, Harrison said. It is also important to know what the expected impact of this plan is.

“This is important because policies that sound good, like subsidies, often won’t accomplish as much or cost more than policies that are less popular, like carbon pricing,” she said.

Finally, she said, people should ask themselves if climate action plans are right.

“It is essential that our climate policies respect Indigenous rights and avoid imposing higher costs on low-income communities. “

Tip 4: Remember that almost everyone needs to do more

A red flag in climate talks, experts point out, is when leaders say they are already doing enough.

Fransen said that to limit global warming, countries need to phase out fossil fuels as quickly as possible, eliminate deforestation and promote reforestation.

“If your government is really doing all it can on these fronts, then that’s great and you can feel good about it. But for almost everyone in the world, it’s not,” a- she declared.

In defense of Canada, some would argue that the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions represent only a small portion of global emissions compared to those of China or the United States. While this is true, when emissions are broken down by person, Canadians are among the worst emitters in the world.

According to the Global Carbon Atlas, the country ranks fifth in terms of per capita carbon emissions, producing an average of 14 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person.

“It’s true that if only Canada did something, we wouldn’t touch it [1.5 C] goal, but it is also true that if only China did something or if only the United States did something, we would not achieve this goal, ”said Fransen. “We all have to get there; otherwise, the calculations just don’t work. “

WATCH | Why half a degree can make a big difference when setting climate goals:

How half a degree of extra warming could increase climate danger

Limiting global warming to 1.5 C instead of 2 C could keep some islands out of the water and save some species from extinction. 4:55

Tip 5: demand reliable reports on emissions data

It may be a mad rush to hope that politicians stop using rhetoric to play with voters. That’s why policy experts say it’s important that they and the public continue to have access to emissions data from global governments.

“Even if a country sets a target for a base year or a metric that is favorable to its particular situation, as long as the accounting and reporting rules are strong, we can make sense of that,” Fransen said. noted.

Certain reporting and accounting rules of the Paris Agreement are currently being negotiated in Glasgow as part of the strengthening of transparency. Fransen said she had coworkers watching her closely.

While politicians can dance around numbers and percentages, the climate crisis is a global problem that ignores borders and political ideologies.

“We need to achieve net zero emissions globally,” Fransen said.

“No matter where you are or where you come from, you can always find a line as to why you shouldn’t be responsible for this… [but] this moment is about leadership. It is about ramping up. It is for each person to determine what he can do and to do it. “

A banner on a building in Glasgow ‘Not All Talk About Action.’ Policy experts say one way to filter the noise of climate policy is to focus on whether governments have concrete measures to support the targets they are announcing. (Alberto Pezzali / The Associated Press)


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