COP 21: tariffs, not targets, are what's needed says Weaver

What would make COP 21 a success? Andrew Weaver has been through a few of these conferences and he says binding tariffs, not empty targets, are what we need to see.

Green Party MLA has been on Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for over 20 years

German Chancellor Angela Merkel talks with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as they attend a meeting on carbon pricing on the opening day of the World Climate Change Conference in France. (Jacky Naegelen/Reuters)

Before becoming a Green Party MLA, Andrew Weaver was at the forefront of climate change policy.

In fact, for 20 years, he has also been a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the organization established by the United Nations as the leading international body for the assessment of climate change.

And he has a message for politicians at COP 21 in Paris: targets are not enough.

He joined On The Coast host Stephen Quinn for a conversation about why he thinks that.

Why have targets failed to this point?

Targets are often set for sometime in the distant future. Those who set the targets don't have to live with the consequences of meeting or not meeting the targets. They're not accountable, they don't meet the targets, a new set of targets get set. Targets in the absence of policy are not effective targets.

What needs to be different about COP 21 in Paris? How do we ensure Canada and countries around the world are forced to meet emissions targets?

Others are realizing that the Conference of Parties process has failed historically. So they're trying to come with a "bottom-up" process. Rather than having the UN come up with an agreement and tell countries what they must do, here countries have submitted their voluntary targets and the purpose of this COP is to come up with some kind of binding nature of those country targets.

The problem there is they're all over the map. Without having the ability to put tariffs on your border if you're a country that goes forward with aggressive greenhouse pricing, you'll be at a competitive disadvantage if you're not able to put tariffs on your own border to penalize rogue nations not to do that.

Last week, Canadian Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, said she supports the United States on a controversial issue. The U.S. and now Canada, say carbon reduction targets agreed to at the negotiations should not be legally binding. If, at the end of COP21, we end up with targets that are non-binding, what will have been accomplished?

What will have been accomplished is the order of 10,000 people flying around the world talking and giving off hot air. When you perceive the yourself to be the world superpower, that being the U.S. or China, there's no way you're going to agree to binding targets where you cede your jurisdictional rights to an external agency. It's simply not in the nature of the power that perceives itself to be the world superpower.

The framework convention should be focused on allowing countries to go their way but allowing other countries to impose tariffs on their boundaries.

Let's say here in B.C., we grow apples, and we decide we're going to keep those apples cool for some other time and ship them elsewhere. But if the cooling costs come from fossil fuels, then there's a carbon price to that. Now let's say there's another jurisdiction like New Zealand that massively subsidizes its coal industry. They can ship their apples to B.C., sell them here and undercut us because we're not able, under the various agreements that have been signed, through the World Trade Organization, Trans-Pacific Partnership, NAFTA, et cetera, to put tariffs on our border because they'd be viewed as protectionist.

What needs to happen at COP21 in Paris in order for the world to get on track to mitigate the effects of climate change?

Overall, our expectations shouldn't be too high, because we're only setting ourselves up for failure when we have jurisdictions like America and elsewhere not agreeing to binding targets. The single most important thing they can do is actually allow countries to impose tariffs on their boundaries so they can actually go down the path of meeting their targets that they have put forward unimpeded by external jurisdictions calling in legal cases questioning protectionist policies.

But unfortunately, there's so much focus and discussion, so many people there, so many photo ops, and this is setting up for a colossal failure. And that's very dangerous because people will give up. The solutions are all there: they involve carbon pricing, they involve technological transition, and as Trudeau said, this really is an incredible opportunity for Canada, a country known for its innovation and creative potential.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

To hear the full interview, click the audio labelled: Andrew Weaver says it's tariffs, not targets that would make COP 21 a success


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