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Earlier discussion

Jeffrey Simpson takes your questions

Globe and Mail Update

Canada is vigorously campaigning for an international deal on climate change that rejects the central foundation of the Kyoto Protocol, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said last week.

Instead of capping greenhouse-gas emissions at specific levels, as called for under Kyoto, Mr. Harper wants the world to adopt a completely different system of measuring success for reducing emissions.

That view is in stark contrast to European countries and is more in line with the preferred approach of the United States.

Mr. Harper said measuring results with "intensity targets" is the best way to engage major polluters such as the U.S. and China.

In response, Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion said one of his four conditions for keeping Mr. Harper's minority Conservative government in office after its Throne Speech Oct. 16 is that the Conservatives agree that Canada will meet its Kyoto targets.

That's something the Conservatives appear dead-set against doing.

Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe also said last week that respecting the Kyoto Protocol was one of his party's requirements for supporting the Throne Speech.

The Bloc Leader is threatening to vote against the speech if all his conditions are not met, increasing the chance of a fall election.

Kyoto critics argue that Canada cannot meet those targets without touching off an economic recession. Critics of Mr. Harper's position argue that "intensity-based" targets could actually result in an increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

Who's right? Or are both sides wrong? How did we get to this bitter standoff? Are there any other solutions?

We are pleased that Globe political columnist Jeffrey Simpson is online now until noon EDT to answer your questions on this important issue and to discuss the new book Hot Air: Meeting Canada's Climate Change Challenge which he has co-authored with Mark Jaccard and Nic Rivers.

Join the Conversation or submit your questions or comments. Your questions and Mr. Simpson's answers appear at the bottom of this page.

"Many things went wrong with Canada's attempts to grapple with climate change," Mr. Simpson wrote in an excerpt published Saturday in The Globe.

"Certainly our political culture and federal system frustrated action. From the beginning of climate-change discussions in Canada, there was a lack of political honesty about what would have been realistic emissions-reduction targets for Canada, and what serious measures would have been required to meet them. Alas, the lack of honesty remains in too many quarters.

"But we can learn from our recent past what not to do: how not to negotiate internationally, how not to make commitments we cannot keep to others and ourselves, and how not to pursue policies bound to fail . . .

"Throughout the drama, we listened to politicians who purported to lead but did not. The failed leadership began with prime minister Brian Mulroney, although he deserves the least blame because the issue was just taking shape internationally during his years in office. The leadership failures intensified greatly under prime ministers Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin.

"In Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Canadians are watching a politician move from denial, skepticism, and criticism to hurried action in less than a year. Like his predecessors, Harper has ruled out a carbon tax. His emissions targets for heavy industry have too many loopholes. And his measures do little, if anything, for the half of total emissions that do not come from large final emitters . . .

"Canadians need to become realistic after years of failure and fantasy. We need to combine what we might call quantity restraints on the total of greenhouse gas emitted, with price signals to deter or prevent those emissions.

"We can use a greenhouse-gas tax. Intensity policy can work, but not if the intensity target becomes overwhelmed by a surge in units of output, as in the oil sands. Finally, we can use a carbon-management standard. It works its way down through the economy because it is imposed on producers that are obligated to provide certain low- or zero-emissions products.

"There will be dislocations for individuals and businesses along the way as they adapt to changed policies. Long lead times can ease the transition. In general, as we have seen, the Canadian economy will do fine.

Mr. Simpson has won all three of Canada's leading literary prizes — the Governor-General's award for non-fiction book writing, the National Magazine Award for political writing, and the National Newspaper Award for column writing (twice). He has also won the Hyman Solomon Award for excellence in public policy journalism. In January 2000, he became an Officer of the Order of Canada.

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