Textes d'opinion

Give us hard facts on Kyoto

An Open Letter to the Hon. Stephane Dion, Minister of the Environment.

Dear Minister Dion,

The Kyoto Protocol continues to be a topic of much discussion. Recently, the upper house of the Russian legislature ratified the treaty and President Putin’s signature made it official. This means the accord has enough adherents and has become effective everywhere. Despite this development, the debate over Kyoto and its merits and drawbacks continues. Many important questions remain unanswered.

Commentators and various experts have suggested that Kyoto is a giant leap forward for the environment. Looking at this with the eyes of a layman, I have always been puzzled by the certitude of those with this view. Alberta Premier Ralph Klein said in 2002 that approving Kyoto would be like «signing a mortgage for a property you have never seen and for a price that you have never discussed.» Such critics cannot be dismissed out of hand.

Minister, the debate over Kyoto has too often been marred by partisan platitudes and vitriol. Now is the time to talk facts. Some have suggested that Kyoto could have severe consequences for Canada’s economy, particularly in the oil-producing West. As you know, the treaty requires that Canada cut its CO2 emissions by 30% over the next decade, or to a level 6% below 1990 levels by 2012.

I’m writing you today to ask for some clarifications on behalf of myself and other concerned Canadians. Surely, the veritable army of policy analysts in your ministry will have ready answers to these questions.

Various attempts to get serious answers have been made elsewhere. For example, Andrei Illarionov, President Putin’s chief economic advisor, asked a series of questions about Kyoto and the science behind it at the 2003 World Climate Change Conference. The responses provided to him by a team of scientists left much to be desired. Some of his excellent questions bear re-stating here. With that in mind:

  • 1. How precisely will Canada’s Kyoto achievements be achieved? Will implementing the accord require a massive increase in gas taxes to incentivize people to drive less? Will the government put limits on the number of cars families can own? Will there be a ban on SUVs? Will you force homeowners to switch from oil or gas heating to electric? These are all serious concerns.
  • 2. How much will implementing Kyoto cost? Nancy Hughes-Anthony of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce has estimated that Kyoto would cost the economy $30-billion, or 2.5% of GDP, by 2010. Other estimates put the number as high as $75-billion. A leaked Liberal Cabinet document from 2002 said the economy would lose 200,000 jobs and that 1.5% would be cut off GDP growth. Can you confirm or convincingly refute these estimates?
  • 3. Questions remain about the science behind the accord. Can we explain the temperature variation by CO2 concentration in the atmosphere in the past 1,000 years? Can we explain the temperature variation by CO2 concentration in the atmosphere in the past 140 years? Can it be explained by natural factors like solar and volcanic activity? There seems to be varying levels of diagreement in the scientific community about this.
  • 4. Some have questioned the validity and usefulness of computer modelling to predict future global warming trends, as was done with the Kyoto deal. Are these models reliable? Are they any different from what the weatherman tells me on the TV every night? I’m confused.
  • 5. Given that the United States and Australia have chosen not to be part of Kyoto, can the accord’s targets realistically be met? Some say yes, at least in order to meet the accord’s first set of commitments. But anything more beyond that would require more countries to participate. It seems clear that the U.S. is never going to jump on the Kyoto bandwagon; President Bush’s re-election last week makes it a near certainty. Why, then, should Canada proceed while the country along our southern border ignores the deal? Minister, there are many more questions that could be asked. We have not touched on issues like whether or not global warming is actually a real problem, or whether curbing CO2 emissions will actually do anything to help. But these five will do for now. For the sake of all Canadians, let us get some hard facts on the record before we proceed with this. Given what’s at stake, it’s the least we can do.

Thank you for your time and I look forward to receiving your prompt response.


Michel Kelly-Gagnon, president Montreal Economic Institute


Version française de la lettre ouverte aussi disponible: «Pour que le brouillard se lève sur Kyoto».
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