Canada stuns world with Kyoto plan—maybe

Over the past few weeks I have been offering (admittedly unsolicited) advice on how the Harper government can stickhandle through the tricky Kyoto issue. I have advised the prime minister to use Ontario’s recent nuclear announcement as an example of how Canada and its new Conservative government are surging forward on a file in which everyone—from the loudest pro-Kyoto advocates to the mainstream media—expects them to do nothing.

Now the prime minister is at the G-8 summit in St. Petersburg, talking face to face with Tony Blair, George Bush, and Jacques Chirac, among others. What do the leaders of the U.K., U.S., and France have in common? Each of them supports civilian nuclear power. Blair has, after a year and a half of expectation-building, told his country it needs a major new investment in new nuclear reactors. Bush, by signing the Energy Policy Act of August 2005, has provided the American nuclear industry with billions of dollars worth of construction-delay insurance and power production tax credits. Chirac’s country generates eighty percent of its power with the atom, and is a big Kyoto supporter.

Will any of this nuclear love rub off onto Harper? Chirac recently mentioned in a letter to several Canadian papers that he is “troubled by the weakness of the international fight against climate change.” France might have exceeded its intended greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions limits, but Chirac can still wag his finger at Canada without being a hypocrite. France’s nuclear-intensive power generating sector is also one of the least carbon-intensive in the world. France’s reliance on nuclear-generated electricity is unique among the G-8—just as Ontario’s (at just over fifty percent) is unique among Canadian provinces.

France’s power sector is a model for the G-8; indeed for any industrialized country. It should be emulated wherever possible.

France’s nuclear industry gets a lot of government support. So does Britain’s, so does America’s—and so does Canada’s. It is time for the Canadian federal government to get off the rhetorical fence on nuclear power. If Harper were to promote Ontario’s move as a pro-Kyoto move, he might find support from long-ago-written-off constituencies.

Think of it: Harper pulling off a Kyoto coup would be like arch–anti communist Nixon visiting China. No one expects much from the Conservatives on Kyoto, and no one has framed Ontario’s move as a Kyoto move. It could be a stunner.

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