Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Trudeau No Climate Champion

Monday's election, which saw Justin Trudeau's Liberals swept into power, has given rise to optimism that Canada will play a more positive role at December's Paris climate summit. Success in Paris is critical for a new international treaty limiting global warming to just 2 degrees Celsius. Trudeau is set to overturn Canada's reputation as a climate laggard, after Stephen Harper's multiple “Fossil of the Year” awards, driven by the Conservative's refusal to take the climate crisis seriously.

During the election, Trudeau committed to going to Paris with Canada's 10 provincial premiers.  The Liberals also promised to sit down with the provinces within 90 days of the summit to produce a strategy to meet Canada's emission reduction target (see: “A New Plan for Canada's Environment and Economy,” Liberal Party of Canada, August 2008).  Had Monday's election returned Harper's Conservatives to power, Canada would almost certainly have been doomed to miss yet another emissions target – the woefully unambitious target of 30% of 2005 levels by 2030.  Although Harper had long insisted that targets would be in keeping with those of our largest trading partners, Canada is now out of step with the U.S. and Mexico, as both NAFTA nations have pledged deeper reductions.

Like Ontario's Premier Kathleen Wynne, Trudeau has been talking about putting a price on carbon pollution, which is a critical step needed to begin reducing emissions.  Right now, business and industry are free to pump climate changing greenhouse gas pollution into the air for free – a practice former U.S. Vice President Al Gore says treats our atmosphere as an “open sewer”.

It may be that Trudeau can walk into the Paris talks and convince the world that Canada is ready and willing to take climate change seriously.  His charm and personality, backed up by the participation of the provincial premiers, should be enough to change the tone and perception of Canada among the international community. Don't look for Canada to win 2015's Fossil of the Year award, even though Trudeau will have only been in power for a few weeks.

Yet, at a time when national leadership is needed to begin the process of decarbonizing our economy, Trudeau's approach to climate change has been criticized as one that leaves the actual heavy lifting to the provinces.  Trudeau has made it clear that carbon pricing should happen at the provincial level.  This will likely lead to balkanized pollution pricing schemes where some provinces are doing more for the national good than others.

Although committed to restoring the environmental assessment process gutted by Stephen Harper, and reforming the National Energy Board, Trudeau has often characterized these changes as a first and necessary step to approving bitumen pipelines (see: “Pipelines, reassuring business on lengthy to-do list for Canada's next finance minister,” Embassy, October 21, 2015).  More pipelines are only needed if the intention is to expand tar sands production  – and that's completely incompatible with a serious climate change plan.

Dr. David Suzuki revealed that in a personal conversation with Justin Trudeau in June, Trudeau called Suzuki's science-based observation that  80% of the tar sands will need to stay in the ground, “sanctimonious crap”.  This revelation made headlines for the Suzuki's response to Trudeau (Suzuki admitted to calling him a “twerp”), but the real story appears to be that Trudeau and the Liberals lack a firm understanding of the best available climate science (see: “Why David Suzuki called Justin Trudeau a 'twerp',” Maclean's, September 26, 2015).

Despite Trudeau's desire to price carbon pollution, don't expect Canada to suddenly emerge as a climate champion under our new Liberal regime.  What Canada opted for on Monday was a government committed to building pipelines and expanding the tar sands, albeit in a kinder, gentler way.  Without a science-based plan to reduce emissions, Canada under the Liberals will continue to miss out on creating 21st century jobs that fuel the green economy while tackling the climate crisis.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

Originally published in the Sudbury Star as "Trudeau no climate champion," on October 24, 2015 - without hyperlinks.

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