Gone are the days when the media questioned the validity of climate science. With reports declaring February 2016 the warmest month in recorded history, and 2015 the hottest year, Canadians are growing increasingly aware of the seriousness of the climate crisis (see: “February may have been warmest month, but we do not know for sure – despite reports to the contrary,” Discover Magazine, March 3, 2016 and “NASA – NOAA Analyses Reveal Record-Shattering Global Warm Temperatures in 2015,” NASA, January 20, 2016 and “February continues streak of record low Arctic sea ice extent,” Arctic Sea Ice News and Analysis, March 2, 2016). Across the nation, the conversation has shifted to what can we do about it - and who is going to step up and lead.
For a short while, Trudeau looked to be that leader. In a brilliant election campaign, he promised to develop a Canadian framework to combat climate change within 90 days of the Paris climate summit. Many seeking real climate action threw their lot in with Trudeau. And Trudeau didn’t disappoint, as he stormed the Paris conference and urged the international community to follow Canada and commit to just 1.5 degrees of warming – a half degree less than nations agreed to in Copenhagen in 2009 (see: “Canada endorses tougher 1.5 degree limit to global warming,” MacLean’s, December 7, 2016).
However, since Paris, it seems Trudeau has lost his sense of urgency to take action. Faced with an opportunity to build meaningful emissions assessments into the National Energy Board’s pipeline approval process, he opted instead to simply study downstream impacts after the NEB makes a recommendation to cabinet (see: “Justin Trudeau’s pipeline gambit could salvage Energy East,” the Toronto Star, January 31, 2016).
Yet, after 10 years of climate idleness from the Harper Conservatives, many environmental leaders continue to give Trudeau a temporary pass, hoping that he will send some sort of signal that they he really does gets the need for urgent action.
There were no signals sent from Washington this week. Trudeau and Obama stood together on the White House lawn, mostly announcing initiatives they’ve already announced (see: “U.S. – Canada Joint Statement on Climate, Energy, and Arctic Leadership,” the White House, March 10, 2016). New is a combined commitment to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas industries by 40-45%. While this is a welcome move, it came as no surprise after Alberta, home to a majority of Canada’s oil and gas sector, announced a similar initiative last November (see: “Alberta deserves credit for new U.S. – Canada methane deal, Premier Notley says,” the Edmonton Sun, March 10, 2016).
Trudeau and Obama again recommitted to phasing out fossil fuel subsidies - even though in November, Trudeau reaffirmed Stephen Harper’s commitment to subsidize British Columbia’s dirty LNG industry (see: “Liberals promise to keep LNG tax breaks,” the Vancouver Sun, November 23, 2015). The Canada-U.S. joint statement made reference to confronting challenges in Arctic regions from climate change, while simultaneously laying the groundwork for future oil and gas exploration opportunities arising from shrinking Arctic ice coverage.
Disappointing for many was what Trudeau and Obama refused to acknowledge: that in a carbon constrained world there would be little need for new fossil fuel infrastructure, like pipelines and oil drilling platforms (see: “Paris changed everything, so why are we still talking pipelines?” David Suzuki, January 28, 2016). A serious plan to confront climate change might have signalled the need to protect fragile Arctic communities and ecosystems from unnecessary fossil fuel exploration and development. But that didn’t happen.
Despite the hype and optimism generated in Paris, it now seems remote that Trudeau is going to take the steps necessary to provide national leadership and set Canada on a course towards meaningfully reducing our carbon emissions. With Trudeau’s deference to feisty Premiers in Vancouver over a national carbon pricing plan, followed by a Washington trip that yielded announcements about new opportunities for oil and gas exploration in the Arctic, can it be too much longer before the environmental community that sang his pre-election praises abandons ship?
(Opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own and should not be considered consistent with the policies and/or positions of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)
Originally published in the Sudbury Star as "Trudeau putters along as climate crisis deepens," March 12, 2016 (print) and "Sudbury column: PM putters along as climate crisis deepens," online.
UPDATE (March 16, 2016) - For those not as cynical as myself about last week's joint announcement from President Obama and Prime Minister Trudeau, please see how the bromance is working out for the Arctic, just one week later: "U.S. government proposes new drilling leases in Beaufort and Chukchi seas," CBC, March 16, 2016. Looks to me like "business as usual".