Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Pan-Canadian Climate Deal Misses the Mark on Fossil Fuels

Kudos to Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government for enacting Canada’s first national climate change strategy – an action that those concerned about climate change have been looking to our government to undertake since at least the late 1990s. 

The “Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change”, despite its name, hasn’t actually been endorsed by all of Canada’s governments (see: “Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change,” the governments of Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia, Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, and Yukon. December 2016).  Conservative governments in Manitoba and Saskatchewan are still holding out for a better deal – or, if Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall gets his way, no deal at all.  Unlike Wall, though, most Canadians accept the reality of climate change, and have been looking towards our governments for real and meaningful action.

Like Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s own Climate Action Plan, there’s a lot of good ideas in the national version, including a call to phase out coal-generated electrical power by 2030 (with some exceptions) and a new model building code that will lead to net-zero energy efficient homes becoming the norm.  Both Ontario and Canada will invest in creating infrastructure to support the shift to electric vehicles, although both plans fall short of calling for an end to the internal combustion engine, as many European nations are now doing.

The national Framework puts a $10 per tonne price on carbon pollution starting in 2018, rising to $50 per tonne by 2022.  It’s unclear whether this modest price on carbon pollution will have much effect on consumer decisions, but it’s more than any Canadian jurisdiction has done so far (British Columbia has the highest carbon price in the nation, at $30 per tonne).

The Liberal’s framework creates some paths towards limiting greenhouse gas emissions, along with opportunities for job creation in an expanding clean tech sector.  What’s less clear is whether consumers will be shielded from rising energy prices, beyond dumping into their laps government subsidies financed by generational debt.   A carbon tax high enough to affect consumer choices, returned to Canadians in the form of a dividend cheque would provide insulation for consumers while lowering emissions and leading to innovation – but the Liberals opted instead to set Canada on a slower, more painful road to a low-carbon economy.

Although the Framework is a good start, what’s clear is that the Liberals are keen to put off having a mature discussion with Canadians about what climate change really means for the fossil fuel sector.   In Paris last year, Trudeau committed Canada to help hold warming between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius – the maximum temperature range that most climate scientists believe we can climb to before the natural environment undergoes self-accelerated global warming.  With 2 degrees Celsius in mind, there’s really no way of getting around the fact that oil and natural gas deposits are going to have to be left in the ground. 

Instead of acknowledging this reality, Canada’s Framework allows the oil and gas sector to expand for at least the next decade and a half.  Other sectors, like transportation, industry and - pay attention, Northern Ontario - mining are going to have to take up the slack and do more than their fair share to reduce emissions while Alberta grows the tar sands. 

At a time when Canada should be managing the gradual decline of our fossil fuel industries, calls to double production in the tar sands, and create a new liquefied natural gas industry in B.C.,  are absolutely absurd.   For this reason, while Canada’s new climate Framework might be a good start, with time running out to hold warming at 2 degrees Celsius, it’s not at all clear that it was worth the wait.

(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 Canada and Ontario)

Originally published in the Sudbury Star as, "Climate deal misses the mark on fossil fuels," in print and online as, "Column: Climate deal misses mark on fossil fuels," December 17, 2016, without hyperlinks.

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