Sunday, June 4, 2017

Trump, Trudeau and Notley: North America’s Carbon Triumvirate

Green economy is booming.    The price of renewable energy is falling.  While climate changing fossil fuels remain an essential component in our current energy mix, all signs point to a collapse in demand within the next few decades.  Investing in clean, green energy to power our future is proving to be good for the economy – and that’s good news for the planet.

Green job growth is outpacing job creation in the fossil fuel sector.  The International Renewable Energy Agency’s (IRENA) 2017 Annual Jobs Review report tells the story:  in 2016, the renewable energy sector employed 8.3 million people, with a growth rate of 2.8%.  By 2030, IRENA estimates there will be 24 million people employed in the renewable energy sector (see: “Global Green Energy Job Count Approaches the 10 Million Mark,” Green Tech Media, May 31, 2017).

The on-going good news about green job growth makes President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the Paris climate agreement that much more puzzling.  If Trump wants to throttle the clean energy sector in the U.S. out of some misguided belief that protecting vanishing fossil fueled jobs at the expense of green tech innovation is in America’s long-term economic interest, so be it. The rest of the world is sure to profit.

But what about Canada?  Trump isn’t the only one betting against the low carbon economy.  Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley made headlines this week when they called for a business as usual on approach to the Trans Mountain pipeline (see:“B.C. has no exclusive claim on its coast, Alberta premier warns pipeline foes,” CBC News, May 31, 2017).  That project came under fire after British Columbia NDP leader John Horgan announced he had reached a deal with B.C. Green leader Andrew Weaver to form a government-in-waiting, contingent upon the new B.C. government doing all that it can to stop the pipeline (see:“A historic moment for B.C. politics – and our environment,” Kathryn Harrison, the Globe and Mail, May 31, 2017).

Of course, ‘business as usual’ for Notley and Trudeau means a commitment to almost doubling tar sands emissions by 2030.  That’s the dirty little secret buried in Alberta’s much hyped Climate Plan: almost all of the emissions reduced by eliminating coal plants and pricing carbon will be offset by growing the tar sands.  A real reduction in emissions isn’t expected until sometime after 2030 (see: “Opinion: Alberta's climate plan stands in the way of Canada's,” Gordon Laxer, the Edmonton Journal, December 3, 2015). 

With national emissions continuing to rise, Canada finds itself on course to blow through our 2020 and 2030 targets.  And despite what the federal Liberals insist, there is no credible plan to get us on track (see:“The Case for Phasing Out Alberta’s Tar Sands,” Gordon Laxer,, May 23, 2017). Trudeau’s climate ignorance was on display earlier this year, when at a gathering of Big Oil big shots in Houston, he stated that “no country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and leave them there.” (see: "Trudeau: 'No country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and leave them there'," CBC, March 10, 2017).  If Canada is serious about holding global warming to just 2 degrees Celsius, quite clearly we’re going to have to leave a lot of that oil in the ground – perhaps as much as 80% of it.
If the future outlook for the green economy seems so secure, why the pushback from the carbon triumvirate of Trump, Trudeau and Notley?  Trump at least is being honest with his intentions – meaning that he’s made it clear that he has no intention of helping the world limit warming – maybe because he believes climate change is a hoax. Here in Canada, the Trudeau and Notley’s spin machines are doing what they can to convince Canadians that ‘legitimate’ climate plans include building new pipelines and growing the tar sands (see:“Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Kinder Morgan pipeline part of Canada's climate plan,” the Vancouver Sun, December 20, 2016)  – propositions soundly rejected by voters in the recent B.C. election. 

Trump, Trudeau and Notley can’t turn the tide of history and prevent the emergence of the green economy . But together, the three of them might just influence whether North America will be leader or a laggard in a low-carbon future.

One last thing about those renewable energy jobs reported by IRENA: almost half of them are in China.

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

This post originally appeared in the Sudbury Star, as "Sudbury Column: North America's carbon 'triumvirate'" online and in print, June 3, 2017 - without hyperlinks.

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