Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Canada’s 200 Megatonne Challenge

13 years ago, Jean Chretien’s federal Liberal government rolled out the One-Tonne Challenge – a public education campaign that ultimately became Canada’s most recognizable climate change initiative.  Comedian Rick Mercer, best known in these parts as the voice of rubber boot-wearing  “Sheepy” from Science North’s “The Changing Climate Show,” (see: “The Changing Climate Show,” Exhibits, Science North) challenged Canadians to personally reduce our carbon footprints by taking public transit, composting, and using programmable thermostats.   Canadians could sign-up online, pledging to reduce personal greenhouse gas emissions by a single tonne.  Mercer appealed to our sense of patriotism by reminding us, “C’mon, we’re Canadian. We’re up for a challenge.” (see: “Canada’s One Tonne Challenge,” Liam O’Donnell, December 9, 2004)

Only we weren’t.  In 2005, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives replaced the Liberals, and the One Tonne Challenge was scrubbed from government websites.  For the next 10 years, greenhouse gas emissions remained relatively stable, dropping by just 11 megatonnes (Mt) annually between 2005 and 2014.  The government’s April, 2017 national inventory report shows that our 2015 emissions fell by just 0.7% from the previous year – down to 722 Mt. (see: “Canada 200M tonnes away from meeting emissions promise,” the Sudbury Star, May 2, 2017).

Canada signed on to the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, promising the international community that we would reduce our emissions to 6% below 1990 levels by 2012.  Had we taken our Kyoto commitments seriously, in 2012 emissions would have been down to around 555 Mt. (see“Greenhouse Gas Emissions,” Environment and Climate Change Canada).

In 2009, Canada made another international commitment.  Under the Copenhagen Accord, we pledged to reduce emissions by 17% from 2005 levels by 2020 – a target that would see just 613 Mt emitted in 2020.  Despite repeatedly calling the Harper target inadequate while on the opposition benches, in Paris in 2015, the new Liberal government kept Harper’s 2030 emissions reduction target of 30% from 2005 levels.

The Paris treaty means that Canada will need to reduce emissions to just 523 Mt annually by 2030. That’s just slightly lower than the 555 Mt target we aimed for back in 1997 through Kytoto for the year 2012. Had we treated emissions reduction as something a little more than a public relations exercise, we might have actually reduced emissions, as other Kyoto signatories did.  Instead, to Canada’s great shame, we pulled out of the treaty – walking away from our international commitment.

A 2006 government analysis of the One Tonne Challenge gave pats on the back to the PR people, while suggesting that actually reducing emissions would require more than educating people on how to pick low hanging fruit, like idling cars less in the winter.  Recommendations included government regulation and the use of economic instruments, like carbon taxes (see:“Evaluation of the One-Tonne Challenge Program, Final Report,” Environment Canada, July 18, 2006).

The landscape in 2017 has changed somewhat.  Regulations and carbon taxes have moved out of the realm of theory.  Justin Trudeau has said that there will be a $50 per tonne price on carbon in place throughout the nation by 2022.  In Ontario, the provincial Liberals are using Cap and Trade to price carbon pollution.

But we’re hardly out of the woods yet.  In just 13 years, we need to figure out a way of reducing emissions by a staggering 200 million tonnes.  Federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna believes we’re on track, but her government continues to approve pipeline projects that will help emissions from Alberta’s tar sands double by 2030 (see: “Oil sands share of GHG emissions to double by 2030,” the Ottawa Citizen, January 29, 2016).

NDP Premier Rachel Notley’s much-hyped climate change plan doesn’t contemplate actual emissions reductions until after 2030 (see: “Climate Leadership Report to Minister,” November 20, 2015 (Government of Alberta)*).  That raises the question, if not Alberta, which province is going to have to pick up the 200 Mt slack?  Will Northern Ontario communities dependent on energy intensive resource extraction end up doing more than their fair share to meet Canada’s 200 megatonne challenge?

Maybe it’s time for a Rick Mercer climate comeback. We’re going to need all the help we can get.

(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: Is Canada up for 200 Mt. challenge?" online and in print, May 6, 2017 - without hyperlinks.

*See page 10: “…absent further action, Alberta’s emissions are currently on a trajectory to grow from 267 MT in 2013, to 297 MT in 2020, and to 320 MT in 2030. Implementation of our full policy framework will accelerate emissions reductions in some sectors in the short-term, while providing the basis for longer-term emissions reductions in those sectors that require more time and investment to accomplish this transition. Our policy architecture is expected to reduce emissions from current trends by approximately 20 Mt by 2020, and approximately 50 Mt by 2030. This would roughly stabilize emissions, by 2030, just above current levels at approximately 270 Mt.”