Saturday, December 30, 2017

To Meet Paris Commitments, Canada Needs a National Energy Strategy

What’s becoming increasingly clear is that a lack of federal leadership on climate change is undermining Canada’s Paris commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 30% from 2005 levels by 2030 (see: “The Emission Reduction Plans Of All Major Ontario Political Parties Fall Short,” Mark Winfield, the Toronto Star, December 19, 2017).  The so-called ‘Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change’, which still hasn’t been greenlighted by Manitoba or Saskatchewan more than a year after it was unveiled by the feds (see: “Manitoba could join climate change agreement to access millions in funding, but won't agree to carbon tax rate,” CBC News, December 19, 2017), will establish a $50 per tonne price on carbon pollution by 2022 – a price far less than what experts tell us is needed to compel consumers to switch to low-carbon goods and services.

Missing entirely from the framework is any mention of border tax adjustment, necessary to protect Canada’s industries from competition based in jurisdictions that haven’t priced carbon.  If Canada was serious about getting in the clean tech investment game, we’ve got to start sending the right market signals to investors.

Instead, what we’ve seen in this past year is a federal government approving the Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain bitumen pipeline, and the Premier of Alberta giving speeches to the well-heeled business community about expanding production in the tar sands (see: “Rachel Notley urges political foes, allies to support Alberta pipeline projects,” CBC News, November 22, 2017).  Meanwhile, Canada continues to lose ground in the booming global clean tech market.

A new report from the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) outlines the magnitude of the mess we’re in (see: “OECD Environmental Performance Reviews, Canada, 2017,” OECD, December 19, 2017).  The OECD report indicates that while emissions have fallen from 2005 levels in most provinces – and Canada as a whole, thanks largely to Ontario’s decision last decade to phase out coal-fired electrical generation – emissions are continuing to rise in Alberta to the point that this one province is now responsible for 40% of our nation’s overall emissions (see: “Canada must reduce emissions from oilsands to meet climate goals: OECD report,” CBC News, December 19, 2017).  The growth of the Alberta tar sands threaten to undermine all of the greenhouse gas reductions achieved by the rest of Canada.

Alberta’s “Climate Leadership Plan”, which has been touted by oil patch leaders and more than a few misguided environmentalists, is a recipe for our failure to meet our Paris targets (see: “Opinion: Alberta's climate plan stands in the way of Canada's,” Gordon Laxer, the Edmonton Journal, December 3, 2015). While there are many good measures included in Alberta’s plan, including a commitment to phase out coal by 2030, the plan nevertheless contemplates offsetting those gains by allowing oil and gas emissions to grow by over 40%.

That’s something the OECD says simply can’t happen.  According to the report, “Without a drastic decrease in the emissions intensity of the oilsands industry, the projected increase in oil production may seriously risk the achievement of Canada’s mitigation targets.”

But since Canada lacks a national energy strategy or a carbon budget, it’s not at all clear which provinces are going to be on the hook to do more than their fair share to reduce emissions, so that Alberta can continue to grow the tar sands (see: “National energy strategy an ongoing discussion, not single report: Carr,” Mia Rabson, the National Post, October 13, 2017).  And without a serious price on carbon pollution externalities, we can’t rely on the invisible hand of the market to help make necessary course corrections.

What’s needed is real leadership at the federal level.  That means border adjustment taxes to protect Canadian businesses from a hefty national price on carbon pollution, starting in the range of between $80 to $120 per tonne and rising.  It means putting a mechanism in place to return pollution revenue to citizens so that families are insulated from rising prices.  And it means finally getting serious about developing a national energy strategy tied to our climate change commitments and caps total annual emissions through provincial carbon budgets, leaving high-carbon assets stranded safely in the ground as unburnable carbon.

Subsidies for fossil fuels must be ended, along with public investments in fossil fuel infrastructure.  Those are the kinds of market signals that investors are looking for from our federal government.  That’s what climate change leadership has to look like, going forward.

(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)

Originally published as "May: To meet commitments, we need energy strategy," in the Sudbury Star, December 23, 2017 (print version) and December 24, 2017 (online) - without hyperlinks.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Sustainability Key to Solving 21st Century Crises

At the end of this century, in the year 2100, my son Brian will be 87 years old.  With a life expectancy of around 80 years for boy babies born in Ontario in 2013, the mathematical odds may be stacked against my son, but with people living longer than ever before, I want to believe that it’s more than possible that Brian will be around to see the dawn of a new century (see: “Life Tables, Canada, Provinces and Territories (2011 – 2013)” available at Statistics Canada – Alternative format). After all, don’t all parents hope that our children live long, happy and healthy lives?

What Brian experiences on December 31, 2099 is sure to have a little something in common with what those of us who partied with Prince in 1999 experienced – minus that whole ‘Y2K bug’ thing. I remember waking up and turning the television on just in time to see the fireworks going off at midnight above the Sydney Opera House.  Throughout the day, people tuned in to see New Year’s celebrations in Beijing, Mumbai, Moscow, Paris, London, Rio and L.A. For one day, the planet forgot about its troubles and came together to celebrate our hopes for a brighter future.

Those troubles, though, proved to be systemic – and going deeper into the 21st Century, they’ve become impossible to ignore.  But it’s not like we weren’t told about the deteriorating health of our planet.  Earlier this month, a ‘second warning to humanity’ in the form of a letter signed by 16,000 scientists  reminded us that 25 years ago, the scientific community put us on notice that we needed to get our act together – or else (see: “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice,” William J. Ripple  Christopher Wolf  Thomas M. Newsome  Mauro Galetti Mohammed Alamgir  Eileen Crist  Mahmoud I. Mahmoud  William F. Laurance 15,364 scientist signatories from 184 countries, Bioscience, November 13, 2017; and, “16,000 scientists sign dire warning to humanity over health of planet,” CNN, November 15, 2017).

And yet, every year, we lose more productive agricultural land through desertification, water resource depletion and urbanization.  We destroy life-sustaining forests, leading to decreased biodiversity – especially of the megafauna that are indicator species of healthy ecosystems. We continue to sterilize our oceans and warm our planet.  We have failed miserably at learning to live sustainably, within our means.  

At least we’ve reversed course on one of the more dire concerns from 1992.  International co-operation towards repairing the hole in the ozone layer should have paved the way for plans and agreements to address other environmental issues.  But for all of the positive talk from the international community, what’s clear is that far too many of our leaders continue to put profit ahead of people and the health of our planet. 

Look no further than on-going international climate change negotiations, where the latest round just wrapped up in Bonn, Germany. The United Nations recently reported that the Paris Treaty’s goal of holding warming at 2 degrees Celsius is already in jeopardy because countries like Canada have committed to weak emissions reduction targets – and have no plans to achieve them (see: “Paris agreement targets leave 'alarming gap' to slow climate change: UN report,” CBC, October 31, 2017; and, “Catherine McKenna Says Canada Has a Climate Plan. Prove It,” Ross Belot, DeSmogCanada, November 15, 2017). 

That ringing alarm you’re hearing isn’t just warning us about an imminent cluster of environmental crises.  What we’re already hearing is the sound of full-blown social, economic and political upheaval. And it’s only going to get louder, as long as leaders look for ways to prop up an economic system that relies on growth at the expense of everything else – and the political systems which enable it.

My son Brian might beat the odds and celebrate the arrival of a new century, but his chances of doing so will be significantly influenced by just how my generation acts on the warnings that are all around us.  Unless we begin demanding that our leaders commit to transforming our political and economic systems to better prioritize the health of people, communities and the natural world - the odds for a long, happy and healthy life for Brian, and for all of our children, are going to be even tougher to beat.

(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)

An edited version of this post originally appeared in the Sudbury Star, as "May: Sustainability key to solving looming crises" online and in print, November 25, 2017 - without hyperlinks.