OTTAWA—In the first Commons question period of Canada’s 42nd Parliament, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair demanded to know whether Trudeau’s new Liberal government would reduce greenhouse gas emissions in 2016.
Trudeau said his government has taken a new plan to the UN-sponsored climate negotiations in Paris, which conclude at the end of this week.
He also said the new Liberal plan would reduce emissions, something Trudeau said did not occur on the previous Conservative government’s watch.
Do the Liberals indeed have a plan that will reduce Canada’s output of greenhouse gases, and did the previous government fail to cut emissions?
“We have a whole plan that will allow us to achieve what the previous government could not reach, that is to say, the reduction of emissions of greenhouse gases.” – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, House of Commons question period, Dec. 7, 2015
This one earns a rating of “a lot of baloney.”
The Canadian government is currently taking part in negotiations at the COP21 climate talks in Paris, where Canada has submitted a pledge to cut emissions 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.
The commitment was announced last May by the previous Conservative government, which had been heavily criticized for failing to put the country on a path to meeting its previous 2020 emissions target. The Conservatives did not announce new policy measures when they put forward the 2030 target, sparking widespread criticism that the government had no plan to achieve the new 30 per cent emissions reduction.
The Trudeau Liberals, who were sworn into office Nov. 4, have promised to confer with the provinces within 90 days of this week’s Paris conference to establish a national plan for combating climate change and curbing emissions.
In the meantime, the new government has promised $2.65 billion over five years for international mitigation and adaptation measures. It has also promoted increased global ambition this week by telling the Paris climate conference that Canada supports aiming to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, not the 2 C threshold that has been more commonly used to establish emissions targets.
On the home front, the most recent national emissions inventory from Environment Canada, released last April, reported the country’s overall greenhouse gas output climbed 1.5 per cent between 2012 and 2013, continuing a steady upward trajectory since the global recession of 2009.
The government’s emissions trends report from last December found the country on track to come in 1.2 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020, not the 17 per cent promised by Canada when it signed the Copenhagen accord in 2009. In fact, emissions will actually increase between 2005 and 2020 but the Conservative government informed the United Nations that it would count a 19-million-tonne carbon sink contribution from Canada’s boreal forest against its GHG total.
Emissions have been trending up since a sharp two-year decline in 2009-10 that coincided with the global economic crisis, the collapse of manufacturing in Ontario, and the Ontario government’s move to close the province’s coal-fired electricity generation.
Last month, Alberta’s government added a significant new element to the national suite of climate policies, introducing a carbon tax and promising to cap emissions from the oil and gas sector. However the province, whose emissions in 2013 were more than those of Ontario and Quebec combined, will still be producing three million tonnes more emissions in 2030 than it is today, according to the Alberta plan.
“Many will look at these emissions reductions and claim that our policies will not place Alberta on a trajectory consistent with global 2 C goals, and in some sense this is true _ the policies proposed for Alberta in this document would not, if applied in all jurisdictions in the world, lead to global goals being accomplished,” states the Alberta government report.
“As a panel, we have looked at this challenge and concluded that while we do not have an architecture that, in the short term, will be consistent with meeting global goals, the approach we are proposing will position Alberta to make a meaningful contribution in the longer term.”
The UN-sponsored Sustainable Development Solutions Network put it another way in its September report looking at Canada’s overall emissions: “Aligning emission reductions with the 2 degrees C pathway while achieving Canada’s 2030 target would require a significant strengthening of current federal and provincial policies.”
What the experts say
“The quick answer is the Trudeau government hasn’t announced a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and Alberta’s plan will stabilize the mountain they need to climb, but it won’t reduce it,” said Mike Hudema of Greenpeace Canada.
“It’s very difficult to see how the Trudeau government will meet even the Harper government target—which they said was a floor and they hoped to improve—without further reductions from Alberta. So if they have a plan, they haven’t told anyone about it.”
If Environment Minister Catherine McKenna and the Liberals are serious about holding global temperature increases to within 1.5 C, added Hudema, “It means all provinces, and especially Alberta, are going to need to do more to get us to that target.”
His comments came as Alberta Environment Minister Shannon Phillips, also in Paris, told The Canadian Press that her province has now done enough to fight climate change: “We have taken our share of the responsibilities.”
Mark Jaccard, director of the energy and materials research group at Simon Fraser University, said it’s too early to call out Trudeau for claiming to have a plan that he is clearly in the midst of developing.
“If you’re asking to interview me to fact-check Justin Trudeau’s plan, I know there’s lots of stuff going on like crazy, and I can’t tell you exactly what that plan is,” said Jaccard.
If Trudeau released a plan today on combating climate change, said Jaccard, he’d be pilloried for failing to properly consult the provinces, industry and consumers.
“You would hope that they’re working out a plan, but you know that plan is going to take a year. He’s hoping within 90 days to have something, but that something will have people trying to work towards how they can get coherence and cohesion” in Canadian climate policy.
As for Trudeau’s claim the Conservatives failed to reduce emissions, it’s both right and wrong, said Jaccard.
Emissions did fall under the Conservative government, “but they implemented zero policies to do that.”
Canada’s emissions fell in 2009 under the Conservative government due to a massive economic downturn and Ontario power policy, but have been on an upward trend ever since and the Liberal government has yet to present a policy plan for changing that upward trajectory. For that reason, Trudeau’s claim contains “a lot of baloney.”