Climate change will be a top issue as Canada votes on October 21

canada flagOn September 11, Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau officially kicked off the  federal election, with voting set for October 21.  Throughout the summer, polls have consistently shown that climate change and environmental issues will be a high priority for voters – an August survey by Abacaus Data showed 82 per cent of Canadians say climate change is a serious problem and 42% think it is an emergency, ranking concern about climate change second only to the rising cost of living.  In September, researchers from the Université de Montréal and the University of California Santa Barbara released estimates of Canadian opinion on climate actions in almost every single riding across the country, with an online interactive tool  enabling anyone to see how their local riding compares to others across the country.

The Liberal government will be running on their climate change record – characterized by their “we don’t have to choose between the economy and the environment” approach, brought to life in their handling of the Trans Mountain pipeline .  The other party platforms are here:   Green Party: Mission Possible: The Green Climate Action Plan; New Democratic Party: Power to change: A new deal for climate action and good jobs, and Conservative Party:  A Real Plan to Protect Our Environment . “Where the four main parties stand on climate issues”  is a Globe and Mail  “Explainer” by Shawn McCarthy and Marieke Walsh (Sept 8), which quotes academic experts from all sides of the issue: Andrew Leach, University of Alberta; Jennifer Winter, University of Calgary; Mark Jaccard, Simon Fraser University;Kathryn Harrison, University of British Columbia, and Chris Ragan, chair, Ecofiscal Commission.

How to choose amongst the platforms?

Some commentators urge voting by your conscience – for example, Arno Kopecky in his Opinion Piece, “So What’s a progressive voter to do?”  in The Tyee. Others urge strategic voting – such as Mark Jaccard, energy economist and professor at Simon Fraser University, who stated in his August 1 Blog : “Climate-concerned Canadians need to vote strategically this fall to make sure they don’t elect a climate-insincere government. At the time of writing this blog, the most likely outcome is that the 65% of Canadians who tell pollsters they want a climate-sincere government will split their vote among three parties and enable the election of a climate-insincere government, just as in 2006-2015.” Activist Tzeporah Berman also warns against a split vote in a Toronto Star article “David Suzuki on climate change: ‘We have to address it as if it’s war’”  (Sept. 3), and Sandy Garossino wrote in July, “Despite Pipeline Approval, $70-Billion Federal Plan Is Canada’s Best Shot at Decarbonizing”in The Energy Mix . Garossino’s arguments were almost immediately challenged by UBC Professor Kathryn Harrison in “How ‘Serious’ is a Climate Plan that relies on Pipelines”    .

Unions are also Opinion Leaders   

The Canadian Labour Congress election positions are gathered under their webpage banner: “A Fair Canada for Everyone” , which prioritizes Pharmacare,
Retirement Security, Climate Action, Good Jobs, and Equity and Inclusion.  A statement re Climate positions calls for green manufacturing and infrastructure, better transit and electric vehicles, and green building and retrofits.

Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)  launched their CUPE Votes website in August,  endorsing the New Democratic Party and offering information and tools for locals and individuals to get involved in the election. Informational “Notes” lay out positions on key issues, including, Climate Change and the Environment.

Unifor launched a “massive” member-to-member campaign for the election on September 4 under the banner of “Stop Scheer”.  At the national constitutional convention in August, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland addressed the full convention.

The United Steelworkers have endorsed the New Democratic Party – their Election 2019 webpage  offers news and resources, including their May 31 statement, “NDP Climate Plan Protects our Planet and our Jobs”  .  View the Steelworkers’ TV election ads here .

Some Websites to follow for climate-related Election coverage:

The National Observer Election 2019 Special Report:   will compile stories throughout the election, in addition to a special Election Integrity Project  which aims to highlight and call out disinformation – for example, on September 6  “How Maxime Bernier hijacked Canada’s #ClimateChange discussion” . These special features all feed from National Observer’s highly-regarded on-going reporting and Opinion pieces about climate change and the environment.  One relevant recent article: “Who were the winners and losers under Liberal climate policy?”   (Sept. 9)

The Energy Mix will monitor and compile news items from other sources, and publish original content under their special Canada Election 2019 banner .

The Tyee in Vancouver offers  an Election 2019 section  as well as a free election newsletter, called The Run.  It’s worth noting that The Tyee joined the global network Covering Climate Now over the summer of 2019, and in addition to its special topic on Environmental stories, promises another special section on the Climate Crisis.

Shake Up The Establishment is a non-partisan website run by youth volunteers, dedicated to monitoring and comparing the climate and environmental commitments of the main parties.  It publishes a monthly newsletter and maintains active social media sites.

Canada’s new, free Energy Information website

Energy Information bannerCanada finally has a new, consolidated source of data about energy in our country. The Canadian Energy Information Portal  launched in August – bringing together “reliable government data on Canada’s energy mix, including electricity, renewable energy and oil and gas.”  The portal, housed at Statistics Canada, was developed in partnership with the National Energy Board, Natural Resources Canada,  and Environment and Climate Change Canada , and according to the August 26 press release , “will be guided by a joint federal-provincial-territorial steering committee and will seek advice from Canadians, Indigenous peoples, industry, academics and municipalities.” The new website offers an interactive dashboard, maps, data and analysis  regarding the following topics:  Clean technology; Economic accounts; Energy efficiency; Energy markets; Greenhouse gas emissions; Imports and exports; Investment and research; Labour; Prices; Sustainable Development Goals; and Transportation. One example: energy information sample

 

$15.2 million over five years was set aside  in Budget 2019 to support the new Centre, in response to long-standing acknowledgement that Canada’s energy data collection has been fragmented and inefficient – for example, in a 2017 report by the Canadian Energy Research Institute, and the 2018 Report of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Natural Resources, Rethinking Canada’s Energy Information System: Collaborative Models In a Data-Driven Economy .

Two new articles provide history and context for the new data initiative, and emphasize the potential for accessible, reliable, impartial energy data and information to improve the polarized and sometimes misinformed energy policy discussions in Canada:  “How the launch of the Canadian Energy Information Centre could fill major gaps in energy data” in The  National Observer (September 5)  , and “Canada’s Energy Data Problem”  in Policy Options in July.

 

 

Climate policy progress in Canada suffers from an overemphasis on carbon pricing, an absence of supply-side energy policies

heating up backing downcoverHeating up, Backing Down  by Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood was released on June 13, updating the author’s previous 2017 report Tracking Progress: Evaluating government plans and actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Canada.   It analyzes emissions data and policy announcements in the last two years to assess federal, provincial and territorial governments’ progress toward Canada’s domestic and international greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets.  The report identifies and discusses two new important issues in the Canadian climate policy discussion: an overemphasis on carbon pricing and an absence of supply-side energy policies. These are in addition to the three key obstacles to effective climate policy identified in the 2017 report, and still considered relevant: (1) an ambition gap between government policies and official targets; (2) Canada’s  deep economic dependence on fossil fuels, and; (3) an under-appreciation of the need to support workers in the transition to a cleaner economy.

Following a succinct overview of policy developments and emissions statistics for each province, the author concludes that positive progress in British Columbia and Quebec is outweighed by backsliding in the rest of Canada, and future progress is further threatened by the legislative reversals enacted by the recently-elected conservative governments in Alberta and Ontario, which are Canada’s two biggest carbon polluting provinces.

Heating up, Backing Down is co-published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change research program (ACW) .

Canadian government funds new Climate Change research network

Environment and Climate Change Canada announced a new consortium on April 9, to be called the Pan-Canadian Expert Collaboration, and to be chaired by Blair Feltmate , Head of the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo.  The Collaboration brings together fifteen Canadian research institutes, to provide independent, informed advice to policy-makers, mainly on the issues of clean energy, carbon pricing and adaptation.  The researchers were chosen after an extensive competition, begun in October 2018, and the project will be eligible to receive up to $20 million over five years – assuming the Liberal government remains in power in Ottawa after the 2019 election.

The real nitty-gritty about the goals of the initiative are contained in the Discussion Paper  issued to solicit interest in the competition . The briefer government  Backgrounder  on April 9  sets out the goals of the Collaboration, and lists the fifteen research organizations chosen to participate.  The goals: “provide credible and authoritative advice to Canadians and their governments; develop and provide independent and expert-driven analysis to help Canada move toward clean growth in all sectors and regions of the country; develop advice and analysis spanning climate change mitigation, adaptation, and clean growth; set its own agenda and operate independently from government; and fill existing information gaps and help translate research into useful information for policy decision-making.”

The membership:

canada's changing climate coverSo far, the media have taken little notice of the group, despite the fact that it was announced only a week after the release  of the landmark and alarming  government report, Canada’s Changing Climate, which showed that Canada is warming at twice the global rate.  As  of April 10, the only item published comes from The National Observer, “Skeptical of Trudeau’s carbon pricing? There’s an institute for that” (April 9) , which  focuses on the reaction from Ontario’s Ford government – attempting to brand the group as elite academics with no understanding of the costs of climate change policies.

Canada is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world – what should we do?

 

Canada’s Changing Climate Report (CCCR), was released on April 2, documenting the  consensus of scientific experts from the federal government and academia, about how and why Canada’s climate has changed to date, with projections for the future.  The main message is tipped by the title of the government’s press release: “Canada’s climate is warming twice as fast as global average”.  Canada’s annual temperature over land has warmed on average 1.7 degrees Celsius between 1948 and 2016 (compared with the the IPCC assessment of average global warming between 0.8 C and 1.2 C). Worse, in the Arctic, temperatures have risen by 2.3C – about three times the global average. In some parts of the Northwest Territories, temperatures have risen by between 4 C and 5 C .

 

cccr graphicLike the careful scientific style of the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C  (Oct. 2018), the Canadian report offers two different scenarios, based on low and high emissions futures. The general statement about the future, however,  states: “The effects of widespread warming are already evident in many parts of Canada and are projected to intensify in the near future. A warmer climate will affect the frequency and intensity of forest fires, the extent and duration of snow and ice cover, precipitation, permafrost temperatures, and other extremes of weather and climate, as well as freshwater availability, rising of sea level, and other properties of the oceans surrounding Canada.” “Scenarios with limited warming will only occur if Canada and the rest of the world reduce carbon emissions to near zero early in the second half of the century and reduce emissions of other greenhouse gases substantially.”

The report is available in English  and in French , with a 17-page Executive Summary in English   and in French .  This is the first in a series of National Assessment reports to be rolled out until 2021, including a National Issues report on climate change impacts and adaptation; a Regional Perspectives report about  impacts and adaptation in six regions, and a Health of Canadians in a Changing Climate report, assessing risks to health and to the health care system.

Are Canadians panicking? Sorry Greta, not yet anyway:  Summaries of the Changing Climate Report  include: “Canada says global carbon pollution must be reduced to ‘near zero’ to limit harsh impacts” in The National Observer ; “Environmentalists hope for action  in wake of ‘shocking and utterly unsurprising’ climate-change report”  (consisting mostly of embedded audio interviews);   CBC’s  “What you need to know about the new climate report” ; an Energy Mix summary by Mitchell Beer ; and Crawford Kilian in The Tyee, “New Climate change report should be a wake-up call”  which focuses on British Columbia.

Two Opinion Pieces may explain the lack of panic with which this report has been greeted : Thomas Walkom in the Toronto Star, “Canadian politicians are obsessed with the wrong crisis”  and  Neil Macdonald at CBC “Report on devastating Canadian climate change a far bigger issue than Jody Wilson-Raybould”  .

Reaction from the Council of Canadians Blog is constructive:  “Canada is warming faster than we thought. What can we do about it?”  –urging readers to take individual action, including support for a Canadian Green New Deal.  Such political action will be necessary, according to Julie Gelfand, Canada’s Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, who tabled her Spring 2019 audit reports in Parliament on April 2.  The environmental audits cover the topics of aquatic invasive species, the protection of fish and their habitat from mining effluent,  and subsidies to the fossil fuels sector.   In the accompanying “Perspective” statement as she leaves her position after five years, she reflects on lessons learned and concludes: “it’s the slow action on climate change that is disturbing. Many of my reports focused on climate change from various angles. We looked at federal support for sustainable municipal infrastructure, mitigating the impacts of severe weather, marine navigation in the Canadian Arctic, environmental monitoring of oil sands, oversight of federally regulated pipelines, funding clean energy technologies, fossil fuel subsidies, and progress on reducing greenhouse gases. For decades, successive federal governments have failed to reach their targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and the government is not ready to adapt to a changing climate. This must change.”

commissioner gelfand graphic