Canada’s record on climate change, and the global failure to meet Paris emissions targets

trudeau-notley-20161129An analysis of the evolution of Justin Trudeau’s  climate change policies is  summarized in “The Rise and Fall of Trudeau’s ‘Grand Bargain’ on Climate”,  published in The Tyee (Nov. 14). The article is a summary by author Donald Gutstein of his new book,  The Big Stall: How Big Oil and Think Tanks Are Blocking Action on Climate Change in Canada , which the publisher describes this way: “The Big Stall traces the origins of the government’s climate change plan back to the energy sector itself — in particular Big Oil. It shows how, in the last fifteen years, Big Oil has infiltrated provincial and federal governments, academia, media and the non-profit sector to sway government and public opinion on the realities of climate change and what needs to be done about it.” (Interesting companion reading to this argument: an October report from the Parkland Institute and the Corporate Mapping Project, Who Owns Canada’s Fossil-Fuel Sector? Mapping the Network of Ownership & Control.)  The Big Stall  concludes that by framing the challenge as an opportunity for economic growth through clean technology, the government has failed to address climate change effectively.

UN2018bridging gap coverRecent studies continue to support the assessment that the world, including Canada,  has not done enough to meet its climate change goals, let alone the urgent need to decarbonize. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) will release its annual Emissions Gap Report 2018  in November, but in a pre-release chapter released at the Global Climate Action Summit in September, the UNEP asserted that national governments are not meeting their Paris Agreement targets, and that non-state actors and sub-national governments are crucially important in closing the gap.

Time to Get on with It: The LCEI 2018: Tracking the Progress G20 Countries Have Made to Decarbonize Their Economies  was released in early October by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) consultants.  Their Low Carbon Economy Index (LCEI) report states that in 2017, no country was on track with the decarbonization rate needed to achieve the Paris Agreement temperature goal, and ranks Canada as 14th out of 20.

brown to green 2018The Brown to Green Report 2018  released by Climate Transparency in November rates all the G20 nations on 80 indicators regarding decarbonisation, climate policies, finance and vulnerability to the impacts of climate change.  No G20 countries are on track to meet their targets ( Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Russia are ranked as worst ).The 15-page Canada Country Report  finds that Canada’s GHG emissions per capita are the highest of any G20 country at  22 (compared to a G20 country average of 8 ). Despite encouraging coal phase-out policies, “Canada’s NDC is not consistent with the Paris Agreement’s temperature limit but would lead to a warming between 3°C and 4°C. ”

Finally, for an academic treatment of this issue: “Warming assessment of the bottom-up Paris Agreement emissions pledges”  appeared in Nature Communications on November 16. It states that India is the only country close to being on track to meet a 2 degree target, and singles out Saudi Arabia, Russia, Canada and China as laggards.

Preview of the recommendations by Canada’s Just Transition Task Force

Hassan Yussuff head shotIn a November 5 article, “ Federal panel privately urges Trudeau government to do more for coal workers”  ,  National Observer reporter Carl Meyer reveals that the Just Transition Task Force Interim Report is already in the hands of the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, though not yet publicly available. Canada’s Just Transition Task Force was launched in April 2018 – an  11-member advisory group co-chaired by Canadian Labour Congress president Hassan Yussuff,  to “ provide advice on how to make the transition away from coal a fair one for workers and communities.”  The Task Force Terms of Reference   allowed for 9 months for the report; Environment and Climate Change Minister McKenna said on  November 2 : “We’re still reviewing the report, but as we talk about the need to power past coal and our commitment in Canada to phase out coal by 2030, we know there has to be a priority to supporting workers and communities.” A formal response is expected in November, and given the Minister’s leadership role in the international  Powering Past Coal Alliance and the public spotlight of the upcoming COP24 meetings in Katowice Poland in early December, that deadline is likely to be met.

The National Observer article of November 5, along with an April 2018 article about the Task Force launch, provide good background to the Task Force.  The new article emphasizes the different needs of different provinces – notably Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.  Most of the article is based on interviews with a few Task Force members.

But what are the Report’s Recommendations?  One member states that  “A lot of the recommendations are directly connected to what we heard from municipalities, from workers, from unions and from communities.”  The comments about the actual  recommendations are far from earth-shattering, but include:  1. Just Transition policies should be enshrined in legislation so that they are not as vulnerable to changing governments; 2. The  government should commit to infrastructure funding for municipalities in order to attract other businesses and offset job losses; 3. Support to workers should be extended, to help people quickly and efficiently access benefits like employment insurance, retraining, and relocation assistance.  These fall along the same lines as the 2017 Recommendations from the Alberta Advisory Panel  on Coal Communities , which are more detailed and which also accounted for First Nations issues.

A list of Task Force members is here. In addition to co-Chair Hassan Yussuff, there are members from the CLC, the Alberta Federation of Labour,  United Steelworkers, Unifor, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

 

Research and opinion support a carbon tax for Canada

Carbon taxes continue to be a hot topic in Canada for many reasons, including the October Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report , the Nobel Prize in Economics  to William Nordhaus, and the report from Ontario’s Financial Accountability Officer on October 16, which estimates that the cancelling the province’s cap and trade program will drive the provincial deficit up by $3 billion, ($841 million in the first fiscal year alone).  And as provinces rebel against the federal carbon pricing plans, the January 1 2019 deadline approaches, by which the federal government will impose its “backstop” carbon pricing on any province without it own equivalent carbon pricing regime in place.

In response to these developments, there are many responses.  Recent articles emphasize William Nordhaus’ work: for example, “Nordhaus Nobel Recognizes What We’ve Long Known: Carbon pricing works” by Scott Vaughan at the IISD ;  “Nobel award recognizes how economic forces can fight climate change” in The Conversation Canada (Oct. 9); “Hurricanes, hog manure and the dire need for carbon pricing” in The Conversation Canada (Oct. 14);  and “Opinion: To avoid catastrophic climate change we need carbon pricing” from the Ecofiscal Commission , one of Canada’s strongest proponents of carbon pricing.  From the horse’s mouth: “After Nobel in Economics, William Nordhaus Talks About Who’s Getting His Pollution-Tax Ideas Right”  (New York Times, Oct. 13),  in which William Nordhaus is interviewed by Coral Davenport and states:  “…. I think the model is British Columbia. .. It would have the right economic effects but politically not be so toxic. … British Columbia is not only well designed but has been politically successful.”

CARBON DIVIDENDS:  The issue of political acceptability of carbon taxes generated an academic discussion  in “Overcoming public resistance to carbon taxes” by Carattini  , Carvalho and  Fankhauser  in  WiRES Climate Change  in June 2018.  In Canada, a change in vocabulary in taking hold. “Carbon Dividends could save carbon pricing – and create a new national climate consensus”  say Mark Cameron (from Canadians for Clean Prosperity) and David McLaughlin (from the International Institute of Sustainable Development) in the Globe and Mail .   The commissioned studies released by   Canadians for Clean Prosperity in September showed  that most  households, regardless of income level, would receive more money in the form of carbon dividend cheques than they would pay in carbon taxes under the backstop plan.  They have produced estimates for Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Ontario, and New Brunswick, and maintain an online petition at a website called  Canadians for Carbon Dividends  .

rocky road tableIn  “The Rocky Road to Canada-wide Carbon Pricing,”  released by the C.D. Howe Institute on October 17,  author Tracy Snoddon from Wilfred Laurier University offers recommendations on how the revenues should be distributed after January 1, 2019, when the minimum carbon price backstop comes into force.  The author estimates carbon revenues of $ 2.8 billion in 2019 if the backstop was implemented in Ontario, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island. She recommends that the federal government should impose the backstop price and return the revenues as an equal per-capita rebate to residents- with the justification that such an approach minimizes intrusion in provincial fiscal matters, reinforces the environmental goals  rather than revenue generation, and is most progressive in its  distributional impacts.  A summary appears in the C.D. Howe press release  and in  “C.D. Howe Institute throws its weight behind federal carbon tax” in the Globe and Mail (Oct. 19).

put a price on itFinally, a new organization launched in October. Put A Price On It Canada promotes carbon pricing as a solution to climate change – and asks “why does Canada need another group fighting for carbon pricing?”  The difference: it aspires to be a national network to empower students on university campuses – currently at Simon Fraser University, the University of Ottawa, University of Waterloo, and Carleton University.

So in response to the  National Observer Opinion piece on October 18, asking  “Is it time to torch the carbon tax debate?” , the answer seems to be a strong “no”.

IPCC report prompts emergency debate in Canada’s House of Commons

The landmark report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in October, Global Warming of 1.5 ,  continues to generate debate and reaction around the world.  On October 15, Canada’s  House of Commons held an emergency debate on Global Warming.  Request for the debate was led by Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party, and was joined by Members of Parliament from the New Democratic and  Liberal parties.  The Conservatives did not support the request, according to reports by both CBC  and the National Observer  .  The official Hansard transcript of the Emergency Debate is here in English  and in French  . Although the debate fell along partisan lines, it also provided opportunity for Members from across the country to highlight clean economy innovations within their own communities, and many made statements calling for actions, not just more debate.

MayElizabeth_GPFrom Elizabeth May’s website : “The issue tonight is not to debate Canada’s current carbon plan, Canada’s current climate plan. This is not a status quo debate. We should not be scoring political points because one party did this and another party did that. We should be here as humanity, human beings, elected people for our constituencies who know full well that if we do not change what we are doing as a species, we will face an unthinkable world. The good news is we still have a chance to save ourselves. ”

Further, she likens the current situation to the crisis of the Dunkirk evacuation in World War 2, and calls for  leadership like that shown by Winston Churchill:

“This is when we need our Prime Minister to go to the negotiations in Poland, or to dispatch the Minister of Environment to the negotiations in Poland, and say, “We are stepping up. We are going to rescue everybody. We are going to be the heroes in our own story. We are going to adopt what the IPCC says we must do: 45% reductions by 2030.” …. We need to tell Canadians that we have hope, to not despair or think it is too late. They should not turn away from the IPCC reports. They should not be afraid because we cannot breathe in British Columbia in the summer because of forest fires. They should not give up. We will rally and marshal every small town, every big city, every Canadian group, rotary clubs, church groups, and we will tell those naysayers who think that climate change is about a cash grab that they are in the way of our future and that they must get out of the way.”

Canada launches consultation on vehicle emissions regulations under cloud of Trump rollbacks

pick up truckOn August 20, Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change published a Discussion Paper  to launch consultations on the mid-term evaluation of Canada’s light-duty vehicle greenhouse gas emission regulations for the 2022–2025 model years.  Public comments may be submitted to ec.infovehiculeetmoteur-vehicleandengineinfo.ec@canada.ca by September 28, 2018. Once comments have been reviewed, if the government determines that regulatory changes are needed, it promises a second consultation period.  One of the first off the mark with a response: Clean Energy Canada, with “Canada should explore stronger vehicle standards to cut pollution and enhance competitiveness” .

The mid-term review is required by the 2014 regulations under which Canada currently operates, but it comes at a time when Canada must decide whether to continue to align its fuel efficiency standards with the U.S., as it has done for 20 years, or follow its own path.  The current Canadian trajectory is shaped by our GHG reduction commitments under the Paris Agreement, the Pan-Canadian Framework for Clean Growth and Climate Change  , and a 2017 commitment  to develop a  national Zero-Emissions Vehicle Strategy by 2018.

But in the  U.S. ,  on August 2, the Trump administration announced the Safer Affordable Fuel Efficient Vehicle Rule (SAFER) , which proposes weakening the EPA’s greenhouse gas emissions standards and Department of Transportation’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for light duty vehicles in model years 2021 through 2025. The proposed rule  would also revoke a legal waiver which allows California and 13 other states to set their own pollution standards. Based on arguments made in the document  Make Cars Great Again , published by the Wall Street Journal, the Trump plan claims it will save $500 billion in “societal costs,” avert thousands of highway fatalities and save consumers an estimated $2,340 on each new automobile.   Most of the Administration’s arguments are refuted in  “Five Important points about the Safe Vehicle Rule”  by the Sabin School of Law at Columbia University. Other critiques: from Vox: “Trump is freezing Obama’s fuel economy standards. Here’s what that could do”  (Aug. 2); and “The EPA refuted its own bizarre justification for rolling back fuel efficiency standards” (Aug. 16);  “Trump administration to freeze fuel-efficiency requirements in move likely to spur legal battle with states” in the Washington Post (Aug. 2)  ; “Trump’s Auto Efficiency Rollback: Losing the Climate Fight, 1 MPG at a Time” by Inside Climate News (Aug. 2) .

What should Canada do? Technical analysis comes in   Automobile production in Canada and implications for Canada’s 2025 passenger vehicle greenhouse gas standards, released by the International Council on Clean Transportation in April 2018, which analyzes the Canadian vehicle manufacturing market and sales patterns and describes the possible impacts if Canada  aligns weakens its greenhouse gas emission standards with the Trump administration,  or maintains its existing standards and aligns with California.  Other opinions: From Clean Energy Canada on Aug. 2 ,  “Canada should hold firm and reject Trump’s efforts to roll back vehicle standards” ;  or “On vehicle emissions standards It’s time Canada divorced the United States”   in Policy Options (April 2018); and  “Trump’s plan to scare Americans into supporting car pollution” in the National Observer (Aug. 7) .