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

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”.