Canada’s legislation for net-zero emissions lacks urgency and enforcement mechanisms

On November 19, Canada’s Environment Minister introduced Bill C-12,  the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act in the House of Commons.  If passed, it would establish in law the already-promised national net-zero greenhouse gas emissions target for 2050, and require the Minister to establish a national greenhouse gas emissions target and plan for 2030 within six months of the Act coming into force. Requirements for public consultation and progress reports are included, along with a provision for an advisory body which would also be required to conduct “engagement activities”.  A summary of provisions appears in the government’s press release and in press reports from the CBC and  the Toronto Star . Initial reactions to the legislation abound on Twitter, mostly noting that  2030 is a disappointingly slow first target date. In an article in Behind the Numbers, Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood calls the legislation “much ado about nothing” , and says “the bill’s failure to require a new emissions reduction target before 2030 means the federal government can continue delaying the kinds of transformational climate policies we require to meet the scale of the climate change threat. A new 2025 target would have put real pressure onto the present government rather than shirking responsibility to a future one.”  Legal group Ecojustice  calls the legislation “a significant first step” , and West Coast Environmental Law calls the legislation a “critical juncture for Canada”.   WCELpledges to work towards improving the Bill  in the course of the parliamentary debate…. “to be effective, the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act will need to prioritize immediate climate action by setting a 2025 target, and ensure that all the targets we set are as ambitious as possible. It also needs stronger requirements to ensure those targets are actually met.”

The House of Commons website here will link to the Debates on Bill C-12, and chronicle its passage through the legislature. Already, the new Leader of the Green Party, Annamie Paul, has issued a reaction titled, A failure of leadership: Government’s climate bill squanders “the opportunity of a lifetime” for a green economic recovery Former leader Elizabeth May is quoted in the same press release saying “Having worked on the climate issue for over thirty years, watching one government after another kick the problem down the road, today is the tragic low-point. The window on holding to a livable climate will close, forever, before this legislation holds anyone to account.”

Lobbying Joe Biden for climate action, and what it means for Canada

Despite the chaos in post-election politics of the United States, Joe Biden is the legitimate President-elect of the United States, and his climate change platform was an important factor in his victory.  As his Transition team prepares for inauguration in January 2021, environmental and climate change groups are among those advocating for appointments and policies. Prominent among these: The Climate Mandate, a joint initiative of the Sunrise Movement  and Justice Democrats . On November 11, Climate Mandate issued a statement saying:  “We can unite our nation by solving the crises we have in common: COVID-19, climate change, systemic racism and an economic recession. Joe Biden must command the federal government with fierce urgency and bold creativity….  This is Biden’s FDR moment”.  A top demand of the Climate Mandate movement:  the creation of a Climate Mobilization Office  – “with wide-reaching power to combat the climate crisis — just as we mobilized to defeat the existential threat of Nazi Germany in WWII.”  The CMO “will convene and coordinate across the President’s Cabinet agencies and, ultimately, hold every federal department accountable to the national project of stopping climate change. The Office of Climate Mobilization will deeply embed this mission into all of our spending, regulations, policies, and actions.”  Top picks suggested to lead the Climate Mobilization Office:  Washington Governor Jay InsleeGina McCarthy , now Head of the Natural Resources Defence Council and former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, or John Podesta, founder of the American Center for Progress and a counsellor to President Obama and Chief of Staff to President Clinton.

Other names which appear in the Climate Mandate wish list include Bernie Sanders , their top pick for Secretary of Labor; environmental justice champion Mustafa Santiago Ali to lead the Environmental Protection Agency; and  two union officials:  Mary Kay Henry, International President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), as an alternate choice for Secretary of Labor, and Sara Nelson, International President of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA as a second choice for Secretary of Transportation.

The Climate 21 Project is a second group with proposals for Joe Biden.  A  group of more than 150 people, Climate 21 Project is co-chaired by Christy Goldfuss, a former Obama official and now with the Center for American Progress, and Tim Profeta, director of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University. The Summary of their Recommendations regarding the transition is here  , accompanied by eleven memos for each of the relevant departments and agencies .

Finally, Greenpeace USA released its Just Recovery Agenda on November 17, directed at Joe Biden.  Broader than climate and environmental issues, “the  Just Recovery Agenda includes more than 100 concrete policy recommendations spanning both legislation and executive action aimed at creating a world in which everyone has a good life and where our fundamental needs — including dignified work, healthcare, education, housing, clean air and water, healthy food, and more — are met.” Detailed policy proposals are here .

Here are a few general reactions and assessments of the climate future since Biden’s election: Initial Thoughts on the Impact of the 2020 Federal Elections on National Climate Policy by Joel Stronberg (Nov. 5);  “Election likely hardens political limits of Biden climate agenda” by Amy Harder in Axios (Nov. 5);   “State Climate Leadership Is Coming to the Nation’s Capital in 2021” in a Center for American Progress blog (Nov. 9) and “How Joe Biden plans to use executive powers to fight climate change”  in Vox (Nov. 9); and “Trump Rolled Back 100+ Environmental Rules. Biden May Focus on Undoing Five of the Biggest Ones” in Inside Climate News (Nov. 17) .

Canada greets Joe Biden and his climate plans

The National Observer maintained a Special Report section  about the U.S. election, including an overview of reactions in  “Ottawa welcomes president-elect Joe Biden as climate fight ally” (Nov. 9) -including comments from politicians (Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson and former Minister Catherine McKenna, as well as Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, and New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs ) along with policy experts Blair Feltmate and Sara Hastings-Simon. A good summary of the most important climate issues appears in  “The Biden presidency could change the terms of the climate debate in Canada”  by Aaron Wherry at CBC (Nov. 10).

In  “Five ways the Biden presidency could change Canadian climate policy for the better in CCPA’s Behind the Numbers (Nov. 12), Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood gives an overview, stating:

“For the past four years, a recalcitrant U.S. administration provided cover for Canadian politicians to water down and delay climate policies. With Biden in the White House, the situation may be reversed. Even if the new president only achieves a portion of his ambitious climate agenda, Canada risks falling behind in the transition to a net-zero carbon economy. …. Biden’s plan could energize Canada’s international climate agenda, could accelerate the growth of Canada’s clean economy, curb fossil fuel infrastructure, strengthen Canada’s carbon pricing system, and strengthen Canadian environmental regulations.”

Whether  Canada can compete with U.S. clean technology industry if the U.S. starts to ramp up its spending is a topic raised  in  “Biden’s victory raises the clean growth stakes for Canada”  (Nov. 7) by Sara Hastings-Simon and  Rachel Samson of the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices.  In “What Joe Biden’s Climate plan means for Canada” in The Conversation (Nov. 12),  Robert O’Brien of McMaster University focuses on the prospects for the oil and gas industry and the Keystone XL pipeline, flowing from Biden’s remark that “I would transition from the oil industry, yes.”  O’Brien considers the implications for Indigenous communities, workers and communities in that transition.  Will Greaves of University of Victoria focuses on the oil and gas industry and protection of the Arctic in  “What a Biden Presidency means for Climate Change and Canada” in Policy Options  (Nov. 10) .

Another analysis, from a trade perspective, appears  in Behind the Numbers“Biden’s Buy American Plan should inspire – not scare – Canada” (Oct 25) . Author Scott Sinclair argues that Buy American policies are  not likely to go away, and if you can’t beat ‘em, you should learn from them. “ Canadians can no longer afford to disregard or neglect considerable potential of government purchasing for job creation, improved working conditions and environmentally sustainable development. Given our current trade treaty constraints, ambitious “Buy Sustainable” purchasing policies offer the best way forward for Canadian workers and the environment.”

 

LNG, fossil subsidies as issues in B.C. election on October 24

British Columbia will vote on October 24, and climate and environmental issues are prominent in the Party Platforms of the ruling New Democratic Party (NDP) , the Green Party, and to a much lesser extent, the Liberal Party, which lacks any specific emissions reductions targets, and endorses LNG development.  

The NDP is running on its record and its 2018 CleanB.C. Plan; Sarah Cox wrote a detailed review in The Narwhal in September, “So there’s going to be a fall election in B.C.: has the NDP kept its environmental promises?” . A key NDP commitment  is to reach  net-zero emissions by 2050, but according to David Hughes at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (and many others), that won’t be possible with the current NDP policy to support the LNG industry –  explained, for example, in BC’s Carbon Conundrum Why LNG exports doom emissions-reduction targets and compromise Canada’s long-term energy security (July) . A related report, Subsidizing Climate Change:  how BC gives billions to corporate polluters  was published by Stand.earth in September, reporting that B.C. is second only to Alberta in subsidies to the oil and gas industry, at $557 million in 2018 (the last year for which data is available).  The Dogwood Institute also reports on this in “Tax-payer funded climate change” (Oct. 2) and “BC NDP candidates quiet as oil and gas subsidies soar (Oct. 7).  The NDP platform promises only “a comprehensive review of oil and natural gas royalty credits”. And on another hot-button issue, the Site C Dam – The Narwhal summarizes two critical reports that call for it to be scrapped in an October 15 article, and even the right-wing C.D. Howe Institute published Site C – the case is getting weaker .

For quick summaries and comparisons of all party platforms, see The Tyee “Where they Stand: Climate Change” , or an Explainer on climate and environmental issues in The Narwhal (October 19) .

Canada’s Speech from the Throne sketches out its plans for Covid recovery in pale green

The Liberal government opened the new session of Parliament on September 23 with a Speech from the Throne titled A Stronger and More Resilient Canada.  Acknowledging the perilous moment of history in which it was delivered, Catherine Abreu of Climate Action Network Canada states: “Today the Government of Canada delivered the most progressive speech from the throne heard in a generation. The promises made acknowledged the inequalities and vulnerabilities that have been laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic and spoke to the scale of action needed to confront them. Of course, we’ve heard similar promises before from this government. It is the policy and investment decisions made in the coming months that will determine whether the spirit articulated in this historic speech is turned into meaningful action.”

Stating that “this is not the time for austerity”, the Speech emphasizes measures to deal with the impact of Covid-19.  General summaries by the CBC here and the Toronto Star are here;  Trish Hennessy of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives summarizes and critiques the speech with a focus on inequality, the workplace, and health care.  The Canadian Union of Public Employees response appears in  “Promises are good Proof is better”. The Canadian Labour Congress reaction  is supportive of the Speech and highlights provisions of greatest impact to workers, including the government’s promise to create one million jobs through  “direct investments in the social sector and infrastructure, immediate training to quickly skill up workers, and incentives for employers to hire and retain workers.”  Other key promises: the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy will be extended through to summer 2021; modernization of the Employment Insurance system will address the growth of the self-employed and gig workers; and yet again, “significant, long-term, sustained investment to create a Canada-wide early learning and childcare system “.

From the Speech from the Throne:  The section titled, Taking action on extreme risks from climate change” :

“….Climate action will be a cornerstone of our plan to support and create a million jobs across the country….. The Government will immediately bring forward a plan to exceed Canada’s 2030 climate goal. The Government will also legislate Canada’s goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.

As part of its plan, the Government will:

Create thousands of jobs retrofitting homes and buildings, cutting energy costs for Canadian families and businesses;

Invest in reducing the impact of climate-related disasters, like floods and wildfires, to make communities safer and more resilient;

Help deliver more transit and active transit options;

And make zero-emissions vehicles more affordable while investing in more charging stations across the country.

The Government will launch a new fund to attract investments in making zero-emissions products and cut the corporate tax rate in half for these companies to create jobs and make Canada a world leader in clean technology. The Government will ensure Canada is the most competitive jurisdiction in the world for clean technology companies.

Additionally, the Government will:

Transform how we power our economy and communities by moving forward with the Clean Power Fund, including with projects like the Atlantic Loop that will connect surplus clean power to regions transitioning away from coal;

And support investments in renewable energy and next-generation clean energy and technology solutions.

Canada cannot reach net zero without the know-how of the energy sector, and the innovative ideas of all Canadians, including people in places like British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Government will:

Support manufacturing, natural resource, and energy sectors as they work to transform to meet a net zero future, creating good-paying and long-lasting jobs;

And recognize farmers, foresters, and ranchers as key partners in the fight against climate change, supporting their efforts to reduce emissions and build resilience.

The Government will continue its policy of putting a price on pollution, while putting that money back in the pockets of Canadians. It cannot be free to pollute.

This pandemic has reminded Canadians of the importance of nature. The Government will work with municipalities as part of a new commitment to expand urban parks, so that everyone has access to green space. This will be done while protecting a quarter of Canada’s land and a quarter of Canada’s oceans in five years, and using nature-based solutions to fight climate change, including by planting two billion trees.

The Government will ban harmful single-use plastics next year and ensure more plastic is recycled. And the Government will also modernize the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

When the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration was closed by a previous government, Canada lost an important tool to manage its waters. The Government will create a new Canada Water Agency to keep our water safe, clean, and well-managed. The Government will also identify opportunities to build more resilient water and irrigation infrastructure.

At the same time, the Government will look at continuing to grow Canada’s ocean economy to create opportunities for fishers and coastal communities, while advancing reconciliation and conservation objectives. Investing in the Blue Economy will help Canada prosper.”

Reaction to climate change provisions:

From The Tyee ,“What’s in This Throne Speech Stew? Straight from the pandemic cookbook, it’s light on green garnishes. No election on the menu.”  Reporters at The National Observer agree in “Liberal throne speech targets COVID-19 over climate” (Sept. 23), stating: “Though the Trudeau Liberals promised an “ambitious green agenda” ahead of the throne speech, the vision for the coming months unveiled Wednesday focused more on COVID-19 and its economic fallout.”  Their compilation of reaction from green groups echoes the cautious optimism in a Greenpeace Canada statement  and from West Coast Environmental Law  – which commends “promising signals” but asks “how the climate goals set out in the Throne Speech tally with the federal government’s continued support for climate-destructive projects such as the Trans Mountain pipeline and tankers project.”

In the lead up to the Throne Speech, many green groups had lobbied with their specific proposals : a few examples include an Open Letter to Ministers coordinated by the Climate Action Network; the One Earth One Voice campaign;  and the Draft Throne Speech offered by Greenpeace Canada.

The National Observer highlighted the proposals of the Smart Prosperity Institute in an  Opinion Piece by Mike Moffatt and John McNally ,  “ Want a green, inclusive recovery? You can’t rush that” (Sept. 24).  They condense the arguments from an earlier blog post, ” Making a green recovery inclusive for all Canadians which lays out specific green recovery proposals but warns that a “full recovery” cannot begin until Covid-19 has been brought under control: “The risks of infection from bringing people together, potentially leading to future lockdowns, are too great.”

Can new Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole appeal to Canadians with his Climate Change platform?

Erin O’Toole, Member of Parliament for Durham Ontario, was elected as the new Leader of Canada’s Conservative Party in the early hours of August 25.  General press reaction emphasized his hawkish stance on relations with China, the strength of social conservative forces within his party, and his stated intention to carve out a middle ground to fight the next election. A sampling of articles: “Erin O’Toole works to sell Tories as big tent party” in the Globe and Mail (Aug. 25) ; “Erin O’Toole and the search for a new Canadian centre” by Paul Wells in Maclean’s (August 24); “Erin O’Toole promises to fight for West, human rights” (Aug. 26) in the National Observer; “Will Erin O’Toole Confront Conservatives’ Covid Sickness” in The Tyee (Aug. 31);  and “The inside story of how Erin O’Toole won the Conservative leadership race” in the Toronto Star (Aug. 29) .

On the issues of Climate Change and Energy Policy:

The Narwhal offers this Explainer: “Where new Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole stands on climate change, carbon tax, oil and LNG” and, from Bruce Lourie in The National Observer: “O’Toole’s climate plan has a carbon price — just don’t call it a tax” by (Aug. 26).  Also from The National Observer : “Memo to O’Toole: The road down the middle  is paved with a credible climate plan” (Aug. 31) .

It is yet to be seen what will  happen to O’Toole’s climate change platform when votes are on the line in an election campaign. As a leadership candidate, he published this Climate Change Plan  and this  Action Plan for Alberta and the West  – the latter  promising  to repeal Bill C-69; pass a National Strategic Pipelines Act; scrap the tanker ban; and implement a national LNG Export Strategy.  No wonder he won the endorsement of Jason Kenney, Premier of Alberta.

From his Climate Change platform statement: “I will respect the jurisdiction of the provinces and territories by scrapping Trudeau’s carbon tax. If provinces want to use market mechanisms, other forms of carbon pricing, or regulatory measures, that is up to them. The federal government will be there to support them.” ….  “ The world will still be using oil and natural gas for a long time. The question is whether they will come from free countries like Canada with strong environmental protections, or dictatorships with no environmental protections or respect for human rights” … “Domestic energy production – including oil and gas – is an important part of making our country more self-reliant and more resilient in future, as we cannot afford to become reliant on energy from countries like Russia….” And from O’Toole’s stated priorities: “Working with industry on a plan to get to net zero emissions in the oil and gas industry through the use of technologies like electrification generated from sources such as nuclear and wind and carbon capture, with the government providing incentives similar to those that were used to stimulate the early development of the oilsands.”

In Bruce Lourie’s assessment: “The six priorities are hit-and-miss, and revert back to traditional technological solutions in the energy sector while missing many of the important economy-wide measures to help the regions of Canada without oil, as well as addressing the bulk of Canada’s climate change challenges. No mention of the auto sector or transportation at all, or building efficiency (the single most cost-effective measure), and no mention of the agricultural sector…”