Launch of Canadian Institute for Climate Choices promises “rigorous research and original analysis”

The Canadian Institute for Climate Choices  was launched on January 21 – described in their own press release  as an independent national institute with an aim “to establish a strong foundation for decision-making on climate change policies.” CBC commentator Aaron Wherry likens the new body to the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE), disbanded by the Harper government in 2013.

Supported by $20 million funding over 5 years from the federal government, the Institute promises to “Produce rigorous research, original analysis and evidence-based insight”. It will do this through engagement with experts, business and policy leaders, as well as Canadians – and by cultivating a national network of experts from a range of disciplines.

Those experts are currently organized into three Expert Panels ,to write and conduct peer review of the promised three research reports per year. Members named so far  include: Dale Beugin, Alain Bourque , Don Drummond, Stewart Elgie, Blair Feltmate, Kathryn Harrison, Sara Hastings-Simon, Glenn Hodgson, Mark Jaccard, Richard Lipsey, James Meadowcroft, Nancy Olewiler,  and Nic Rivers.

charting course framework diagramThe launch of the Institute was accompanied by a report, Charting our Course , which uses the extended metaphor of Canada as a ship navigating to safety on the stormy seas of climate change, and requiring “all hands on deck” to reach a safe destination. It is offered as a starting point for discussion, and includes a new analytical framework, visualized in the accompanying diagram (left).

Charting our Course makes four recommendations:

#1: Canadian governments should broaden objectives for climate policy – which acknowledges that all levels of government are involved, and their policy design needs “to go beyond the narrow lenses of mitigation, adaptation, and clean growth”…” By linking objectives more directly to the welfare of Canadians, this approach can also build a broader coalition of support for action.”

#2: Canadian governments should embrace Canada’s role in global outcomes.

#3: Canadian governments should expand the scope, scale, and pace of climate policies.  (“This means expanding the coverage of policies across regions, issues, and sectors, ramping up the magnitude of change, and tightening the timeframe for achieving results.”)

#4: Those analysing and developing policy options should seek out integrated solutions that drive multiple benefits.

Although funded by Environment and Climate Change Canada, the Institute will operate independently, overseen by an eleven-member Board of Directors – including former Privy Council Clerk Mel Cappe, former Ecofiscal Commission Chair Chris Ragan, Dave Collyer, former president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, Bruce Lourie, now President of the Ivey Foundation, and Sybil Seitzinger, Executive Director, Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions.  A separate Advisory Council includes Catherine Abreu, Executive Director of the Climate Action Network – Réseau action climat (CAN-Rac) Canada.

The Institute has already released six blogs to flesh out the general statements.  More details also appear in articles in the National Observer, the Toronto Star , the CBC, and The Energy Mix .

Historic European Green New Deal includes funding for a Just Transition Mechanism

ursala eu green new dealNew European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen presented the European Green Deal on December 11 (here on YouTube ), calling it “Europe’s man on the moon moment”.    The 10  key points are outlined here , with the flagship commitment that the EU will aim to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, a goal that will be enshrined in a ‘Climate Law’ to be presented in March 2020.  To achieve net-zero, EU’s ambitions must rise to a 50-55% cut in greenhouse gas emissions, replacing the current 40% objective.

In “Europe’s Green New Deal“,   Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University writes for Project Syndicate that it “ is the first comprehensive plan to achieve sustainable development in any major world region. As such, it becomes a global benchmark – a “how-to” guide for planning  the transformation to a prosperous, socially inclusive, and environmentally sustainable economy.”  Clean Energy Wire compiles reaction from German politicians, NGO’s and think tanks: reactions are mixed – like Sachs, most commend the symbolic and political achievement of the EU statement, while tempering their enthusiasm with concerns for implementation details.  An article in The Guardian also summarizes the deal with some sense of the opposition and difficulties ahead.

The Euractiv summary  quotes EU Commissioner von der Leyen  on the proposal for a Just Transition Mechanism:  “We have the ambition to mobilise €100 billion precisely targeted to the most vulnerable regions and sectors”  and describes the initiative as having  three “legs”: 1. A just transition fund that will mobilise resources from the EU’s regional policy budget; 2. An  “InvestEU” programme, with money coming from the European Investment Bank (EIB); and 3.  EIB funding coming from the EU bank’s own capital.  The EU Commission website provides Details of the Just Transition Mechanism for download.

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) .

A standard to measure party platforms in Canada’s upcoming climate change election

In the lead-up to the autumn federal election, climate change platforms have now been released by the Green Party: Mission Possible: The Green Climate Action Plan; the federal New Democratic Party: Power to change: A new deal for climate action and good jobs, and most recently, on June 20, by the Conservative Party:  A Real Plan to Protect Our Environment .  The WCR has summarized these platforms as they were released, here and here .

Advocates are also releasing their own views about these climate proposals.  On June 14,   Climate Action Network Canada  released  a report  intended as “a baseline against which we can assess federal parties’ climate plans.” Getting Real about Canada’s Climate Plan  calls for a plan which is comprehensive, effective and accountable and which will legislate new, more ambitious, GHG reduction targets for “politically-relevant short-term periods, such as interim 2025 targets, or create carbon budgets to define needed progress between 2020 and 2030.” Other policies called for: eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, and “Leave no community, group, or worker behind. Canada needs to offer real assistance to communities and workers grappling with the inevitable decline of fossil-fuel-dependent sectors, and improve consultation of Indigenous groups by integrating the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into future climate policy.”  The more detailed policy discussion appears in the Appendix, which calls for the recommendations of the Just Transition Task Force to be  implemented fully and swiftly, and expanded beyond coal workers and communities to include all GHG intensive sectors where employment impacts from environmental regulations are anticipated.

Climate Action Network-Canada  also issued a statement on June 5, on behalf of itself and the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, the David Suzuki Foundation, Ecology Action Centre, Environmental Defence, Équiterre, and Greenpeace Canada. The press release,  All Federal Parties Must Reject CAPP’s Election Demands on Energy Development and Climate Change Say Environmental Groups  , summarizes and rejects the election proposals from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), as outlined in Oil and Natural Gas Priorities: Putting Canada On The World Stage: An Energy Platform for Canada . Catherine Abreu, Executive Director at Climate Action Network-Canada states: “Any party that borrows from such a proposal is a party with no sincere interest in the future of Canadian society.” Notably, in  “Scheer touts industry friendly climate plan” (June 20)  in the National Observer the Conservative Party platform is linked to the CAPP demands.

Although not focused on election platforms, a thoughtful and related overview of Canadian climate change policies appears in Heating Up, Backing Down: Evaluating recent climate policy progress in Canada. The report is written by Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood and was co-published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change research program (ACW) on June 13.

Conservative Party climate change platform released to strong criticism

scheer-2019On June 20, Andrew Scheer, Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada released the party’s long-promised climate change policy document: A Real Plan to Protect Our Environment . The plan is organized and presented around three guiding principles: 1. Green Technology, Not Taxes; 2. A Cleaner and Greener Natural Environment; and 3. Taking the Climate Change Fight Global.

“Green Technology, Not Taxes” relies on the established Conservative criticism that  carbon taxes make life more expensive for all, but not all Canadians have cleaner alternatives available to them. The document asks “how high will your carbon tax go?”, and cites the discredited June 13 study by the Parliamentary Budget Office, Closing the Gap: Carbon pricing for the Paris target  to predict that the carbon tax would need to be $102 per tonne to reach Canada’s emissions reductions targets under the Paris Agreement. The  Conservatives  advocate a number of general measures, including a Green Investment Standard instead of a carbon tax, by which companies will be required to reduce their emissions to the government’s emission standards, and those which exceed that Green Investment Standard (not specified) will be required to invest in research, development, and adoption of emissions-reducing technology related to their industry. The National Observer analysis points out the similarities of the Green Investment Standard to proposals made by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers in its recent election-related release: Oil and Natural Gas Priorities: Putting Canada On The World Stage: An Energy Platform for Canada   .

Other proposals in the Conservative party platform: a  two-year Green Homes Tax Credit for homeowners who make energy-saving renovations which cost more than $1000, to a limit of $20,000; a Green Patent Credit that will reduce the business tax rate from 15%  to 5% on income that is generated from green technology developed and patented in Canada;  consultation with government and industry stakeholders to encourage innovation in the transition to cleaner personal transportation, and for heavy-duty fleets; support for the strategic interconnection of electricity grids, on a project by project basis to connect regions, or through the creation of a national energy corridor.  Also, the plan promises to ban plastics waste exports unless there are recycling commitments, and “work with producers to minimize the plastic packaging of products.” And as for oil and gas, it states that Canada should export more oil and gas in order to replace “dirtier foreign energy sources.”

The National Observer reaction in  “Scheer touts industry friendly climate plan” (June 20), in addition to pointing out the similarities with the CAPP proposals, states that  Scheer refused to provide estimates of the emissions reductions that would result from his plan, and his staff did not provide any academic studies or background documents to support any of the proposals. “Several environmental groups, including Greenpeace Canada, Stand.Earth, and Clean Energy Canada, decried the Conservative announcement, saying it would not do enough to address the climate crisis, possibly making it worse.”  Even the mainstream press are shrugging off the Conservative plan, with such headlines as “Andrew Scheer’s climate plan leaves a lot to voters’ imaginations” by Aaron Wheery at the CBC  (June 20) ; “The Scheer Climate Plan, whatever” by Paul Wells in Macleans ; and a Globe and Mail Opinion piece by Gary Mason which calls the plan a “sad joke”.  Even John Ivison, a columnist with the Calgary Herald, states in his opinion piece that the platform document is “a missed opportunity”, and “It should come as no surprise that the new Conservative climate plan is a Potemkin village of a policy, designed to give the impression of solidity to a fake, precarious construction.”

In  “How real is Andrew Scheer’s ‘real plan’ to tackle climate change” in The Narwhal , author Sarah Cox provides detailed discussion of  key issues in the plan, including input from experts Kathryn Harrison and Laura Coristine. Kathryn Harrison provides this assessment: “I think it is a plan that is designed to appeal to a subset of voters who want to be convinced that Canada can step up and do its part without actually doing anything. It is devoid of detail.”

And  The Tyee on June 26 combined the results of two interviews with two experts: Isabelle Turcotte, the director of federal policy for the Pembina Institute, and Cam Fenton , communications and strategy manager for 350 Canada.  Each weighs in on aspects of the climate plans from the Conservatives, Liberals, NDP, and Green Party.