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.

Deep decarbonization is possible: Suzuki Foundation presents a litmus test for climate change policies in Canada’s 2019 election

Suzuki zeroing-in-on-emissions-canadas-clean-power-pathways-reviewIf, as a new article in The Conversation argues, “To really engage people, the media should talk about solutions”  (May 30) , then the report published by the David Suzuki Foundation on May 29 is right on target.  Zeroing in on Emissions: Charting Canada’s Clean Power Pathways  argues: “Responding to the urgency of climate change can feel overwhelming, but our research confirms we have the solutions and strategies needed to drive national actions and innovations to meet our climate commitments.”  It is important to note that the commitment under consideration is reduction of  greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent or more by 2050, and the study focuses only on energy policy, not all sectors of the economy.

The report examines academic, government and business models and studies related to  deep decarbonization for Canada, with special reference to the Deep Decarbonization
Pathways Project , the Trottier Energy Futures Project  and the
Perspectives Énergétiques Canadiennes . The full list of referenced publications takes up 15 pages of the report.  Based on this review of expert research, recommendations are presented, in ten essential policy priorities: 1.  Accelerate clean power  2. Do more with less energy  3. Electrify just about everything  4. Free industry from emissions 5. Switch to renewable fuels  6. Mobilize money  7. Level the playing field  8. Reimagine our communities  9. Focus on what really matters and # 10. Bring everyone along, which  opens with a quote from Canada’s 2018  Task Force on Just Transition Report. The section states: “If well-managed, the clean-energy transition can be a strong driver of job creation, job upgrading, good jobs and reducing inequality. Conversely, a poorly managed transition risks causing unnecessary economic hardship and undermining public support for needed emission-reduction policies. Transition should be seen as part of a broader green economic development strategy that supports community economic development and diversification.” The discussion includes the issues of justice and equality, and Indigenous rights.

According to the press release, this report is meant to influence the discourse in the upcoming election: “These 10 strategies are a litmus test that all climate plans during the 2019 federal election should be held accountable to…. “Actions such as pricing and limiting carbon pollution, prioritizing electrification with clean energy sources and accelerating industry investment in zero carbon solutions must be part of any credible climate plan in 2019.” In addition, it lays the foundation for a three-year project called Clean Power Pathways, “to transition Canada’s energy system at a scope, scale and speed in line with the scientific consensus to avoid climate breakdown.”  The report has grown out of collaborative research sponsored by the Trottier Family Foundation, which remains involved in the upcoming Clean Power Pathways research.

Zeroing in on Emissions: Charting Canada’s Clean Power Pathways is accompanied by a 4-page Executive Summary  and was also summarized by The Energy Mix here  (June 2).

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.