Public consultation on climate policy underway in Nova Scotia

A public consultation process is underway until July 26 in Nova Scotia, managed by the Clean Foundation on behalf of Nova Scotia Environment and Climate Change. Following the consultations, the government will update its climate policies, as well as emission reduction goals under the Sustainable Development Goals Act, passed in 2019 but sidetracked by Covid-19.  The current Nova Scotia GHG emissions reduction commitment calls for emissions at least 53 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 and net zero by 2050, with all coal plants closed  by 2030 and 80 per cent renewable energy for the electricity sector by 2030.  Although this is the toughest emissions reduction target in Canada to date, the Halifax-based Ecology Action Centre is advocating for a legislated GHG reduction target of 50% below 1990 levels by the year 2030. This, along with the other EAC priorities, is described in  20 Goals to Advance the Environmental and Economic Wellbeing of Nova Scotia . In 2019, when the legislation was being debated, EAC commissioned and published Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act: Economic Costs and Benefits of Proposed Goals (Sept 2019), which outlined six policy areas estimated to result in 15,000 green jobs per year by 2030. 

The government provides two Discussion Papers to guide input for the consultation:  a Climate Change Plan for Clean Growth Discussion Paper, and the Discussion Paper for the Sustainable Development Goals Act .

Environmental groups and Unifor agree: 60% emissions reduction goal is Canada’s Fair Share

Towards Canada’s Fair Share  is a new report endorsed by seven of Canada’s leading environmental advocacy groups. It was released just before Prime Minister Trudeau’s announcement at the international Climate Summit on April 22-23 that Canada will increase its emissions reduction target to 40 – 45% of 2005 levels by 2030. Although this is an improvement on the target mentioned in Canada’s  April 19th federal budget  (36% below 2005 levels, it fails to match U.S. President Biden’s announcement of a 50% target, and is far below the more ambitious target proposed  in Towards Canada’s Fair Share – a 60% emissions reduction by 2030.  The report was based on modelling by EnviroEconomics and Navius, and endorsed by Climate Action Network Canada, Conservation Council of New Brunswick, Ecology Action Centre, Environmental Defence, Equiterre, Stand, and West Coast Environmental Law.   

A recent CBC report, “Union representing energy workers backs stronger emissions cuts — as long as there’s a transition plan” ( April 27), states that Unifor agrees with the Fair Share target of 60% by 2030 – “provided the right framework is in place to help its 12,000 members move out of the oil and gas sector.”   The CBC quotes Unifor representative Joie Warnock:  “Our members in the energy sector have a lot to say about the path to decarbonization. The pathway to a lower carbon economy goes directly through their livelihoods, through their lives, through their communities,…..We’re very concerned that the government hasn’t done the work to plan for a just transition.”  The union accepts that an energy transition is underway, and is working to “get in front of it” – and not only for its members in the oil fields, but also for members in the auto industry, facing the transformation to electric vehicles.

Trudeau pledges 40 to 45% GHG emissions reductions at Climate Summit

Expectations are high for the U.S.-led Climate Summit on April 22-23, which President Joe Biden opened by announcing a new U.S. target for GHG emissions reductions – 50% to 52% by 2030, based on 2005 levels.   The Summit is described by the U.S. State Department as “a key milestone on the road to the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) this November in Glasgow and is designed to increase the chances for meaningful outcomes on global climate action at COP26.”  The world’s leaders (and major emitters)  are present at the virtual meeting –– including Chinese President Xi Jinping – and even in advance of the Summit, other nations announced new Nationally Determined Contributions : for example, the U.K., which has pledged to cut carbon emissions by 78% from 1990 levels by 2035.  

Prime Minister Trudeau took his turn at announcing an even higher goal at the Summit  to a 40% to 45% reduction in emissions by 2030, based on 2005 levels.  “Trudeau pledges to slash greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2030”  from the CBC summarizes the statement and includes a video of Trudeau’s announcement; the PMO press release is here .  CBC also offers a lengthly analysis in Canada’s past climate promises have been a flop. Could that change at this summit? .

Canada’s new target of 40 to 45% – although an improvement from the 36% below 2005 levels mentioned in the April 19th federal budget – will disappoint many, and still falls short of the 60% emissions reduction called for in Towards Canada’s Fair Share,  a new report endorsed by seven of Canada’s leading environmental advocacy groups.  The report forecasts the path forward, based on modelling by EnviroEconomics and Navius, and  was endorsed by Climate Action Network Canada, Conservation Council of New Brunswick, Ecology Action Centre, Environmental Defence, Equiterre, Stand,and West Coast Environmental Law.    

The Summit continues for two days. The U.S. State Department offers live coverage of the event here, and there will be plenty of global media attention to this high-profile event. The Guardian is reporting closely – for example, with an overview in “US 2030 goals will take world closer to holding global heating below 2C” . In Canada, in addition to the CBC coverage, Canada’s National Observer is a member of the global Climate Desk collaborative and will no doubt be reporting and analysing Canadian developments.

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.”

Methane emissions in Canada- Alberta, B.C. and Saskatchewan finalize equivalency agreements despite new evidence of under-reporting

On November 5, Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change issued a press release announcing that the federal government has finalized equivalency agreements for methane regulations from the oil and gas industry with Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan, for the next five years. “These equivalency agreements represent a flexible approach that enables provinces and territories to design methane regulations that best suit their respective jurisdictions while meeting equivalent emissions-reduction outcomes to the federal regulations.” These equivalency agreements have been in the works for months, during which time  Environmental Defense Canada, the David Suzuki Foundation, and other groups  have lobbied for regulations to be tightened and for the reporting procedures to be improved.

These same groups were critical of the federal Emissions Reduction Fund, announced on October 29, to reduce methane and GHG emissions.  This $750-million  fund will provide “primarily repayable funding” to eligible onshore and offshore oil and gas firms to encourage them to invest in greener technologies. Details are at the government portal for the Emissions Reduction Fund . The Pembina Institute endorsed the Fund on the grounds that it could reduce emissions while improving health and creating jobs. More critical comments from Environmental Defense Canada are included in the Toronto Star report, “Justin Trudeau offers $750 million to oil and gas companies to slash methane emissions, but critics warn it isn’t enough” (Oct. 29).   

Updated: Scientific evidence shows under-reporting of methane emissions worse than thought

An interview with Dale Marshall, National Climate Program Manager at Environmental Defence Canada, appeared in The Energy Mix on November 16. Marshall criticizes the Equivalency Agreements, especially in light of a new article just published in Environmental Science and Technology , the scientific journal of the American Chemical Society.  “Eight-Year Estimates of Methane Emissions from Oil and Gas Operations in Western Canada Are Nearly Twice Those Reported in Inventories” was written by Canadian government scientists, and provides damning evidence of the problem of under-reporting . The scientific article was summarized in lay terms in the National Observer on November 12.

Canada set its regulations for methane emissions from the oil and gas industry in 2018, targeting a reduction by 40% to 45% below 2012 levels by 2025. It appears that Canada will miss its target, with modelling showing the reduction likely to be closer to 30%. The Pembina Institute has published fact sheets on methane regulations, and the International Energy Agency posted an overview of Canada’s methane emissions regulations and levels in February 2020 here .  The dangers of methane and the problem of underreporting fugitive emissions have been summarized in a January 2020 report from the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE), Fractures in the Bridge: Unconventional (Fracked) Natural Gas, Climate Change and Human Health.  

UK researchers call for absolute zero reduction policy, greening of the steel industry

absolute zeroAbsolute Zero , released by the University of Cambridge in November 2019,  warns that the U.K. will not reach zero emissions by 2050 without significant changes to policies, industrial processes and individual lifestyle choices – including closing all airports in the UK by mid-century.  (Perhaps the impact of this report can be seen in  the U.K. court ruling on February 27 that Heathrow airport’s third runway is a legal violation of the country’s climate change commitment under the Paris Agreement.)  Although Absolute Zero  was released in November 2019,  it was debated in the British House of Lords on February 6 , and was the subject of a Research Briefing by the House of Lords Library in support of that debate.

The prestige of the authors also may have contributed to the impact of its ideas. They are members of UK Fires (UK Future Industrial Resource Efficiency Strategy), a research  collaboration between the universities of Cambridge, Oxford, Nottingham, Bath and Imperial College London, and funded by the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.  They contend that the UK should aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to absolute zero, rather than the “net zero” target specified in the Climate Change Act 2008 , and by the U.K. Committee on Climate Change in its report, Net Zero – The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming (May 2019) and its 2019 Report to Parliament of the  U.K. Committee on Climate Change (July 2019) .

Absolute Zero  also parts company with the Committee on Climate Change in its view that emerging technologies will not be scalable in time to meet emissions targets by 2050.  It builds its analysis on “today’s technologies”,  striking an optimistic tone while calling for fundamental changes in individual behaviour, government policy, and industrial processes. Some excerpts ….

“We need to switch to using electricity as our only form of energy and if we continue today’s impressive rates of growth in non-emitting generation, we’ll only have to cut our use of energy to 60% of today’s levels….

“The two big challenges we face with an all electric future are flying and shipping. Although there are lots of new ideas about electric planes, they won’t be operating at commercial scales within 30 years, so zero emissions means that for some period, we’ll all stop using aeroplanes. Shipping is more challenging: although there are a few military ships run by nuclear reactors, we currently don’t have any large electric merchant ships, but we depend strongly on shipping for imported food and goods….

“Absolute Zero creates a driver for tremendous growth in industries related to electrification, from material supply, through generation and storage to end-use. The fossil fuel, cement, shipping and aviation industries face rapid contraction, while construction and many manufacturing sectors can continue at today’s scales, with appropriate transformations……

“Committing to zero emissions creates tremendous opportunities: there will be huge growth in the use and conversion of electricity for travel, warmth and in industry; growth in new zero emissions diets; growth in materials production, manufacturing and construction compatible with zero emissions; growth in leisure and domestic travel; growth in businesses that help us to use energy efficiently and to conserve the value in materials…..

“Protest is no longer enough – we must together discuss the way we want the solution to develop; the government needs to treat this as a delivery challenge – just like we did with the London Olympics, ontime and on-budget; the emitting businesses that must close cannot be allowed to delay action, but meanwhile the authors of this report are funded by the government to work across industry to support the transition to growth compatible with zero emissions.”

steel-arising-cover-01_1-1The UK Fires collaboration officially launched in October 2019. It is building on previous  related research,  including the April 2019 report  Steel Arising  which it highlights on the UK Fires website.  Steel Arising   envisions greening of the UK steelmaking industry  by “moving away from primary production towards recycled steel made with sustainable power.”  It states: “Not only will this create long-term green jobs, it will lead to world-leading exportable skills and technologies and allow us to transform the highly valuable scrap that we currently export at low value, but should be nurturing as a strategic asset. With today’s grid we can do this with less than half the emissions of making steel with iron ore and with more renewable power in future this could drop much further.”