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.

Political will and urgent action required to save our planet, IPCC Report warns

IPCC 2018reportThe world’s climate science experts have spoken in the landmark report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on October 8.  The full title is: Global Warming of 1.5 °C: an IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty . That dry title doesn’t reflect the importance and impact of this report –  the first time that the UN body has modeled the difference between the impacts of the Paris agreement goals of 2°C and 1.5 °C, and an urgent, unanimous challenge by 91 scientists to the policy makers and politicians of the world to act on the solutions outlined in their models .  An IPCC official  quoted in a CBC report strikes the hopeful tone the report tries to achieve: “We have a monumental task in front of us, but it is not impossible… This is our chance to decide what the world is going to look like.”

The official report, commonly called  Global Warming 1.5  runs over 700 pages. The official press release  states:  “The report finds that limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require “rapid and far-reaching” transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities. Global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050. This means that any remaining emissions would need to be balanced by removing CO2 from the air….Limiting warming to 1.5ºC is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics but doing so would require unprecedented changes”.  A 34-page Summary for Policymakers and a 3-page Headline Statements provide official summaries. Climate Home News offers  “37 Things you need to know about 1.5 global warming”  and  The Guardian offers summary and context in  “We must reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero or face more floods”  by Nicholas Stern and “We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, warns UN”  (also republished in The National Observer) .

CAN CANADIANS EXPECT URGENT ACTION? :  A thorough CBC summary of the report appears in “UN Report on global warming carries life- or- death warning” , and the Globe and Mail published “UN Report on Climate Change calls for urgent action to avert catastrophic climate change”    (Oct 8) – yet no official reaction has been released by the federal government of Canada. “Trudeau’s Big Oil-friendly decisions mean climate chaos”  from contrasts the IPCC report with a brief summary of Canada’s recent policy failures. “No change to Canada’s climate plans as UN report warns of losing battle” appeared in the National Observer (Oct. 8).  The National Observer also posted “We challenge every Federal and provincial leader to read the IPCC report and tell us what you plan to do” on October 9, characterizing Canada’s current divisions over a national carbon tax as representative of the world’s dilemma – the failure of political will to act on known scientific facts. Canada also addresses the issue of political will with  an online petition   calling for an emergency debate in the House of Commons on Canada’s plan to limit climate change, in light of the IPCC report.

Opinion Pieces are still being written, including:  “To avoid catastrophic climate change, we need carbon pricing” by Dale Beugin and Chris Ragan of the Ecofiscal Commission in the Globe and Mail  (Oct. 9) which argues that  “The best that economics has to offer is telling us we have a key solution right under our noses. Carbon pricing is now a Nobel Prize-winning idea. ”

On Climate, Our Choice Is Now Catastrophe or Mere Disaster ” by Crawford Kilian in The Tyee  . ….” modern governments and most of their voters are sleepwalking into catastrophe. If anyone or anything can wake them up, we might have a chance. And if we don’t work hard to turn that catastrophe into a mere disaster, we won’t be able to say nobody warned us. ”

“Canada’s carbon-tax plan is collapsing just as the planet runs out of time” in the Washington Post (Oct. 9)…. ” Today, Canadians should take a minute to write to their elected officials provincially and federally and demand that we get the carbon tax done. Every elected official should take a moment to decide how they would like to be remembered. That is, assuming there will be anyone around to remember.”

WELL-INFORMED GLOBAL SUMMARIES :IPCC: Radical Energy Transformation Needed to Avoid 1.5 Degrees Global Warming”   and “Not Just CO2: These Climate Pollutants Also Must Be Cut to Keep Global Warming to 1.5 Degrees”appeared  in Inside Climate News. The World Resources Institute published “8 Things You Need to Know About the IPCC 1.5˚C Report” , accompanied by a  blog and infographic which  explains the consequential difference between 1.5 and 2.0 global warming levels. Climate Action International monitored the discussions leading up to the release of the report: here is their summary and a compilation of global reactions . A compilation of reactions from the academics at Imperial College and the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment (LSE) is here.

A brief Comment was already issued by the policy and communications director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science, which calls the report a “conservative assessment” because it omits discussion of some of the largest risks and their impacts – notably  population displacements, migration and possibly conflict, as well as  potential climate  ‘tipping points’, such as disruption to the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic and shifts in the monsoon in Africa and Asia.

Another key issue: the controversial role of geoengineering, such as carbon capture and storage or “carbon dioxide removal technologies”(CDR) .  “Negative Emissions technologies in the new report on limiting global warming” was posted at Legal Planet (Oct. 8) , pointing out how important geoengineering is in the report’s models. The author argues that ”  …. The text of the relevant chapter is honest about large-scale negative emissions, when it states:  “Most CDR  technologies remain largely unproven to date and raise substantial concerns about adverse side-effects on environmental and social sustainability. ” But the author argues that the message was deliberately watered down  in the executive summaries and in the Summary for Policymakers.

On October 4, just before the release of Global Warming 1.5, 110 organizations and social movements, led by Friends of the Earth International, released their Hands Off Mother Earth! Manifesto, which opposes any geoengineering solutions, including carbon capture and storage.

It’s hard to overestimate the importance of this report, and it will draw more and more discussion as the UNFCCC meetings in Katowice, Poland approach in December 2018.

British Columbia sets new GHG reduction targets, reviews environmental assessment process

Amidst the noise and fury of the B.C.-Alberta feud over the Kinder Morgan TransMountain pipeline,  the province of British Columbia is moving forward with reform of its climate change policies. On April 25, the  B.C. Climate Solutions and Clean Growth Advisory Council released a detailed letter to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy , describing the Council’s principles, supporting much of the government’s current direction, and making recommendations, based on the 2015 recommendations of the province’s Climate Leadership Team. Shortly thereafter, on May 7, a government press release  committed to  a new provincial climate action strategy to be released in autumn 2018, including plans for GHG emission reduction  for buildings and communities, industry and transportation sectors.

With that same press release, the government announced Bill 34, the Climate Change Accountability Act,  which amends the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets Act (2007), repealing the emissions reduction target for 2020 (generally deemed unachievable)  and sets new targets: reduction of GHG’s by 40% from 2007 levels by 2030, 60% by 2040, and 80% by 2050.  Accountability looms large in the responses to Bill 34.  The Pembina Institute  notes the failure of recent GHG emissions reductions, and calls for “a robust accountability mechanism to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself ”. In addition, Pembina notes that any development of emissions-intensive industries, such as liquefied natural gas, would jeopardize the province’s climate progress.

In “Looking for accountability in BC’s Climate Change Accountability Act”,  West Coast Environment Law reviews B.C.’s emissions reduction progress , summarizes responses by other environmental groups to Bill 34, and recommends how the government can incorporate principles of accountability and transparency in its new policies.  Similar concerns are discussed in “A Carbon Budget Framework for BC: Achieving accountability and oversight”  by Marc Lee, in CCPA’s Policy Notes (May 22).

Another policy issue under review in B.C. is environmental assessment, with a 12-member advisory committee appointed in March 2018, a public discussion paper promised for May, and reforms to come in Fall.  The government portal to the “Revitalization” process is here ;  “B.C. Moves Ahead With Review of Controversial Environmental Assessment Process”  (Mar 8) summarizes the situation.   On May 9,  twenty-three environmental, legal, social justice and community organizations released  Achieving Sustainability: A Vision for Next-Generation Environmental Assessment in British Columbia , which calls for an independent environmental assessment body which will involve the public, and require decision-makers to demonstrate that their decisions are based on science and Indigenous knowledge. A summary, with links to more detailed discussion  is provided by West Coast Environmental Law.  Analysis and practical examples are provided by Sarah Cox in  “Time For a Fix: B.C. Looks at Overhaul of Reviews for Mines, Dams and Pipelines”, which  appeared in April in the newly-named newsletter from DeSmog Canada, The Narwhal.

Business think tank calls for Low-carbon policies for Canada

The Conference Board of Canada acknowledged that Canada must institute a carbon tax and decarbonize its electricity system in its September report, The Cost of a Cleaner Future: Examining the Economic Impacts of Reducing GHG Emissions (free, registration required).  The report presents a range of economic scenarios, relying on modelling from the Trottier Energy Futures project, and focusing on three issues:  carbon pricing; eliminating oil and natural gas from electricity generation; and the investment of trillions of dollars in green technology. On the impact of carbon pricing, one scenario assumes a carbon tax of $80 per tonne in 2025, yielding an average annual cost to Canadian household of approximately $2,000, shrinking the economy by only 1.8%, and cutting employment by 0.1%.  The total economic impact is forecast to be small, assuming that carbon tax revenues are reinvested in the economy in the form of corporate and personal income tax cuts and additional public spending on infrastructure. Industries most likely to suffer from reduced competitiveness are chemicals, mining and smelting, and pulp and paper; and  “industries with a domestic focus and sensitivity to price changes, such as residential construction, will be hard hit”.

Negative press coverage of the report appeared in  “Carbon tax to shrink economy by $3 billion, hurt loonie, study warns” in the Financial Post. The Globe and Mail was more optimistic, with “Canada urged to bite the bullet on shift to low carbon economy” and an OpEd “Can Canada remain an energy superpower?”.   In the OpEd , Glenn  Hodgson of the Conference Board recommends public policy support for a low-carbon energy strategy so that Canada can become North America’s most efficient, low-carbon source of oil and gas, while building up the country’s expertise in a range of other energy services, including carbon capture and storage, nuclear, and energy storage technologies. Such an outlook coincides with two other Conference Board publications over the summer: Clean Trade: Global Opportunities in Climate-Friendly Technologies  and Canadian Green Trade and Value Chains: Defining the Opportunities (both free with registration).  These new reports are the product of the new  Low-Carbon Growth Economy Centre at the Conference Board of Canada.

Review of Australia’s Electricity future seeks political compromise; unions see some hints of Just Transition

Flag_of_Australia.svgThe Final Report of the Independent Review into the Future Security of the National Electricity Market  was submitted to the Australian government  by  its Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel, on June 9 – the government press release is here  . Given that Australia currently obtains approximately two-thirds of its electricity from coal-fired generating units, it is controversial territory.  The Finkel Review seeks compromise ground: it doesn’t  recommend a return to Australia’s previous emissions trading scheme , nor a carbon tax – instead,  it recommends a “clean energy target”, where cleaner power generators would get financial rewards relative to the amount of CO2 emitted per megawatt hour.   In “Australia: New climate policy same old politics”, Climate Home states:  A “major review of Australian climate policy has been compromised by the malignant politics that has sent Australia to the back of the international pack”.  Even more critical is  “Alan Finkel’s emissions target breaks Australia’s Paris commitments”     in The Guardian (June 9), which states that the Finkel recommendations would result in emissions levels 28% below 2005 levels by 2030 for the electricity sector – less than needed, and less than called for in a 2016 report by the Climate Change Authority,  Policy options for Australia’s electricity supply sectorThe Guardian also published “Finkel review anticipates lower power prices, but weak electricity emissions target“, with detail of the recommendations and the political response.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) response to the Finkel report is muted, and focused less on the strength of the emission targets and more on the recommendations for an orderly transition of the sector, and a three year notice period before generator withdrawal. From the ACTU press release: “it is immediately clear that the report states the need for an orderly transition that includes workforce preparedness….The report also recommends a three year notice period before generator withdrawal, which would provide some notice for workers and communities.”  The ACTU has previously recommended the establishment of the Energy Transition Authority to navigate the transition to a clean energy economy.