Elizabeth May is the member of Parliament for Saanich-Gulf Islands in B.C. and parliamentary leader of the Green Party of Canada
What if the federal Liberals finally begin to walk their talk, and pull out all the stops to meet the climate target developed when Stephen Harper was prime minister? A target negotiated by the late Jim Prentice, then- federal environment minister? A target agreed to by a cabinet that included Jason Kenney?
The 2009 Copenhagen climate conference (COP15) is remembered as a failure and for good reason. The goals of the so-called Copenhagen Accord were recognized immediately as far too weak to avoid climate disaster. But they are goals that the Conservatives can hardly reject or attack. They are the Conservative Party’s goals of 2009. All the key Canadian political players in Copenhagen were from Alberta. We could rename the Copenhagen target the Alberta target.
Under that commitment, our goal for this year is to have cut greenhouse gas emissions 17 per cent below 2005 levels. As reported by the former commissioner for environment and sustainable development Julie Gelfand in October, 2017, Environment Canada had no plans to meet the Copenhagen target. The government is no longer even tracking it.
In 2020, if we had been working toward the Alberta target for Canada, our emissions would be 607 megatonnes (Mt) of carbon dioxide. In 2017, the last year for which we have data, we were at 716 Mt.
Ten years ago, Mr. Prentice reinforced the importance of national unity in sticking to climate targets. “We need certainly to have everyone working together,” he said. “Some of the provinces chose to be critical of Canada internationally. I don’t agree with that. I don’t think it was a responsible thing to do. That being as it is, we will carry on. We will work together.”
In fact, nearly every province in Canada has cut emissions consistent with the Copenhagen goal. It is only due to increased emissions in Alberta and Saskatchewan that Canada is not on course to meet the cuts promised by the Alberta team in Copenhagen. In fact, as other provinces contracted their emissions, growth in emissions from Saskatchewan and Alberta since 2009 now make those provinces responsible for half of all Canadian fossil fuel pollution.
To cut more than 100 Mt in one year is daunting. It would focus the mind on the difficult choices that must be made. We would have to reject natural gas from fracked sources as a replacement for coal and leapfrog directly to renewable energy sources. Banning fracking would help nationally, while boosting investment in geothermal, wind, solar and district energy would keep economic activity strong.
Major infrastructure investments would be needed to enhance our electricity grid to make wheeling renewable electricity across provincial borders efficient. The need for a Just Transition Act, as promised by the Liberals in the election campaign, would move up the agenda. It would be very obvious that we cannot approve any new fossil fuel projects – anywhere in Canada. Even with dramatic action domestically, we would likely need to invest in non-fossil fuel projects in developing countries, using existing rules in bilateral trades. Even with best efforts, achieving the cuts promised for 2020 may well be beyond our reach, but it would start communicating the message of the kinds of changes that are required.
To the predictable howls of protest, we would be able to remind Mr. Kenney that he approved this target – negotiated personally by Mr. Prentice and Mr. Harper.
Politicians of various partisan stripes adopt the same transparent pattern. Pick a target beyond your likely political reach and leave it for the next group of political leaders. Just as Mr. Harper did, they will then set the next target a further decade out. (The Trudeau Liberals broke this pattern by keeping Mr. Harper’s 2030 target, thus assuring that Canada stays in the race to last place among industrialized countries.)
The start of the new decade would be a good time to accept that we have a target, a national commitment, negotiated by a different government in Copenhagen in 2009. In Madrid last month at COP25, developing countries demanded accountability from the larger, richer industrialized countries for their failed pre-Paris targets. Canada could meet that challenge of accountability and help set the stage for the required action before 2030.
The buck stops in 2020. Let’s start taking the Alberta target seriously.
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