Canadians have seen a litany of climate pledges over the decades, made by federal Liberals and Conservatives alike. Each time, ambitious goals to cut emissions were trotted out. But, despite some big wins – Ontario getting off coal power – rising emissions from the oil and transportation sectors doomed each promise to failure.
The Trudeau Liberals, like others before, have big goals. The latest, sketched out last summer before the election, said Canada would slash climate-heating emissions by 40 per cent in 2030, compared with 2005.
What that translates to is 296 fewer megatonnes of annual emissions – the equivalent of shutting down these four sectors: the oil sands, fossil-fuel electricity, heavy industry and agriculture.
And, by the way, 2030 is eight years away. Not exactly a big cushion of time.
What’s new is that there are policies to spark change in place – starting with Ottawa’s escalating carbon tax. The policies so far aren’t perfect, and probably not enough, but they are still a lot more than before. On Tuesday, the latest ideas landed, and Ottawa detailed how much each sector has to cut to get Canada to its goal.
The oil and gas business got a lot of attention. It emits the most, about a quarter of the total. But transportation emits almost as much. To point in any one direction obscures the difficult reality: Deep cuts in burning the fossil fuels that are rapidly heating the planet will be an economy-wide mission, from how people get around, to an overhaul of all industries.
Will Canada achieve its 2030 goal? Likely not. But will this be the same as all the times before, not only failing but not even coming close? No. This decade is when change starts to happen. With existing policies and more to come, Canada’s emissions trajectory should finally bend downward.
How far, and how fast, is the question. The details will matter.
Carbon tax: It remains the central pillar. In 2030, for gasoline, it means 38 additional cents a litre. The levy applies to an array of fossil fuels, from aviation turbo fuel to propane. The important news on Tuesday was a plan to look at ways to fix in place the higher rates “that help guarantee the price of pollution.” If industries, for example, can’t be assured the rising price will survive a change in government, their incentive to invest in change is badly undermined.
Oil and gas: The forecast sees the sector cutting emissions by 42 per cent from 2019, the last official inventory, which would be 31 per cent below 2005. The latter number falls short of Canada’s economy-wide goal. Even so, this will be difficult. Industry has some easy ways to start, such as reducing methane emissions, but a lot is staked on carbon capture. A big tax credit for that is coming in the April federal budget and, while it is probably necessary, it’s a betrayal of the polluter-pays principle. Industry has long profited from being able to pollute, while taxpayers now foot the bill. This page last month called on industry, with its windfall profits, to do more. The Prime Minister said the same on Tuesday.
Transportation: A lot is staked on getting people to buy more zero-emission vehicles, and soon. Ottawa wants 20 per cent of new passenger vehicles sold in 2026 to be ZEVs, and 60 per cent by 2030. This is like the rest of the package: It’s possible to hit the target, but Canada will likely fall short. Even so, solid progress could be made.
The pandemic: 2019 was the last official emissions count, at 730 MT. The 2020 number arrives in April. On Tuesday, Ottawa said it will be about 669 MT, as emissions fell 8 per cent in the first year of the pandemic. Ottawa also claims emissions didn’t rise in 2021 and won’t this year. Further, the decline from 2019 to 2020 is the biggest reduction of any forecast year in the plan out to 2030. Thank you pandemic?
The Official Opposition: The Conservatives favour an old goal of a 30-per-cent cut by 2030. Opposition to the carbon tax is deeply rooted in the party. The Liberals’ plan may not be good enough, but the Conservatives offer up something much worse.
Bottom line: In 2018, a landmark United Nations climate report laid it down: “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” That’s what is necessary. Canada is warming twice as fast as the global average. The country saw what climate-heating havoc looks like in British Columbia last year, over and over. The Liberal plan is not perfect, but it’s the best we have had so far.
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