Climate plan good, but target falls far short

How does Canada's climate plan line up with CPJ's recommendations?

Canadian First Ministers Climate plan

Prime Minister Trudeau has announced that Canada will indeed respond to the greatest ecological and moral challenge of our time. In a joint press release with provincial and territorial premiers and Indigenous leaders, Trudeau presented the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change.

CPJ is encouraged by the range of emissions-reduction measures contained in the new national climate plan. And, we are committed to working to bring Canada’s plan in line with the spirit and the letter of the Paris Agreement. 

As part of Canada’s climate change consultations, CPJ called for a Canadian climate plan that establishes a new emissions reduction target based on scientific estimates of the global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions budget, and contributes equitably towards the 1.5°C limit on global warming aspired to in the Paris Agreement.

To achieve this target, CPJ urged the implementation of clear, quantifiable, time-bound measures to:

  1. reduce GHG emissions;

  2. develop a low-carbon economy; and

  3. provide justice for those most directly impacted by climate change.

The new climate plan is the result of these consultations. It helpfully outlines the suite of policies through which the federal government, in collaboration with the provinces and territories, will move towards the target of reducing GHG emissions 30% below 2005 levels by 2030.

Sadly, the target upon which this climate plan is built is out of step with the intent of the Paris Agreement. It falls far short of meaningfully contributing to limiting temperature rise to 1.5°-2°C. 

How do the measures identified in Canada’s new climate plan compare against CPJ's recommendations?

CPJ: Set a responsible GHG emissions reduction target based in science and aligned with the Paris Agreement

The government’s climate plan is based on the pre-Paris target of reducing GHG emissions 30% below 2005 levels by 2030 (to 524 megatons-Mt of CO₂e emissions annually by 2030, compared to 732 Mt of CO₂e emissions in 2014). The measures identified are indeed consistent with this target, but the announcement says nothing about increasing Canada's inadequate emissions-reduction target. 

Estimates of a "fair share" contribution to limiting global temperature rise vary based on assumptions about proportion of global emissions, proportion of global population, and historical emissions. At a minimum, however, Canada should align with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recommended reductions of 25-40 per cent below 1990 by 2020. Canada's current target translates to only about 14% below 1990 by 2030. 

CPJ: Put a price on carbon pollution of at least $30/tonne that increases to at least $160 by 2030

The federal government’s plan affirms their intent to introduce a national price on carbon in 2018 – set initially at $10 per tonne, and scheduled to rise $10 per year to reach $50 per tonne in 2022. Significantly, every province and territory (with the exception of Saskatchewan and Manitoba) signed on to this agreement, indicating a firm acknowledgement of the important role of carbon pricing. But at $10 per tonne, a price on carbon does very little to impact GHG emissions; even at $50, significant emissions reductions are only just beginning to be achieved.

Of particular note in the carbon pricing benchmark is the inclusion of the principle of “revenue recycling” intended to “avoid a disproportionate burden on vulnerable groups and Indigenous Peoples”. (Framework, p.8) This is consistent with CPJ’s recommendation of equitability in the carbon pricing mechanism.

Also, the federal government has committed to working with territorial governments and Indigenous peoples to “address their unique circumstances, including high costs of living and of energy, challenges with food security, and emerging economies.” (Framework, p.8) This meets CPJ’s call for the plan to be justice-based and responsive to the needs of more vulnerable populations in Canada.

CPJ: Regulate carbon-intensive sectors, including the entire oil and gas sector and transportation sector. 

Government plans related to regulation were presented in the category of “complementary measures to reduce emissions.” As a starting point, the breakdown of Canadian emission sources was identified. Here, it was interesting to note that the oil and gas sector (which is the single largest source of emissions) was tucked into the broader category of “industry,” thereby downplaying the sector’s critical importance to the challenge of addressing climate change.    

Still, oil and gas were discussed. This was done most prominently by way of celebrating Alberta’s legislated absolute cap of 100 Mt a year on emissions from the oil sands sector – which in fact allows these emissions to continue to grow. (In 2014, oil sands emitted 68 Mt).

Recent announcements related to regulation of several other key sectors were, however, reiterated in the government’s joint climate plan. These included commitments to:

  • Phase out coal-fired electricity by 2030 and transition electricity production to 90% non-emitting sources.
  • Apply performance standards for natural gas-fired electricity generation.
  • Facilitate, invest in, and increase the use of clean electricity across Canada.
  • Reduce methane emissions by 40-45 per cent by 2025.
  • Regulate the phase down of use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).
  • Develop a clean fuel standard to reduce emissions from fuels used in transportation, buildings, and industry.
  • Implement increasingly stringent standards for emissions from light-duty vehicles, update emissions standards for heavy-duty vehicles, and develop a Canada-wide strategy for zero-emission vehicles by 2018.

Together, these measures represent an important step forward in the reduction Canada’s GHG emissions.

CPJ: Eliminate subsidies to fossil fuel industry by 2020 and redirect funds to support export of Canadian clean technologies

Despite Canada's stated commitment to addressing climate change and repeated commitments to remove subsidies (most recently in September 2016), direct financing of the fossil fuel industry remains firmly in place – for now. These subsidies will, however, be phased out by 2025.

CPJ: Invest in low-carbon technologies, not high-carbon infrastructure 

CPJ: Set strict conditions on new pipeline development based on the principles identified in the Paris Agreement, Canada’s obligations under the UNDRIP, and the long-term economic interests of the country.

While the climate announcement did not speak to the issue of pipelines directly, it did fall on the heels of the federal government’s approval of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline and the Line 3 replacement project. Science suggests that due to associated lifecycle emissions, the climate impact of these two pipelines will be staggering.

So, while this new fossil fuel infrastructure is said to be consistent with Canada’s emissions-reduction target, it is in no way compatible with the principles of the Paris Agreement or government obligations under the UNDRIP. Even the economic case for these pipelines is questionable.

CPJ: Over the next five years, Canada should invest $1.35 billion to further develop renewable energy technologies.

The federal government’s commitment to “double its investments in clean energy research and technology development over five years” (to $165 million) is commendable, as is their innovative approach to renewable fuel generation. Still, it is likely to leave a significant shortfall in terms of job creation, emissions reductions, and enhancing Canada’s international competitiveness.

CPJ: Over the next five years, Canada should invest $1.8 billion to enhance energy efficiency in Canadian homes and businesses.

Energy efficiency is clearly understood as an important element of Canada’s efforts to address climate change. The framework includes ample discussion of improvements to building codes related to both new builds and retrofits, as well as new standards for heating and other equipment. Much of this discussion was couched in the language of “work to develop.” The climate plan did identify $40 million in federal dollars (from Budget 2016) “to integrate climate resilience into building design and codes,” and to “support revised national building codes by 2020.”

This is a start, but a very small one.

CPJ: Over the next five years, Canada should invest $9 billion to improve and expand public transportation.

The level of Investment in public transportation and social infrastructure outlined in the government’s climate plan, however, is worthy of celebration.

“Building on the infrastructure investments outlined in Budget 2016, the federal government has announced an additional $81 billion over 11 years for investments in public transit, social infrastructure, transportation that supports trade, Canada's rural and northern communities, smart cities, and green infrastructure.” This is huge. While the "how" of this funding disbursement will be important, this level of funding will go a long way in addressing structural challenges related to weak public transit systems and inadequate, aging infrastructure.

CPJ: Fund domestic adaptation, especially in Northern, First Nations, Inuit, and coastal communities, to improve the resiliency of Canadian infrastructure

The carbon pricing section of the climate plan commits the federal government to work with territorial governments and Indigenous peoples to “address their unique circumstances, including high costs of living and of energy, challenges with food security, and emerging economies.” Consideration of and supports for Indigenous peoples, northern, coastal, and remote communities was also identified as a priority as it relates electrical systems and clean heating options, climate resilient infrastructure, disaster preparedness, and climate change adaptation.

Again and again, the plan made mention of the particular needs of Indigenous peoples – as well as the tremendous opportunities available for things like “renewable energy microgrids,” “natural infrastructures that reduces disaster risks,” and “adopting and adapting clean technologies.” It was unclear, however, whether any new funding has yet been identified to support this work.

Finally, Canada’s climate plan also includes this powerful statement:

“The federal government also reiterates its commitment to renewed nation-to-nation, government-to-government, and Inuit-to-Crown relationships with First Nations, the Métis Nation and Inuit, based on the recognition of rights, respect, cooperation, and partnership, consistent with the Government of Canada’s support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, including free, prior and informed consent.”

Unfortunately, in light of the recent pipeline decisions which arguably did not respect free prior and informed consent, this statement rouses suspicion rather than instilling confidence.

CPJ: Develop a just transition plan that provides social supports and retraining for those currently employed in carbon-intensive industry

Support for a just transition had the potential to form the centrepiece of Canada’s climate plan. Instead, it received only a single passing mention. Going forward, the government must put a major focus on the tremendous capacity and hugely transferable skills of Canadian workers (particularly those currently or previously employed in the oil and gas sector) in the development of a low-carbon Canadian economy.

CPJ: Increase international climate financing to $4 billion each year by 2020 

The reiteration of Canada’s commitment to deliver $2.65 billion in adaptation funding to the Global South by 2020 was a welcome inclusion, but is inadequate when considered in light of Canada’s long-term emissions and our tremendous wealth as a nation.


Photo credit: Flickr/bcgovphotos