Ecojustice Blog – Climate change Posted on October 24, 2016 (updated: March 29, 2017)

Feds need to ‘walk the talk’ on climate change

Dyna TuytelLawyer
Aaron WardLawyer
Less hot air more action by Nomad Tales via Flickr
Photo by Nomad Tales via Flickr

This International Day of Climate Action (Oct. 24), people across Canada and around the world are calling for responses to climate change that are commensurate with the scale and the urgency of this global threat.

The current federal government swept into office with a majority and a strong mandate to do things differently, and has made all kinds of bold promises to take action on climate change. Within a few weeks of being sworn into office, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna, among others, made prominent appearances at the Paris climate talks.  There, Canada was lauded for its leadership in pushing for more ambitious climate goals.

One year and five days after it was elected, the federal government is sending mixed signals on climate change to Canadians.

On October 5, the House of Commons voted to ratify the Paris Agreement, which includes a commitment to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius, and a goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees. Two days earlier, the federal government announced it will require the provinces to adopt a carbon pricing scheme by 2018.

Here’s how it works: Each province’s scheme must meet the federal “floor price” of $10 a tonne in 2018, increasing $10 each year to $50 a tonne by 2022. If the provinces opt for cap-and-trade systems, they must decrease emissions in line with Canada’s target and the expected reductions in provinces with pricing systems.

While a step in the right direction, the pricing scheme alone will be insufficient to achieve the carbon emission reductions necessary for Canada to meet its Paris commitments.  It is based on the previous government’s weak target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 — a target Prime Minster Trudeau and Minister McKenna have previously described as the bare minimum.

The Premier of Alberta appears to be using the national carbon price as a bargaining chip, saying that the plan “has to be concurrent with a pipeline” to move Alberta oil to the east or west coast for the province to support it. In other words, Alberta will only get on board if the federal government approves one of two major pipeline projects currently under consideration: Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain project or TransCanada’s Energy East project. The former is awaiting a Cabinet decision to approve or reject it in December. The latter has yet to even complete a National Energy Board review and environmental assessment or a greenhouse gas emissions review by Environment and Climate Change Canada

For its part, the federal government continues to talk about “getting our resources to market” or to “tidewater”, suggesting that Cabinet will approve at least one of the two proposed pipelines. These comments are feeding speculation that Cabinet will approve Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline in December.

Where does that leave us? The reality is that implementing carbon pricing is not a silver bullet solution, nor does it absolve us of the global imperative to keep fossil fuels in the ground.  The science is clear: We simply cannot continue to extract, transport, and ultimately, burn fossil fuels if we are to prevent the catastrophic impacts of climate change from displacing millions of people, threatening entire ecosystems, and compromising our quality of life.  But so far, this government’s approach to major fossil fuel projects amounts to business as usual.

Days before it announced its carbon pricing scheme and ratified the Paris Agreement, the federal government approved the Pacific NorthWest LNG project.  At the time, Minister McKenna said all projects “must fit with Canada’s plan to meet our international climate obligations”.

This, of course, makes the government’s approval of the project all the more perplexing. In its final report, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency concluded that the project would produce “significant adverse environmental effects”.  The facility, where natural gas would be liquefied and loaded for overseas export, is expected to emit some five million tonnes of carbon each year.  This figure does not take into account the project’s upstream and downstream emissions.  If built, it will be one of the highest-emitting projects in the country and will prevent B.C. from meeting its 2050 emissions target.

The Pacific NorthWest approval laid bare the extent to which the Trudeau government’s actions have failed to match its rhetoric and undermined its own policy.

The federal government swept into power promising climate action, but it continues to employ the same old thinking — approving the same old projects and supporting the same old Harper-era emissions targets. At least the previous government’s (in)action on climate change was consistent with its stated intention to do next to nothing.

If this government wants to be taken seriously on this incredibly important issue, one that may well define this generation, and not be seen simply as smooth talkers, it needs to start ‘walking the talk’. Deeds, not words carry the day, and there’s no time for delay.

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