The majority of Canadians now say there is an urgent need to address climate change. That is a welcome advance, probably due more to increasingly severe climate disasters than anything scientists or environmentalists are saying – or politicians or corporations are doing. The same poll found only 26% of Canadians think Ottawa has a clear plan to tackle the climate crisis. There are two reasons such skepticism may be justified. First, our record: Canada has not made any progress reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In 2021, they were 13.9% higher than in 1990.
Second, it’s hard to track let alone assess the effectiveness of the avalanche of federal climate policy, legislation, regulations, financing, and tax measures issued since the principal Liberal government legislation. The Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act (GGPPA) became law in 2018 and was ‘strengthened’ with additional policies and fiscal measures in 2020 and 2021. The keystone policy is an annually increasing price on carbon via a fuel charge on consumers that is mostly rebated and by a separate, tailored ‘output based’ pricing system for industry. It is a strategy that deliberately gives priority to economic growth and competitiveness over dealing with the existential crisis of global warming. Carbon prices have been too low to have any major effect on either consumer or industry market behavior. Taking a ‘sin tax’ approach rather than investing in alternate renewable sources of energy just protects the fossil fuel industry unless pricing is really punitive. Think tobacco. In addition, provincial cooperation has often been lacking – at least until 2021 on the fuel charge when the Supreme Court of Canada deemed the legislation constitutional. Industry carbon pricing still is given little more than lip service. And the recent carve-out for heating oil, used primarily in the Atlantic provinces, during inflation, is seen by the public and provincial premiers as unfair. The keystone is in danger of crumbling and taking the Liberal government with it.
In July 2022 the government published a promotional overview of its climate policies to date. SCAN!’s assessment is that these Liberal government policies are a Recipe for Failure. Evidence of their inadequacy is contained in the government’s National Inventory Report this year, in the 2023 report of the Canada Energy Regulator, and in the just released reports by Canada’s Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainability stating that current measures are insufficient to meet Canada’s climate targets.
Will the latest wave of federal climate programs be any more successful? This is a brief overview and assessment of recent or pending major proposals: 1) Canada’s 2030 Emissions Reduction Plan, 2) Clean Electricity Regulations, 3) National Adaptation Strategy, 4) National Biodiversity Strategy, 5) the Canadian Sustainable Jobs Act, 6) Cap and Cut Oil and Gas Industry GHG Emissions, 7) Canada’s Methane Strategy, and 8) Some specific measures that have some potential to mitigate emissions and help us adapt to climate change.
- In June, 2022, a framework policy arrived as Canada’s 2030 Emissions Reduction Plan. It summarizes Canadian GHG emissions by sector and stipulates the fair share of reductions required from each to achieve Canada’s 2030 emissions target of 40 to 45% reductions from 2005 levels by 2030. A plan to have a plan or a repackaging of mostly existing programs as a ‘strategy’ is a key feature of this and much of the main legislative, regulatory, and fiscal policies that have followed.
- Clean Electricity Regulations (CERs) These have been in the making for over a year and are critical as more of our energy use becomes electrified. They won’t be finalized for another year and aren’t slated to take effect until 2035! While they impose quite a stringent limit on GHG emissions from carbon emitting sources of electric power, mostly natural gas, they contain a loophole for plants commissioned prior to 2025 to operate unabated for a period of 20 years – if in 2025, then until 2045! Permitting that gas plant lifespan defeats the purpose of the regulations. Nor are earlier incremental cuts required – critical to holding global temperatures below 2 and preferably 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels according to scientific consensus and the Paris Agreement. SCAN’s brief on the proposed regulations has just been posted on our website.
One negative consequence: The Ford government in Ontario is racing to bring another 1500 MW of natural gas fired electricity online by 2025. That would increase Ontario’s GHG emissions by 700% by 2043, reversing over half the reductions achieved by ending coal-fired power. The policy timeline also encourages natural gas power producers to think there is time for Carbon Capture and Storage technologies to be improved to abate their GHG emissions effectively – a very expensive, technological ‘carbon management strategy’ that is a fantasy according to many scientists and environmentalists. The regulations also induce more nuclear power production from large and small modular facilities. Nuclear is the most expensive source of non-carbon emitting electric power, takes years to build, and adds to unresolved nuclear waste, worker and public safety, and weapons proliferation problems. The federal government (and Ontario), are incentivizing the nuclear option with large cash inducements – money that would be better spent on much cheaper, faster to build, equally reliable renewable sources of energy – wind, solar, storage, geothermal, and more Quebec hydropower.
- Last December, the federal government produced a National Adaptation Strategy (NAS) after another long consultation with vested interests followed by one with the public to which SCAN! contributed. It’s another plan to have a plan, one that still doesn’t adequately include the environmentally disadvantaged, from racialized communities to the poor, including many seniors. Almost all the 619 deaths during BC’s 2021 heat dome were low-income seniors.
- After co-hosting the UN Conference of the Parties (COP) on Biodiversity in Montreal last December, this June Canada updated its National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan. Several commitments were made – most notably to conserve and protect 30% of Canada’s land and marine waters by 2030. The policy basics are sound, but as usual, the money committed is less than what is needed at home or for Canada’s fair share to assist less advantaged countries. And there is lack of follow-through. Ask First Nations trying to have their Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area (IPCA) declarations recognized or secure financial assistance for leadership, training, and facilities. Canada’s officially conserved and protected land and marine areas remain below 15%.
- This summer also saw the Canadian Sustainable Jobs Act passed – or as some now call it, the Act that dares not name a Just Transition from our fossil fuel economy or define sustainable jobs – well paid, low carbon jobs with security and equity, tied explicitly to Canada’s emissions reductions goals. From initial grand ambitions, the Act produced little more than a skills training program common to any Department of Labour/Employment.
- Also in the works for over a year is a federal policy to cap and cut GHG emissions from the oil and gas industry. Initial consultations, private and public, on a federal proposal for either one of two market pricing mechanisms specific to the industry were held a year ago. SCAN! submitted an assessment and recommendations. Now a deadline for release has been set – before the end of this year. The political war with the industry and fossil fuel producing provinces has intensified in tandem, with creative ideas for constitutional missiles headlining the news. It’s impossible to know whether this regulatory policy will languish in the judicial system for several, ever warmer, disastrous climate impact years. That prospect has just increased with the Supreme Court of Canada majority ruling on October 13 that sections of the 2019 federal Impact Assessment Act (IAA) applicable to resource and infrastructure projects are unconstitutional and must be amended.
- A policy that could effectively reduce emissions is Canada’s 2022 Methane Strategy that is linked to the COP 26 Global Methane Pledge but more ambitious – a cut of 75%, not 30%, by 2030 – hopefully anchored by better emissions measurement and accountability than used now. Supposedly close to being finalized, it will incentivize simple, quick fixes to natural gas flaring and leaks in wells, pumps and pipelines with cheap, off-the-shelf technologies.
- Methane is a powerful short-term heat trapping GHG, so that supply side policy along with demand side programs instituted over the last five years could be Canada’s best hope for some progress toward our emissions reduction and adaptation climate and environmental targets. Some of the more important regulatory and financial, including tax relief and credit programs, that reduce demand for fossil fuels are:
- Investment in a stronger, more resilient national electrical grid, in low carbon public transportation, from subways and electrified rapid transit lines and buses to regulations that mandate specific percentages of sales of private and public fleet vehicles, light and heavy, to be Zero Emissions Vehicles (ZEVs) by target dates.
- the 2022 Green Buildings Strategy, including building code regulations, grants, loans, and tax relief to individuals, municipalities, businesses and first nations for both new construction and retrofits, including electric rather than fossil fuel heating and cooling, such as heat pumps.
- These programs, especially if accompanied by more, much more, than occasional, one-off support for renewable energy projects, could significantly reduce GHG emissions if they were financed at more than a quarter of the level required.
- Our federal constitution compounded by political differences, means that provincial and territorial collaboration is a chronic source of political and economic offsetting that delays or nullifies programs.
- Lack of adequate, independent, measurement and accounting as with methane or wildfire carbonimpairs implementation and accountability.
- Then there is the formulation and administration of these programs. Both are often heavily entrusted, in the name of experience or efficiency, to large multinational corporations (MNCs), rather than being based on independent science and expertise and using local communities, businesses or special purpose crown corporations. Enbridge Gas, one of the world’s largest natural gas companies, has been contracted to administer the Canada Greener Homes Grant in Ontario, for example. MNCs have vested interests that partly if not wholly, but very efficiently, subvert the emissions reductions goals of the federal government in favour of a return on their own business investment.
Conclusion: Skepticism that Canada has ‘a clear plan’ that will address climate change is therefore justified. However, even some programs that make a difference are better than none, which is what is on offer from the opposition. And that raises another common view – that Canada is spending enough to address climate change, indeed more than we can afford given the current cost of living. I will consider whether that is warranted in a subsequent blog titled “Spend What it Takes!”, to borrow a phrase from Seth Klein’s A Good War.
Gail Greer is a Sociologist, former personal investment manager, a member of SCAN!’s Education and Campaign and Platform Committees, and a member of OCEC Connections editorial board.