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Is the Liberal government doing enough to combat climate change?

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Prime Minister Trudeau announces that the Government of Canada will ban harmful single-use plastics. Image: Adam Scotti/PMO

In the Paris Accord, Canada committed to reducing our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 30 per cent below our 2005 emissions level by 2030. Our current emissions level is 716 mega-tonnes (Mt). Our goal is 513 Mt. If we do nothing, our emissions will grow to 815 Mt by 2030.

The Liberal electoral platform isn't out yet. But the "Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change" is worthy of assessment. Is it good enough?

According to government websites, the framework

"is built on four pillars:

1) carbon pricing;

2) complementary mitigation actions in all sectors of the economy including the built environment);

3) adaptation and resilience; and

4) clean technology, innovation and jobs."

The most measurable of these pillars is carbon pricing. The federal government will impose a revenue-neutral carbon tax on fuel in those provinces and territories that refuse to implement their own price on carbon. Yukon has put in place its own version of a revenue-neutral carbon tax that is similar to the federal one.

This tax on carbon is a form of behaviour modification for consumers and has been shown to work in other jurisdictions. It is projected to reduce our emissions by 85 Mt by 2030. All but 30 per cent of the wealthiest Canadians will receive a rebate under this program. It is not stringent enough, according to the parliamentary budget officer. But it is not a tax grab as some would have you believe.

The clean fuel standard introduced in 2016 regulates the life-cycle of carbon intensity in liquid, solid and gaseous fuels. The regulations become increasingly stringent over time and will require industry to produce increasingly cleaner fuels. Industry can do this a number of ways, such as adding higher percentages of bio-fuels in their mix. According to the Pembina Institute, "by requiring fuel products to incrementally lower emissions intensity by approximately 11 per cent by 2030, the clean fuel standard should result in 30 Mt of GHG emissions reductions by that time (equivalent to taking seven million cars off the road)."

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has promised to cut the clean fuel standard, claiming it "might" cost "some" families an extra $100 a month in gas. Navius Research estimates that the clean fuel standard will increase cost of gas an additional five cents per litre by 2030.This additional cost will not be rebated.

Here is the math. The average Canadian car is driven 15,200 kilometres a year or 1,267 kilometres per month. Yukoners drive longer distances. Half of us drive light trucks averaging 1,650 kilometres a month. A Yukoner driving a 2008 RAV 4 (10.1 litres per 100 kilometres) would pay an extra $8.42 per month in fuel in 2030. If we drove our Prius as much as the average Yukoner, we would pay $3.80 extra a month. A person owning the least fuel-efficient truck, 16 litres per 100 kilometres, would have to drive 12,000 kilometres a month in order to spend an extra $100 a month in 2030.

The government proposes an out-based pricing system "to put a price on carbon pollution for industrial facilities that emit 50,000 tonnes or more per year." It is basically a cap-and-trade system, not that dissimilar from the Conservative proposal which had a lower ceiling.

The remaining three pillars of the pan-Canadian framework cover climate-change mitigation, adaptation and new clean technologies. There are new programs and new regulations:

"The Canadian energy strategy (CES) set the stage for a collaborative approach between federal, provincial and territorial governments toward sustainable energy development. Energy ministers have been tasked to collaborate on specific actions under the CES that contribute to the pan-Canadian framework, in the areas of energy efficiency, energy infrastructure, and energy technology and innovation."

With resistance from recently elected parties in many provinces, it is hard to see how the Canadian energy strategy might work now. However, a number of federal- and territorial-funded clean-energy projects have been announced in the Yukon this year. The federal government has taken flack because of the perception of pork barreling. And it is likely CES announcements were carefully timed for the pre-election period. To put this in perspective, the Harper government budgeted $7.5 million for "Economic Action Plan" ads, widely seen as partisan, just for the few months leading up to the 2015 election. The Liberals have kept their promise to not spend our money on this kind of ad. So at least taxpayers are getting something for their money aside from partisan propaganda.

Here are some collaboratively funded projects in the Yukon relating to climate-change mitigation:

  • Energy retro-fits for community buildings in Teslin as well as a new clean storage facility.
  • An additional bio-mass electric generator for the Teslin Recreation Centre.
  • New transit buses and a new transit hub for Whitehorse.
  • Retro-fits for housing in Kluane First Nation.
  • Canada-Yukon Canadian Agricultural Partnership Funding, much of this going towards sustainability.

The Climate Action Fund, announced in 2018, is providing $3 million a year to support innovation across Canada.

The new national energy code for buildings has increasingly stringent requirements for new energy-efficient homes with a goal of net-zero buildings by 2030. There has been push-back from Conservatives because it will increase the cost of construction. Given that building code regulations are the jurisdiction of provinces and territories, this is posturing on both sides of the argument.

Canada has joined the Powering Past Coal Alliance. The government proposes to phase out coal-fired electric power generation by 2030 through regulations. Included in this proposal is $35 million to retrain coal workers for new jobs in clean technologies.

New incentives to encourage electric vehicles include $130 million over five years to fund charging stations across Canada and a grant up to $5,000 on new electric vehicle purchases.

Although the pan-Canadian framework could reduce emissions by 223 Mt by 2030, it still leaves us 79 Mt short of our Paris Accord goal. And if we continue to subsidize the fossil-fuel industry, will we in fact reach even this level of emission reduction? The government has so far refused to define "inefficient subsidies," a term used to describe fossil-fuel industries to be denied subsidies. The auditor general raised this issue in 2017. The Canadian government is currently subsidizing the fossil-fuel industry to the tune of $1.6 billion.

The new Teck Resources LTD tar sands development proposal has been approved by the Alberta and Canadian energy regulators. It awaits approval by Environment Minister McKenna. It would add an additional 6M t to our GHG emissions.

And now we own the Trans Mountain pipeline. While Minister McKenna insists that the pipeline will allow us to transition away from fossil fuels, Canadians are understandably confused about the Liberals' commitment to combat climate change.

Nevertheless, there are well thought-out programs, strategies and regulations within the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. And the Liberals cannot be held responsible for short-sighted belligerence amongst some provinces.

So, is the glass half full or half empty? Is this the best we can do?

Read Linda Leon's full analysis of climate platforms in the 2019 federal election here.

Yukon is full of artists, thinkers, eccentrics and rabble-rousing political trouble makers. From the windows of her Acting Out Studio, Linda Leon observes the view from North. Every good artist knows that you have to stand far away to get a full perspective.

Linda Leon is not now, nor has she ever been a member of any federal political party.

Image: Adam Scotti/PMO

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