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Dimitri Lascaris says the transfer of Canadian taxpayer money to oil companies in the face of climate emergency casts doubt on the ability of the Liberal government to produce an adequate carbon pricing plan

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SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network, I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Canada’s Environment Minister Catherine McKenna announced that the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will pass legislation to require provinces to require carbon emission via a carbon tax or a cap and trade system. Until now it has been up to the provinces on how to regulate carbon. Here is what Catherine McKenna, Minister of the Environment, had to say: CATHERINE MCKENNA: Our government is committed to having a price on carbon throughout the country. Through the leadership of the provinces we have a price on carbon in jurisdictions across the country where 80% of Canadians live somewhere where there is a price on carbon or will be price on carbon. We want to extend that but it’s been really great to see the leadership of provinces like Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, and British Columbia coming up with different– PERIES: Currently 4 out of Canada’s 10 provinces have such regulations in place. However, in order for Canada to meet its carbon emissions target of reducing greenhouse gases below 30% of the 2005 levels by 2030, all provinces would need to pass carbon emissions regulations. Joining us now to discuss the new carbon regulations is Dimitri Lascaris. Dimitri is a lawyer called to the bar in New York in the state of Ontario, Canada, and he’s on the Real News Network’s board. Thank you so much for joining us Dimitri. DIMITRI LASCARIS: Always a pleasure to speak to you Sharmini. PERIES: So Dimitri, what do you think of the new carbon regulations that Minister McKenna just proposed. LASCARIS: Well this announcement—let’s be clear she hasn’t actually proposed regulations. She has stated a commitment to propose some kind of a carbon price across the country. She noted in those comments that you just played that 80% of Canadians now already live in a jurisdiction where there is some kind of a carbon price. So from a practical perspective, extending that to 100$% is not necessarily dramatic. But I’ll come back to the sort of interesting aspects of her announcement. It’s always important when we talk about climate change to give it some context. And the context is that we’re in a global climate emergency. August was the hottest month on record. It tied July which was the hottest month ever recorded on the planet. Every month since October 2015 has set a new monthly high temperature record. We’re talking about new records. We’re talking not just about slightly beating the old record. We’re talking about smashing in a jaw dropping way, the old record. Both 2014 and 2015 set new records for hottest year on the planet in recorded history and 2016 is on pace to potentially smash the record set in 2015. So by any rational measure we have a global climate emergency. It’s in this context that Catherine McKenna is making this announcement and the first thing that I found very interesting about this Sharmini is that she’s implicitly saying that we can impose a carbon price on provinces whose leaders are not on board. In fact, the person who was most outspoken and criticizing her announcement yesterday was premier Brad Wall, a conservative in the energy de-producing province in Saskatchewan. His government has exacerbated the province’s dependence on the fossil fuel industry and he’s crying foul about this. Very clear that he is saying that he is saying and I think rightly so that the liberals are now telling us that they can basically impose this on us even if our [inaud.] government doesn’t want it. Well when I was in Ottawa last year at something called the climate welcome which was designed to draw attention to the climate crisis for the new liberal government, purely by chance as you recall I ran into Catherine McKenna the new environment minister and her chief of staff Marla Reynolds at the Ottawa airport and I confronted them on the question of whether or not they can meet the targets that had been set by the prior governments and dealing responsibly with the climate crisis by promoting the construction of tar sands pipelines. And as you recall both she and Marla Reynolds said to me, well there’s a real serious question about whether we even have the constitutional authority to impose a climate action plan on provinces not on board. Subsequently we had a leading constitutional lawyer in Canada, Paul Cavalluzzo, on this show and I spoke to him in an interview about whether in fact the Canadian government had the constitutional authority to impose an action plan and he said definitely that it does. As a lawyer I agreed with that analysis. Well here we are a few months later and what is Catherine McKenna telling Canadians? We have the authority to do this even if people like Brad Wall don’t want it. Now putting that aside, the interesting constitutional issue, what does this actually mean? The bottom line is we really don’t know because we don’t know for example what the carbon price is going to be. Very, very critical question. You can oppose a carbon price that is completely inadequate to cause a massive shift away from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Just having some price at all is not a solution. It has to be sufficiently elevated to actually change people’s behavior in a dramatic way. Secondly, as far as I know they haven’t established a timeline for establishing a national carbon price and as I just indicated we’re in a global climate emergency. Time is of the essence. Thirdly this carbon price may be subjected as many often are to exemptions. There may be certain industries that may receive exemptions. Are there going to be? Probably. There will be exemptions. How long will those exemptions be? To what industries will they apply? All of these questions remain unanswered. The other thing that’s really important to understand is that whatever the plan is ultimately going to be, this government has said again yesterday that the climate emission targets, the emission reduction targets that it is going to go forward with are those of the prior government of Steven Harper who was internationally acknowledged to be the leading climate rogue in the developing world. An obstructionist in every sense of the word in dealing with the climate crisis. Those targets which the liberals roundly denounced when they were in opposition have now become their pet project. Those targets are nowhere near sufficient to help us to avoid a global climate catastrophe. The science is telling us we need to have zero emissions by 2050. And they’re talking about reducing by 2030, 2005 initial levels by 30%. It’s just not adequate enough. And when one considers that the prior liberal governments under Jean Chretien and then Paul Martin that under those governments carbon emissions in this country rose relentlessly, one has good reason to doubt that this government is actually truly committed to implementing even those very week emission reductions targets. It’s very hard to believe that they are committed. Not just from the basis of prior liberal history but also because at the same time that they’re saying this out of one side of their mouths they’re talking about the construction of tar sands pipelines. Even though the science is telling us to leave the vast majority of that oil in the ground. They are continuing to pay fossil fuel subsidies in excess of a billion dollars a year even though they committed during the election that they would bring those to an end. In fact, De Smog Canada a great environmental website came out with an analysis or talked about an analysis that was generated by some experts recently that showed that in fact across the country at both the federal [inaud.] level, fossil fuel subsidies are in excess of 3 billion dollars. 3 billion dollars for when one considers the profitability of the oil industry, Imperial Oil made an excess I think of a billion dollars in 2015 for example. And the climate emergency that we now confront. The notion that we are taking tax payer money and transferring it in these circumstances to these extraordinarily wealthy oil companies is an obscenity. It’s an absolute obscenity. And any government that is prepared to continue to funnel tax payer money to these profitable oil companies in the face of a global climate emergency, we have very good reason to doubt whether they’re serious about implementing any kind of a plan that has any hope of dealing with a climate crisis. PERIES: And Dimitri the bare minimum, does this even get the standards that they have to achieve by way of the Paris Climate Agreement? LASCARIS: Not at all no. Not right remotely. There’s an aspirational goal in the climate accord as many of our viewers will know of keeping the temperature to below 1.5 degrees Celsius. The firmer cap although it’s not strictly speaking legally binding is 2 degrees Celsius. There is general consensus in the scientific community that at 2 degrees Celsius we are going to have a catastrophic situation globally. At 1.5 Celsius it’s a very severe situation but it’s not going to be general catastrophe. It’s going to be focused on low lying nations, island nations in particular. Coastal regions. So these are very important targets. The emission reduction target that Harper had in place is probably going to result in, along with other weak targets we’re seeing from other countries around the world, in a global temperature increase of 3 degrees Celsius if not higher. There’s a real question about whether at that level, a temperature increase can we even preserve civilization as we know it? So even if they achieve this target, it is flatly incompatible with the commitment that they have made under the Paris Climate Accord. PERIES: Alright Dimitri. I thank you for joining us today and look forward to further analysis and reports on the environment from you. Thank you. LASCARIS: Thank you Sharmini. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


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Dimitri Lascaris is a lawyer that focuses on human rights and environmental law. He is the former justice critic of the Green Party of Canada and is a former board member of the Real News Network. You can follow him @dimitrilascaris and find more of his work at