Canada’s New Climate Plan Inadequate For Meeting Commitments Under Paris Agreement
In response to Trudeau’s recent announcement, Greenpeace researcher Keith Stewart says Canada will have to decide whether it will go all-in on clean energy or continue to promote the growth of its oil and gas industries – because it can’t do both
DIMITRI LASCARIS: This is Dimitri Lascaris for The Real News. On December 9, Canada’s Federal Government announced that it had reached an agreement on a national climate plan with the governments of most, but not all, of Canada’s provinces. Both the Federal Government and the mainstream media hailed this accord as historic. Let’s listen to what Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, had to say about this accord in Canada’s Parliament last week.
JUSTIN TRUDEAU: Provinces and territories will have a choice in how they implement this pricing. They can put a direct price on carbon pollution, or they can adopt a cap-and-trade system with the expectation that it be stringent enough to meet or exceed the federal benchmark.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: Now here to discuss Canada’s new national climate accord is Keith Stewart. Keith is the head of Greenpeace Canada’s climate and energy campaign, as well as a part-time faculty member at the University of Toronto, where he teaches a course on energy policy and the environment. He has worked as an energy policy analyst and advocate for the last 15 years, including on successful campaigns to phase out coal-fired power, and enact a green energy act in Toronto. Keith, thank you for joining us.
KEITH STEWART: Thanks for having me on.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: So, Keith, let’s start with the main elements of this much-vaunted plan. What are they? And how do they interact with the overall objectives of the Paris Climate Accord that Canada entered into late last year?
KEITH STEWART: So, Trudeau went to Paris last year and made some promises on climate change in terms of very specific reductions for Canada — getting the greenhouse gas emissions to 30% below 2005 levels by 2030 — but also making sure that Canada would be part of a global effort to keep warming as far below 2 degrees as possible. Now, then he came back and he’s now got to work with the provinces. And the Federal Government is currently playing some catch-up. I mean, for 10 years, the Federal Government was missing in action on climate change. We had a bunch of provinces that moved ahead on their own. The four largest provinces have all introduced their own form of carbon pricing. And so, for the last year, the Feds have been talking to the provinces, trying to develop a joint strategy, and what we have now is this “National Climate Framework” they’re calling it. And it’s really got three big components: one is carbon pricing, which is what we heard that clip about; the second is other regulations to help drive down emissions; and then third is what we tend to call climate change adaptation — preparing our communities to deal with the warming that can’t be stopped at this point, the bigger storms, the droughts, the stronger wildfires, these types of things.
So, on carbon pricing, the Federal Government is trying to piece together a national strategy when most provinces have already have their own system or are implementing it. Nine of the 10 provinces have said, “Yes. We’re going to do carbon pricing or we already have carbon pricing, but of various different types.” Saskatchewan right now is the lone holdout on carbon pricing. So, the Federal Government has basically said, “Well, we’re going to bring in sort of a floor price — a basic system that everyone’s going to have to match starting in 2018 and that’s going to increase over time.”
The other big component is these regulations. And, again, many provinces already have regulations. Ontario shut down its coal plant. Alberta has said they will shut down there. So, those are big sources of pollution. And the Federal Government is basically promising if you make new policies, one is the low-carbon fuel standard, the details to be worked out next year. We don’t really know what that’s going to look like. They want to have a national phase-out of coal-powered power plants by 2030 — and they’re negotiating with the provinces over that. And then they’re going to be doing some stuff on energy efficiency and trying to make buildings more efficient, eventually getting them to net zero energy, where they’re producing as much energy as they’re using.
So, those are the rough outlines of the plan, and a lot of the details are still to be worked out. But this is the first time we’ve actually had the entire country – almost — agreeing that we’re going to achieve this particular target, and then developing concrete plans to get there. We just aren’t there yet. There’s much more that needs to be done. And even once we get to that initial target, that’s not in line with that sort the second part of the commitment to keeping warming below 2 degrees. So, Canada’s ultimately going to have to do more.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: So, when you’re talking about the initial target or the overall target, am I correct in understanding that you’re referring to Canada’s commitment under the Paris Climate Accord to reduce its — I believe its emissions by 30% from 2005 levels by 2030. Is that the overall commitment that was made by the government under the Paris Climate Accord?
KEITH STEWART: Well, we actually agreed to two things. Every country came forward with their own commitment to reduction, and they sort of, you know, everyone got to pick what that was. They got there, you add them up — they said each country comes with its own national commitment, and then they agreed globally we wanted to keep warming as far below 2 degrees as possible, aiming for 1.5. When you add up all the national commitments, we actually get about 3 degrees of warming or more.
So, all the countries agreed, “Okay, we’re going to do at least as much as we came to Paris with our commitment, and we’ve agreed that we’re going to review that every five years with an eye to raising it, to sort of making it tougher, so that we can actually collectively achieve that target.” So, it’s this weird kind of thing, where we’ve kind of made an initial target, but acknowledged that we’re going to ultimately have to do more than that.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: And the initial target along with the other targets that the other signatories to the Paris Acord have agreed to, for the time being, will see global warming well in excess of 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels. Right?
KEITH STEWART: Yeah. So right now we’re looking at about probably 3.5 degrees, which the scientists say is really dangerous, which is why Canada and other countries agreed to try to do more. And sort of are still… they’ll be ongoing negations on how much more.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: Let’s put aside the question then — I mean, clearly these targets will need to be improved if we’re going to meet the promise of the Paris Accord. Let’s put aside the question of the adequacy of the emission reduction targets. And let’s just deal with the commitment that Canada has made. This Climate Action Plan, which starts at a base of $10 per tonne and then increases over time, is it the view of Greenpeace that this will be adequate, or is likely to be adequate for Canada to achieve its current emission reduction commitment under the Paris Accord?
KEITH STEWART: No. And it’s not just Greenpeace. Even the Federal Government acknowledges that this isn’t nearly enough. And when you look at the people who do the economic modeling, you actually — so we’re going to start at $10 a tonne, it’s going to rise to $30 a tonne by 2020, and then they’re going to review and maybe take it to $50 a tonne by 2022. The modelers say if you’re going to get the reductions we need for that 30% just from carbon pricing that the price is going to have to go up to close to $200 per tonne. So, that’s why you sort of do carbon pricing, but then you also do some other things like saying, “Okay, we’re going to shut down coal plants and replace them with clean energy. We’re going to be doing some other stuff around more efficient vehicles.” Because carbon pricing is an incredibly powerful — it’s a great tool to use for greenhouse gas reductions. But, you know, it’s one tool. It’s kind of like, you know, the screwdriver: you also need, you know, a socket wrench, and, you know, a hammer at various times. And so, there’s other types of policies we’re going to need to achieve that target. Carbon pricing is, you know, a key one; but it’s not the only policy we’re going to need.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: So, essentially, what we have now is an inadequate target and a climate plan that is not sufficient to meet the inadequate target. Is that fair?
KEITH STEWART: Yeah. And, again, if you look at the documents that came out of the meeting on Friday, you know, the Federal Government is acknowledging that they don’t actually… the current policies they have won’t achieve the target. More is going to be required. And they’ll be negotiating with the Provinces over how to sort of strengthen this over time. You know, Greenpeace and other environmental groups, we’re going to keep up the pressure to keep doing more, to go a little bit faster; because of course, you know, we’re dealing with some pretty powerful, entrenched interests.
The oil industry in this country is the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions — more than all the cars, more than all the homes, more than all of the electricity-generating stations. You know, and they keep saying, “Okay, we support… we want to sort of grow our emissions a little bit slower than we have been. We’re willing to do that, but we want to continue to grow.” And when you have the largest single source — just getting oil and gas out of the ground produces over a quarter of greenhouse emissions in Canada — you know, they want to keep growing. It’s very hard to get those big totally reductions when your largest source wants to keep growing. So that’s, I think, going to be the tough question for the government. Are they willing to take on the oil industry? Are they willing to sort of force through some of those reductions or not?
DIMITRI LASCARIS: So, on that point, interestingly, you know, within days of this announcement of a national climate plan, or almost national, the Trudeau government made a couple of other very important announcements that are relevant to the battle against the climate crisis. One of them was that it had approved a liquid natural gas project on the West Coast of Canada, being pursued by the Malaysian oil and gas giant, PETRONAS. And this has been described by the DeSmog Canada as a “giant carbon bomb.” And the other is that it approved — albeit with some conditions — the construction of the Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline by Kinder Morgan. And this is taking tar sands bitumen from Northern Alberta, principally down to the West Coast for export to Asian markets. It strikes me that, you know, those two announcements, together with the climate action plan, this is all sort of self-defeating.
KEITH STEWART: Yes.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: Isn’t the case that construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline — you know, as I’m sure you’re aware, James Hansen, the NASA climate scientist said a few years ago in a New York Times op ed that if we continue, Canada, continues to develop the tar sands, it’s game over for the climate. So how did these two projects — the projects on the West Coast and the Kinder Morgan pipeline — how do these square with the government’s stated commitment under this national climate plan, to achieve an admittedly inadequate reduction in Canadian emissions under the Paris Climate Accord?
KEITH STEWART: Yeah. You’ve hit the nail on the head. This is a real problem here — is that the government wants to continue to expand the oil and gas industry, and cut greenhouse gas emissions, which sort of gives some, you know, put some numbers to this: one of our best modeler guys says that the federal carbon price — so there was the one announced by Trudeau — will reduce emissions by about 18 million tonnes by 2030. When you look at the Environment Canada for the Kinder Morgan pipeline or for that LNG plant — you know, the LNG plant increases emissions by about 12 million tonnes. The Kinder Morgan pipeline enabled upstream expansion in the tar sands, which is probably about 15 million tonnes. So, you know, 15 plus 12 increase, and then an 18 reduction, you’re actually not getting very far; sort of, you know, kind of Alice in Wonderland running faster and faster to stay in the same place. And this is why we think, you know, the government really has to decide: are they all-in on clean energy on sort of getting the jobs that are going to come from that new economy, or are they going to still try to keep growing the oil industry at the same time? Because you really can’t do both.
And I think the thing the government is really ignoring is, if the world actually moves on climate change in the way they agreed to in Paris — and in a way many countries actually already are, if you look, for instance, what’s happening in China — there isn’t going to be a demand for this oil 20 years from now. And the thing about building things like the Kinder Morgan pipeline, is it’s got to run for 50 years to make its money back. And Canada, on the one hand, is saying, “Okay, we agree we have to get off fossil fuels entirely by mid-century, but we’re going to spend billions and billions of dollars to build new infrastructure that’s got to run past that date.” It just doesn’t make a lot of sense.
And I think governments, they often try and say — they want to say yes to everything. But ultimately, they’re going to have to make some choices. And either you’re going to do what it takes to actually achieve these reductions, to be part of that solution to climate change, or are you going to try to do, you know, what’s sometimes called an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy, where you do some things to reduce, some things to increase and you don’t actually change things really in the long run?
DIMITRI LASCARIS: Right. Well, if I understand your math correctly, it’s not so much a case of running real fast to stay in the same place with the federal government. It’s more like one step forward and two steps backward.
KEITH STEWART: Yes. That’s fair.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: In any case, I hope, Keith, we’ll be able to have you back on The Real News in order to continue to follow the efforts — or purported efforts — of the Trudeau government to meet its commitments under the Paris Climate Accord.
KEITH STEWART: Thanks a lot for having me on.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: And this is Dimitri Lascaris for The Real News.