Just How Environmental Are Canada’s Environmental Policies?
Tzeporah Berman, the Executive Director of PowerUp Canada, explains that the Trudeau’s government’s environmental policies are an important improvement over the previous government, but it is far from enough
DIMITRI LASCARIS: This is Dimitri Lascaris for The Real News.
In late 2015, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals defeated the incumbent Conservative Party, led by Stephen Harper, in Canada’s federal election. And during the campaign, Justin Trudeau repeatedly criticized Stephen Harper for obstructing meaningful action to confront the climate crisis.
After taking power, the Trudeau government initially received positive reviews from many in the environmental movement, particularly after it signed on to the Paris Climate Accord, at COP21 in December 2015.
As time has gone by, however, Trudeau has fallen out of favor with many in the environmental movement. His government has approved the construction, or expansion of tar sands pipelines, perhaps the most controversial being the Kinder Morgan Pipeline, which runs from Northern Alberta, where the tar sands operations are situated, to the Vancouver region on the west coast of Canada.
His government also adopted Stephen Harper’s emission reduction targets, which the Trudeau Liberals had criticized as too weak, when they were in opposition. And the Trudeau government has not eliminated fossil fuel subsidies, as it had promised to do during the election campaign.
These and other environmentally questionable policies recently culminated in a scathing op-ed in The Guardian. Authored by Bill McKibben, perhaps one of the world’s best-known environmental activists, the op-ed was entitled, “Stop Swooning Over Justin Trudeau: The Man is a Disaster for the Planet”.
In it, Mr. McKibben argued that Justin Trudeau is, quote, “A stunning hypocrite on climate change.” He also wrote that, although the Trudeau government says all the right things when it comes to climate change, Justin Trudeau is in reality, the brother of Donald Trump, when it comes to global warming.
Now here to discuss all of this with us, is Tzeporah Berman. Tzeporah Berman is a Canadian environmental activist and writer, and has 20 years of experience designing environmental campaigns in Canada, and internationally. She is known for her role as the blockade coordinator for the largest civil disobedience in Canada’s history in 1993.
She currently works as a strategic advisor to a number of First Nations, as well as environmental organizations, and philanthropic foundations on climate and energy issues, including the oil sands, and pipelines.
Last year, she was appointed by the Alberta government to co-chair the Oil Sands Advisory Working Group, tasked with making recommendations to implement climate change, and cumulative impact policies.
Thank you very much for joining us, Tzeporah.
TZEPORAH BERMAN: Thank you for having me.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: We are now almost 18 months beyond the election that put Justin Trudeau’s Liberals in power with a majority government. And of course, with a majority government, Justin Trudeau could adopt sweeping protections for the environment without the support of any opposition MP’s.
Given, however, what we’ve seen from his government thus far, do you think that Bill McKibben is justified in declaring Justin Trudeau to be a disaster for the planet, and a stunning hypocrite on climate change? And if so, why do you think he’s right about that?
TZEPORAH BERMAN: Well, I don’t think that Prime Minister Trudeau is brother to Trump on climate policy. I do think that that is a step too far. Because the fact is that we have made enormous gains in the last 18 months on climate policy in Canada. In fact, we probably have made more gains in the last 18 months on climate policy, than we have in the last ten years in Canada.
The reason I’m saying that, is because the Trudeau government introduced a pan-Canadian climate plan, and that plan includes a national price on carbon. So, a carbon tax across the country, it includes a complete coal phase-out, it includes national clean fuel standards for the auto industry, zero emission building codes, and also methane regulations.
So, in terms of climate policy, it’s impressive climate policy. But where Bill is right, is that it’s not enough. It doesn’t… it certainly doesn’t align us with our ambition of staying well below 2 degrees, and there’s still a big gap –- and you were right in your introduction, where you talked about this being Harper’s targets.
What Canada has started to do, is put in place the building blocks to create climate policy, which we really didn’t have before at all. But the fact is, that we’re trying to align with targets that are incredibly weak, and in fact, we don’t even have a climate plan yet that meets those targets. So, we haven’t done enough.
The other big issue that Bill was right in talking about, is the fact that we’re not, in Canada, aligning our decisions on big energy infrastructure, whether that be pipelines or, for example, huge LNG projects, which the federal government has also approved on the west coast of Canada. These energy projects don’t align with our long-term goals. And so, we’re locking in more oil and gas supply than certainly than the world can manage, and that is inconsistent with our climate policy.
But I think we’re seeing that in pretty much every developed country in the world, and I think that it is not only a problem for Canada, it’s a problem for climate policy writ large. Norway is doing the same thing. So, our climate policy globally is designed around putting in demand-side policies, so that the markets will constrain supply. But it’s not happening quick enough, and as long as we’re going to build out big fossil fuel projects like the Kinder Morgan Pipeline, or Petronas LNG, or even offshore drilling off Norway, or other countries, then we’re going to put too much carbon into the world.
And if we’re trying to constrain fossil fuel expansion, so that we keep two-thirds of the remaining fossil fuels in the ground -– which Bill is right — is going to be necessary to achieve a climate-safe world, then we’re nowhere near that in Canada.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: You talked about carbon. I want to talk to you about, briefly, about a much more powerful greenhouse gas –- methane. In January 2015, President Obama announced a plan to slash methane emissions from the U.S. oil and gas sector, between 40% and 45% over 2012 levels by 2025, and Canada agreed to match that in March 2016, when Prime Minister Trudeau had a state visit to Washington.
But about a month ago, U.S. President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order that delays matching American commitments to methane cuts, and within weeks, the Trudeau government announced that Canada, too, will delay for a period of three years, its own plan to regulate cuts to methane emissions in the oil and gas sector.
And the Trudeau government notably cited President Trump’s change in U.S. policy, as well as the close links between the Canadian and U.S. economies, as the justification for the three-year delay.
Please talk to us about why these methane regulations are important, and also about the Trudeau government’s rationale for delaying their implementation. In particular, do you think Canada should simply mimic, for economic reasons, Trump’s climate policies because of the close links between our two economies?
TZEPORAH BERMAN: Well, let me start there. Because the fact is, that what this moment in history requires is leadership. And one of the problems that we’re seeing is that everyone’s waiting for someone else to act. And weak policies and delays are being argued for, because of this issue of competitiveness. It all comes down to, well, that country gets to do it, then we should be able to get to do it. You know?
If they’re going to produce oil, then we should be able to produce oil. If they’re not going to restrain methane, then we should wait, because all of our industries have a right to be competitive. So, that’s the argument.
And the fact is if that’s what we do, then we can’t call ourselves climate leaders. And globally we have a huge problem. It’s a recipe for disaster. In one of the pieces I wrote recently, I talk about it as the tragedy of the commons. You know, we’re all going to sit around and wait for someone else to move, while Rome burns, and literally the planet burns.
So, on methane, why is this important? It’s important because it’s one of the most potent greenhouse gases. Because Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, are responsible for about 20% of the world’s oil and gas methane pollution.
It’s also critical because this is one of the easiest areas to act on. We know how to do this, we have the technology to do it, and many important studies have shown that it’s cost-effective. That it’s possible to reduce methane pollution 45% by 2025, which is what Obama agreed to, which is what Trudeau agreed to.
Now, the Canadian government’s not going back on its commitment to reduce methane 45% by 2025, but they’re saying that they’re going to delay regulations in order to allow the industry to voluntarily figure out the technologies, and move forward before they put regulations in place. And the fact is, that therefore what we’re saying is we’re going to trust the industry to do it.
Well… that’s absurd, given their record. A report came out yesterday by Environmental Defence Canada, that shows that methane pollution in Alberta, is two and a half times greater than what industry has been reporting. So, it’s a huge problem, it’s a growing problem, it’s a fixable problem, and we shouldn’t be waiting.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: Now, at the outset of our interview, I had mentioned that you were appointed in 2016 to serve on the Alberta government’s Oil Sands Advisory Panel. And that government, led by the NDP’s Rachel Notley, is enthusiastically supportive, as I’m sure you know all too well, of pipeline projects like Kinder Morgan and Line 3.
But when the Trudeau government announced its approval of these projects last year, you came out against them, quite vigorously. And as a result of your opposition, Alberta’s opposition parties, particularly the right wing, Wildrose Party, argued that you should be removed from the Oil Sands Advisory Panel. But Rachel Notley, interestingly, declined to remove you.
Given her government’s support, though, for new tar sands pipelines, what realistically do you think that somebody with your environmental credentials can achieve as a member of that panel?
TZEPORAH BERMAN: What we’re doing on the Oil Sands Panel is, trying to put in place recommendations to the Premier’s Office on how to implement the existing climate plan. So, again, it’s very similar to what’s happening nationally in Canada. The Alberta government put in place a climate plan, that for the first time, Alberta acknowledges the importance of constraining emissions from the oil sands.
Alberta commits to phase out coal. To put in place an aggressive renewable portfolio standard and energy efficiency, as well as a carbon tax across the board. An economy-wide carbon tax, which is more than a lot of other jurisdictions have done.
But, again, is it enough to constrain emissions from the oil sands, so that we can meet Canada’s targets? But more than that, so that we can ensure we’re not putting too much carbon into the world? It’s not. And I think it’s one of the big dilemmas of climate policy, is how do you encourage legislative change, so that we make progress, but hold a high bar, which we have to hold, a climate safe world, keeping the world below 2 degrees?
And the reason I’m on the Oil Sands Advisory Group is that I think this is a great climate plan. It’s a first step for Alberta. Like, you have to remember that this is the first change in government that we’ve had in 44 years in Alberta, and previous governments refused to acknowledge climate change at all.
And so, it’s a great first step. What we’re working on at Oil Sands is how do you implement an emissions limit on the oil sands? How do you apply the carbon tax? And where do those billions of dollars actually go? So, those are important rules that we need to put into place.
But, what the Wildrose was getting at, and what the far right party, the Conservative Party is getting at when they call for me to be fired off the panel, is that I haven’t supported new pipelines. So, that’s where Premier Rachel Notley and I differ. And the core reason of that is that they’re arguing that the pipelines are consistent with the climate plan, because industry’s goal is to reduce emissions per barrel to such an extent, that they can decarbonize oil, that they can reduce emissions, but continue to increase production.
So, you know, I think that’s a quite a bit of a pipe dream, and I think that governments should be planning for just transition. Governments should be planning to reduce fossil fuels entirely. And so, the big question is, is the Kinder Morgan Pipeline consistent with the Alberta climate plan? Can that much oil fit under the cap?
The reason I am opposing the Kinder Morgan Pipeline is for two reasons. Well, really three reasons. One of the big reasons is, of course, the tremendous risk it poses to our coast, with a seven-times increase in tanker traffic.
The other reason is First Nations sovereignty. First Nations along the pipeline route, and on the coast, are opposing this pipeline.
And the third reason, which is critical to this conversation about carbon and climate, is that even under big projections of how much oil is going to be produced under the oil sands, you don’t… we don’t need this pipeline done until at least 2025.
Well, I don’t think if what we’re trying to do is plan to get to decarbonizing in this century to 80%, at least by 2050, that we should be building out more big fossil fuel infrastructure. We have to be planning to decline emissions from the oil sands. And so, I think the big question for Canada, and for many other countries, is are we going to align our energy infrastructure decisions to ensure that we don’t lock in more carbon into the system?
And that’s why I’m advocating that the federal government introduce a climate test, in its energy project assessments and environmental assessments.
Right now, every country in the world, including Canada, does an assessment of whether a project is needed, by looking at where markets are going to go. Well, that assessment right now is based on a 6-degree world. It’s based on projections of consumption of oil and gas that would take us to 6 degrees, or beyond.
If we’re going to actually align our energy policy, and our energy projects with climate policy, then we need to be doing a global market economic analysis, which is consistent with a below-2-degree world. And if you do that, I think you’d see that this pipeline is not necessary.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: Yeah, it’s my understanding that it’s 6 degrees Celsius. This is broadly believed within a science community that you’re talking about, a planet that is essentially uninhabitable to humankind.
TZEPORAH BERMAN: Exactly. And I don’t think it’s too much to ask our governments to be aligning our energy project and infrastructure decisions with a habitable world. That’s what we’re asking. So, we have a big disconnect right now with climate policy, demand side policy, carbon pricing and climate ambition and targets, with how much supply of carbon we’re putting into the world. That’s where Bill and I agree. That’s absolutely true.
Now, does that mean that we shouldn’t do all of the climate policy that is being proposed, and we shouldn’t acknowledge when government does that? I don’t think so. I think what the Canadian government is doing on climate policy, and what the Alberta government is doing on climate policy is necessary, is good, and in the case of Premier Rachel Notley, I think it’s pretty courageous.
But the fact is, it’s not enough. We can’t stop there, and we don’t have time to wait, and watch, and see if other jurisdictions are going to catch up. If a country like Canada, that is a wealthy country, that is a democracy, can’t get this right, then how can we expect other places in the world to get it right?
DIMITRI LASCARIS: Well, a lot of people, I think, who essentially agree with your message are going to be convening in Washington this weekend, at the People’s Climate March, and in many other cities around the world, we hope.
We’ll be there with The Real News, covering the Climate March. I don’t know, Tzeporah, if you’re going to be in the vicinity, but if you are, I hope we’ll have the opportunity to talk to you, and we very much appreciate you speaking to us today about Canada’s climate policies. Thank you.
TZEPORAH BERMAN: Thank you so much, and I appreciate all those who are marching in Washington, and around the world, because that’s what we need. We need our decision-makers to see that we care, and to see that this is a priority.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: Thank you. And this is Dimitri Lascaris for The Real News.