Will Canada meet its emissions reduction commitments made in Paris?

The Trudeau government's first plan to combat climate change is short on measurable targets and meaningful action

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The Trudeau government’s first plan to combat climate change is short on measurable targets and meaningful action

On November 18, 2016, federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna released her plan to combat climate change, with a primary goal to stay beneath the scientifically determined limit of 2 degrees Celsius of planetwide warming.

The 91-page plan serves as a high-level road map toward reaching Canada’s commitments made in Paris in December 2015 at the United Nations climate change conference (COP21). In essence, it is akin to the kind of strategy a business would implement during a transition period to more evolved business practices. The plan is a guideline that communicates Canada’s intent and direction on sectors including energy, agriculture and waste.

While initially encouraging and seemingly progressive, the document contains much research that appears to be superficial—a grave disappointment considering the multitude of excellent climate scientists Canada has to offer. The plan addresses critical points for achieving our goals, but without measurable targets or concrete actions, there is a severe lack of accountability.

Important acknowledgements were missed, such as any mention of the oilsands, which generated 26 per cent of national emissions in 2014. Commitments like the decommissioning of Canada’s coal power plants, announced three days after the plan’s release, should have been included. On November 29, 2016, by approving Trans Mountain and Line 3 adding almost 2,000 kilometres of pipeline, Trudeau has authorized an additional million barrels of crude oil per day representing 28 million tonnes of annual CO2 emissions. Where will emissions reductions come from to meet Canada’s commitments under COP21 as these pipelines were not in the original plan?

A serious commitment from Canada would require measurable and achievable goals, a shift in our economy to reduce fossil fuels and incentives for the expansion of renewable energy. In the same way as companies achieve long-term goals by setting a series of short-term measurable targets, other countries including Mexico, Germany, France and Benin have publicly announced emissions reduction plans with specific goals and targets. Canada should follow this lead.

Further, there is no room for double standards when it comes to climate; we cannot claim that “Canada is back” as an international climate leader while further developing the oilsands industry. Claiming to Canadians that we will improve in one area to keep the status quo or get worse in another is not something that can be done here. We are not only talking about a worldwide agreement that we have made but also the lives and economy of future generations who will be affected because we failed to see the big picture and act upon it. Based on the projected lifetime of new oil and LNG projects, none of these projects will benefit my two-year-old daughter when she graduates in 20 years. Yet she will be given our environmental bill with no innovative work to pursue.

Canada needs a medium-term plan to reduce or phase out fossil fuels from our economy. The popular argument is that we should take advantage of fossil fuels and then reinvest the profits into the renewable energy sector. This is like caging someone, smoking up the room and providing him with a gas mask. In addition, while renewable energy will undoubtedly play a major role in the future of the Canadian economy, investing within clean technology would avoid delaying the progress that the world needs to not only meet the terms of the Paris Agreement but also to assure a healthy legacy for upcoming generations. Nations can’t afford to use the excuse of needing more fossil fuel profits to finance clean technology while highly subsidizing the oil industry in the order of $3.3 billion annually.

While Trudeau’s enthusiasm to work hard on environmental policies is a positive start to Canada’s new political agenda, it is meaningless without a careful review and implementation of specific targets and initiatives by 2023. What’s more, the focus on greenhouse gas emissions as opposed to environmental impact (ecosystems, weather, wildlife, etc.) is a narrow view of climate change that would not mitigate a whole slew of undesired effects in the near future.

Maxime Charron is the founder of LeadingAhead, through which he helps businesses develop profitable and sustainable strategies. Elaine Ho, a PhD student in the Integrated Water Management program at the University of Waterloo, contributed to this article.