As the second year of the Trudeau government gets underway, many Canadians are pausing to weigh actions against election promises. Last month, I met Transport Minister Marc Garneau with two other Canadian youth concerned with the direction of our nation on energy and climate policy. The meeting was arranged to follow up on a sit in and direct action that we participated in a few weeks earlier.
Minister Garneau was generous with his time; our meeting exceeded an allotted 30 minutes. For all his hospitality and diplomatic courtesy, however, we walked away feeling patronized and dismissed. We felt acutely aware of the difference between being heard and being listened to.
Our purpose was to discuss challenges Canada faces to meet its expressed climate targets. There are many arguments against the proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and the building of other new pipelines to carry oil sands, but we believe one reason is enough — that new pipelines are directly at odds with a transition aligned with averting catastrophic climate change. The math is clear and simple — Canada doesn’t need new pipelines if we are to honour our climate policy commitments.
Garneau has said that the government did its climate homework and that its decisions were based on sound policy.
Last week, the government also announced a national plan, in partnership with the provinces and territories, that it said would contribute to meeting or exceeding Canada's commitments to the Paris agreement on climate change.
Earth scientist David Hughes has provided lucid analysis and has said with conviction: “Short of an economic collapse, it is difficult to see how Canada can realistically meet its Paris commitments in the 14 years remaining without rethinking its plans for oil and gas development.”
As for other arguments, there are too many to list exhaustively here. For starters, even if we intend to sell the heavy crude from the oilsands, the most likely outcome is that no one will buy it. New reserves were recently discovered in the Permian Basin three times larger than that of the Bakken Formation. The heavy crude from the oilsands is a marginal resource. It will not be sold in a carbon-constrained world. Prices will remain low indefinitely due to an adequate remaining supply of cheaper, more accessible resources. This says nothing of it being one of the most environmentally damaging forms of oil extraction. For all these reasons and more, including economic costs, it must be the first oil source left buried.
We relayed this to the minister and none of it really seemed to make it through. His response was “we’ll have to wait and see what happens”. When it comes to the health of our environment and our economy, a “wait and see” strategy is irresponsible. Whatever happened to the precautionary principle?
It should be noted that the metric the minister suggested we use to measure their success was the 2030 climate target — a 30 per cent decrease in national emissions from 2005 levels. I don't see any interim targets for 2017, 2018 or 2019 within the Trudeau government's current term.
So this means, we may only know in about 13 years whether their plan worked — this is several election cycles away before anyone can be definitively held to account.
And even if Canada meets its goal, the current target is insufficient, unchanged from the Harper era. We found it impossible to communicate how all this flies in the face of Canada doing its fair share to honour the Paris Agreement. This international treaty, reached in 2015, calls for countries to prevent warming of more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, considered to be a tipping point for significant disruptions to the planet's ecosystems and the global economy.
Minister Garneau said he understood our position, though we represented a particular demographic — the climate demographic — and we have to understand “the big picture”.
The irony of this is excruciating. Garneau’s version of the big picture, like many politicians, is extremely myopic — short-term economic gains and limited jobs for a dying industry. We’re talking about averting ecological collapse and the possible end of human civilization in favour of building a resilient economy that will safeguard the environment and climate. We’re talking about moving one of the best-educated countries into the twenty-first century. We’re innovators — we don’t need to make a living selling the tar we dug out of the ground. We need to be making these decisions now, looking forward for generations upon generations, not just quarter to quarter. What else is more “big picture” than this?
Daniel Horen Greenford is a PhD candidate, based at Concordia University in the Department of Geography, Planning and Environment and McGill University in the Economics for the Anthropocene program. He studies under climate scientist Damon Matthews, pursuing research aimed at aligning climate policy with principles of climate justice. He also serves as Research Director of Rapid Decarbonization Group.