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When the prime minister's long-awaited announcement approving the twinning of the Trans Mountain pipeline finally came, few citizens concerned about environmental hazards and climate change could cheer it.
Nor could many Indigenous communities applaud — so many of those that signed agreements with the project felt enormous pressure to salvage at least some benefit, skinny as it might be.
The whole exercise has both exhausted and galvanized opponents, and few minds will be changed by any commentary.
There's an extraordinarily compelling case to be made for Trudeau's climate plan, and how the TMX pipeline fits into the bigger picture.
For many Canadians, blocking TMX became synonymous with winning the climate war. If you support the pipeline, you're a sellout. If you don't, you're a climate hero.
If only things were that simple.
Canada’s challenge is that, while the carbon calculus is unforgiving, so are the economic and political realities.
As tempting as it is to imagine that the public is on board to address climate change, all the evidence suggests the opposite. Voters give lip service to climate change, but never at the expense of jobs.
Rachel Notley is out.
'For many Canadians, blocking TMX became synonymous with winning the climate war. If you support the pipeline, you're a sellout. If you don't, you're a climate hero. If only things were that simple,' writes @garossino #opinion
Kathleen Wynne is out.
Gone are their ambitious climate plans.
The same fate awaited Trudeau if he had cancelled TMX. Nothing else would have mattered — he'd have been gone by November, along with everything his government has achieved.
Yet there's an even better reason to look beyond TMX alone as the sole environmental litmus test.
Cancelling a pipeline has enormous symbolic appeal. Yet in terms of greenhouse gas (GHG), it's a wash, as the global supply chain would simply reshuffle and move ahead as if nothing happened.
We have to do better than rally around symbols. We have to do the much harder work of changing the game.
The fight we can't afford to lose
The real front line in the climate war is our transition to clean energy, as demand for all forms of energy, including oil, continues its inexorable rise.
This is the fight the world can’t afford to lose, and we’re losing it.
In 2018, the International Energy Agency issued a stark warning that governmental neglect of renewable energy constitutes a grave threat to the Paris Accord. The IEA estimates that clean energy will only account for 18 per cent of world consumption by 2040, well below the 28 per cent needed to meet the Paris goals, and global investments have stalled.
The chart below, from Natural Resources Canada, tells the story: only eight to 11 per cent of our energy production is in clean energy.
This is the chart we must change dramatically, and very quickly.
It's here, in the fight for clean energy transition, that the Canadian government has amassed a stunning war chest of more than $60 billion, with billions more on the way.
The plan is to add up to $10 billion in TMX-generated tax revenue to this fight. In a nutshell, the government aims to help provide consumers and industry with affordable clean alternative options to complement and accelerate carbon tax impacts, while supporting jobs and investor confidence.
The $70-billion plan
Here's what the Canadian government has already committed to do, according to the Department of Finance:
- $26.9 billion in green infrastructure over 12 years
- $28.7 billion in public transportation infrastructure over 10 years
- $2 billion in the Low Carbon Economy Fund over two years, starting in 2017-18
- $1.5 billion in the Oceans Protection Plan over five years, starting in 2017-18
- $1.3 billion in the Nature Legacy over five years, starting in 2018-19
- $2.3 billion in clean technology funding over five years, starting in 2017-18
- $1.0 billion in energy efficiency initiatives through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities in 2018-19 through investments in green infrastructure and the development of a Pan-Canadian Framework on Climate Change
The government is also:
- Putting a price on pollution and investing 10 per cent of the proceeds to help improve efficiency and adoption of new technologies
- Regulating reductions in methane emissions in the oil and gas sector by 40 to 45 per cent by 2025
- Phasing out coal-fired electricity by 2030
- Making historic investments through the Oceans Protection Plan
- Establishing new marine protected areas on the British Columbia coast
- Providing $167.4 million for the Whales Initiative, and an additional $61.5 million to address threats to the Southern Resident Killer Whale population
- Committing $626.3 million to respond to recommendations from the National Energy Board, and to implement accommodation measures to address the concerns of Indigenous groups
The Finance Department estimates another $500 million annually in corporate tax revenue will be generated from oil producers accessing the TMX pipeline, and all of it will be committed as new funding to the clean energy transition. Even at a more conservative $300 million annually over the next 20 years, that would take government environmental commitments to $70 billion over 20 years.
The TMX math works whether or not the public company that will operate it ever sees a dime in profits. The price differential between Western Canada Select (WCS) and West Texas International (WTI) is long-standing and persistent. The new TMX pipeline will move between 400,000 to 600,000 barrels per day, most of which, according to sources familiar with the project, has already been contracted for 15 to 20 years.
Those figures also line up with Conference Board of Canada estimates and other expert analyses.
Transit, electrification, energy efficiency, research and development
The government's climate commitments constitute an unprecedented public investment in transit, infrastructure and renewable energy, all in addition to the national carbon tax, and all of which are proven to drive down GHG emissions.
In addition to transit infrastructure, we know there is already huge and growing demand for hybrid and electric vehicles, which need charging capacity across the country. We need electrification across the country, and improved building systems — heating, air conditioning and energy-saving building materials. We need to drive down the cost of wind and solar power, and increase the supply of both. And we need to continue to drive down emissions from existing fossil fuel sources.
Pricing pollution is far more effective when consumers and industry have a competitive clean-energy alternative.
Driving down carbon emissions is much more complex and nuanced than stopping a pipeline. It will cost us billions, and the oil industry will pay a substantial part of it, through taxes on their oil production.
There is so much more to reaching our Paris climate goals than a single pipeline.
Our task as a nation is this:
To meet our commitments, Canada needs to reduce annual GHG emissions by 219 megatonnes.
According to the parliamentary budget officer, the proposed federal carbon tax alone will give us a drop of 140 megatonnes. We need to find another 79 megatonnes somewhere, or send carbon taxes through the roof, delivering huge shocks to the economy.
The Liberal plan is to push that 79-megatonne number down using a spectrum of transportation, electrification, building-innovation and infrastructure initiatives, funded by general revenues, long-term debt, and TMX-generated taxes.
That $70 billion will go a long way to getting 79 megatonnes to zero, maybe even further.
Politics and the art of the possible
Here's the dilemma.
We could cancel TMX tomorrow. The global network would recalculate supply routes faster than Google Maps, with no measurable GHG impact.
Canadian investor confidence would plummet, and in this challenging international environment Canada could enter recession very rapidly, eroding the government's ability to meet its existing climate commitments.
Trudeau would lose the next election, and Andrew Scheer would stop the Liberals' climate plan in its tracks, just as Alberta and Ontario have done.
That $70 billion for clean energy? Gone.
The carbon tax? Gone.
No environmentalist or supporter of Indigenous communities wants to see the oil industry's relentless expansion continue. But look at where we are.
We have $70 billion — $70 BILLION — committed to the clean energy transition and conservation.
Northern Gateway is dead. Energy East is dead. Keystone is on life support. British Columbia’s fragile north coast has been protected from oil tanker traffic. We have a drilling moratorium in the Canadian Arctic. The NEB has been replaced by a new Canadian Energy Regulator, with an Impact Assessment Agency to appraise the climate impact and consult with First Nations on new projects. Some $1.5 billion is being invested in the Oceans Protection Plan to improve marine safety and protect Indigenous and other coastal communities.
There's no way to describe this other than as a revolutionary, ambitious, comprehensive and powerful climate and conservation plan that makes compromises to preserve jobs and investor confidence.
Are there flaws? Of course there are, and will be. Specifically, this model could and should better prioritize Indigenous land interests and self-determination. The courts have yet to be heard on Indigenous consultation.
And the sooner we address oil and gas tax policies and subsidies, the better.
But in climate terms, this is a good bargain, maybe the best achievable plan we'll see.
It will set the course for decades into our children's and grandchildren's future.
This is the most momentous opportunity in Canada's climate history. The decisions we make now as a nation have consequences like no others.
Time is not on our side.
This chance won't come again.
Editor's note: Headline was changed at 9:15 a.m. PT, June 26, a couple of hours after publication