Canada has announced a new emissions-reduction target, providing a long-overdue boost to the target set by former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper in 2015. Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has now committed Canada to reducing its national emissions by 40 per cent to 45 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, a notable increase from the previous target of 30 per cent by 2030.
While we’re excited by Canada’s increased climate ambition, as young professionals, we’re also terrified for the future. Because, frankly, our new target is just not good enough.
Much has happened since Canada submitted its previous target to the UN in 2015 in accordance with the Paris Agreement. In 2018, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned the international community that global CO2 emissions would need to fall by 45 per cent from 2010 levels by 2030 in order to have our best chance at limiting warming to 1.5 C and reducing the severity of climate impacts worldwide. More recently, the United Nations Environment Program advised that adherence to a cost-effective 1.5 C pathway would require emissions to decline by 7.6 per cent each year over the next decade.
While these are the levels our global emissions must decrease, it is only fair that high-emitting states accept responsibility for the climate crisis and shoulder this burden by creating more ambitious plans. In 2018, Canada was the 10th highest-emitting country globally and the fifth highest-emitting country on a per capita basis. We need to do our part: Canada’s fair share of the global mitigation burden is anywhere from two to five times stronger than its previous 2030 target.
Other high-emitting countries are stepping up to the plate. Last month, U.S. President Joe Biden pledged to reduce emissions by 50 per cent to 52 per cent by the end of the decade. The EU and the U.K. recently enshrined new targets to reduce emissions by 55 per cent and 78 per cent below 1990 levels, respectively, by the years 2030 and 2035.
By failing to set a firm target that appropriately reflects climate science and approaches Canada’s fair share of emissions reduction, this country sends a clear message to the international community that it will choose to be a laggard, not a leader. Canada’s insufficient target could discourage other states — which have been and continue to be much less responsible for the majority of emissions — from adopting more aggressive plans.
There is frustration with Canada’s cycle of empty rhetoric followed by insufficient ambition. As a nation, Canada has failed to meet any of its numerous emissions-reduction targets. In fact, since setting its first target in 1992, Canada’s national annual emissions have increased by an astonishing 16 per cent. Canada is the only G7 country whose emissions have increased since the signing of the Paris Agreement.
Canada also continues to faithfully subsidize the industry most responsible for fuelling climate change. A recent report revealed the government announced almost $18 billion in funding to the oil and gas sector in 2020 alone — which is nearly $3 billion more than the government has committed to Canada’s new climate plan for the next 10 years. Canada’s projected oil and gas expansion from 2021 to 2050 will consume a staggering 16 per cent of the world’s carbon budget in a 1.5 C world.
Canada cannot have it both ways. The fossil fuel sector can only continue its unabated growth at direct expense to our future. While Canada continues to prop up and champion this industry, it will fail to achieve its climate targets. Regrettably, Bill C-12, the proposed Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act, which is inching its way through Parliament, also fails to include enforcement mechanisms to hold the federal government accountable to its targets.
We, as well as the generations to come after us, will bear the brunt of the climate crisis in the coming decades. It is our future that will be shaped by the strength or weakness of climate policies passed today. We welcome this step forward but urge the federal government to take several more. Canada must finally pair its aspirational climate rhetoric with a bold and courageous policy response to achieve its goals. As young people, our future hangs in the balance.
Christie McLeod is currently an articling student at Miller Thomson LLP, a member of Lawyers for Climate Justice, serves as a policy adviser for the global Fossil Fuels Non-Proliferation Treaty steering committee and is the founder and former director of Human Rights Hub Winnipeg.
We’re excited by Canada’s increased climate ambition, but as young people, we’re also terrified for the future, write @christieamcleod and @ggransaull — because, frankly, our new target is just not good enough. #ClimateAction #cdnpoli
Gareth Gransaull is currently an associate director of the Canadian Business Youth Council for Sustainable Development, a co-founder of the Climate Crisis Coalition at Western University, a member of the Divest Canada Coalition and a former researcher at the Ivey Centre for Building Sustainable Value.