Canada’s new climate plan is the most comprehensive and detailed so far, and despite some shortcomings, many Canadian environmental organizations say it is an important step in the right direction.
“This is the most detailed and transparent climate plan that the Government of Canada has ever published since it started publishing climate plans in the late 1990s,” Caroline Brouillette, the national policy manager for Climate Action Network Canada, told Canada’s National Observer.
The plan to reduce Canada's greenhouse gas emissions is one of several roadmaps the federal government must produce under the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act. The federal law, meant to hold government accountable to its climate commitments, requires Ottawa to set emissions reduction targets every five years, starting in 2030, with the ultimate goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. The federal government must also outline how it aims to meet those targets by creating detailed plans like the one released Tuesday.
The sector-by-sector emissions reductions outlined in the plan will enable greater accountability, Sabaa Khan, climate solutions director at the David Suzuki Foundation, said in a press release. “This plan has a better chance of success than any of Canada’s previous climate plans,” but to do “Canada’s fair share to address the global climate crisis, key shortcomings must be addressed,” Khan’s statement reads.
Canada’s current climate target is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40 to 45 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, and the emissions reduction plan says its roadmap will get us to 40 per cent by the end of the decade.
But not only is the government’s 40 per cent goal not aligned with what is needed to hold global warming to 1.5 C, we are aiming for the lowest end of our international commitments, Brouillette said.
Canada has yet to meet a climate target, and this 271-page plan “is better than anything we've seen in the past,” Julia Croome, a staff lawyer with Ecojustice, told Canada’s National Observer.
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There are elements of the plan worth celebrating, but there are also weaknesses being pointed out, “so, those elements have to kind of come together and give you the full picture,” Croome said.
For example, the plan lays out the status of current climate measures — like the ongoing two billion trees program or National Infrastructure Assessment, which is under development — which department is responsible for enacting those policies and upcoming milestones.
“That's really heartening … that's the first time we're seeing these measures broken out in this way,” said Croome. New measures, however, don’t have a lead department or specific timelines — except a note at the bottom of each section promising an update in the 2023 progress report.
“These measures, as far as I can tell, are included in the modelling, which is informing that plan to reach 40 per cent,” said Croome. “It's a real disconnect if you're relying on this measure to get you to the 40 per cent reduction; where's the detail we need?”
The plan says it will be reviewed through progress reports in 2023, 2025 and 2027 to give Canadians “a clear picture” of how Canada intends to meet its 2030 target and whether or not the measures and policy signals are keeping reductions on track.
“While this plan really increased the level of transparency and detail compared to previous climate plans, there can still be improvement on that front,” Brouillette said. The 2023 progress report and those after it will provide an opportunity to respond to these gaps identified by environmental organizations and experts.
It also provides more detail about the emissions reduction models and commits to working with experts to examine those models, Croome says.
Previously, she says, modelling has been “a black box,” so this newfound detail and transparency around what assumptions are made in the emissions reduction model will allow experts to scrutinize the government’s progress before the 2023 report and identify shortfalls earlier rather than later.
That “will really help us to hold them to account” and ensure this is a “credible package of measures to deliver on at least the 40 per cent and then really to keep up the ambition going forward,” said Croome. “It's our position and that of many others that 40 to 45 per cent isn't enough; it doesn't represent Canada's fair share of the reductions that need to happen.”
There’s still an outstanding question of whether the plan meets all the obligations set out in the Canadian Net-Zero Emission Accountability Act, but it will take time for experts to analyze it in full and answer this definitively, she said.
“It really takes a village of experts to scrutinize something like this,” said Croome, but with the increased detail and transparency, it will be easier for that “village” to work together.
Although the Pembina Institute called the plan “a significant step forward,” it and other organizations are disappointed the industry responsible for Canada's largest and fastest-growing source of emissions isn't being asked to do more.
The plan projects the oil and gas sector will reduce its emissions 31 per cent relative to 2005 levels by 2030.
At a press conference on March 29, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters different sectors of the economy face different challenges, adding: “What we've done with this plan is calibrated, so it is as ambitious as necessary, but also doable.”
The projections for each sector are based on “some of the actions that we have already taken and committed to take,” Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson explained at the same press conference. The projections “essentially incorporate our views about what is achievable with respect to the cap and the other measures,” he added.
Such measures include the ongoing Emissions Reductions Fund and those still in the works, like the cap on oil and gas emissions and the soon-to-be-announced investment tax credit for carbon capture technologies.
Over the coming months, the government will work with Oil Sands Pathways to Net Zero companies “to ensure we put in place an appropriate cap that's going to work in a manner that will actually continue to employ people but that will allow us to get at those emissions,” said Wilkinson.
A recent report by the Pembina Institute found that for the oil and gas industry to address its fair share of emissions, it would have to achieve a 45 per cent reduction below 2005 levels by 2030.
These reductions are possible using commercially available technologies and currently accessible financing, according to the report.
Industry is well-positioned right now to invest in emissions reductions, said Jan Gorski, director of the Pembina Institute’s oil and gas program. “We've seen record revenues in the oil and gas sector in the last year and likely they’ll continue into the next year… What are companies doing with these revenues? Will they be investing them in reducing emissions?”
If sectors like oil and gas don’t pull their weight, that impact will be felt elsewhere: in other sectors and communities and among workers and consumers, said Brouillette. “It's the same on the international scale. If Canada doesn't do its fair share of the global effort, it means that other countries will have to pick up the slack, which isn't fair either.
“The modelling shows we're still projecting a 21 per cent increase in Canadian oil and gas production,” said Brouillette. “In Canada, (we are) trying to have our cake and eat it too when it comes to fighting climate change and continuing to expand our oil and gas sector, and it is something we will have to reckon with as soon as possible. “
Natasha Bulowski / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer
● Any climate plan premised on fossil fuel expansion and new markets is a flop.
● Any climate plan that proposes new pipelines to fight climate change is a flop.
● Any climate plan that says we need to sell fossil fuels to fund climate action is a flop.
● Any climate plan that perpetuates fossil fuels is a flop.
● Any climate plan that shovels billions of public dollars into the pockets of largely foreign-owned multi-billion-dollar oil companies reporting record multi-billion-dollar profits is a flop.
● Any climate plan that allows hugely profitable companies to distribute profits to shareholders and expand production instead of investing in emissions reduction, clean-up, and reclamation is a flop.
● Any climate plan that props up the fossil fuel industry and keeps it profitable is a flop.
● Any climate plan that fails to report emissions accurately is a flop.
● Any climate plan based on creative accounting (e.g., forestry emissions) is a flop.
● Any climate plan that gives subsidies to the rich (EVs, home retrofits) which they don't need is a flop.
● Any climate plan that bets on costly, inefficient, unviable, and unproven technologies — or techno-fixes still on the drawing board — is a flop.
● Any climate plan that relies on big infrastructure projects not yet designed, approved, or funded, much less built, to reach end-of-decade targets (2030) is a flop.
● Any climate plan that prioritizes EVs over public transit is a flop.
● Any climate plan that prioritizes EVs but does not provide the infrastructure to support them is a flop.
● Any climate plan that fails to tackle urban sprawl head-on is a flop.
● Any climate plan that fails to hold today's decision-makers, climate-plan architects, and O&G CEOs accountable for their certain failure to reach our inadequate targets is a flop.
● Any climate plan that takes one step forward and two steps back is a flop.
● Any climate plan designed to fail is a flop.
Need I go on?