Trudeau in the hot seat, premiers off the hook
Trudeau sat for a half-hour interview with Akshat Rathi, senior climate reporter at Bloomberg News, during a climate conference hosted by the Canadian Climate Institute and the Net-Zero Advisory Body.
The first thing to acknowledge is that whatever you think of the PM, he’s a busy guy. Not many of us would want to live a prime minister’s schedule and showing up to debate the details of emissions regs in a room full of policy wonks shows some prioritization.
The PM acquitted himself surprisingly well under pressure. Feisty and defensive at times, but I suspect you could count on your fingers the number of global heads of government who could pull off half an hour’s grilling on the complexities of climate policy (first question: “Canada has the worst performance in the G7. Why have you failed?”). Most would be filling time with bafflegab — a product our PM didn’t entirely avoid. More on that in a moment.
But, more importantly, there’s not a premier in the country who could come anywhere close to Trudeau’s grasp of the issues and policies. It’s a point we skirt much too often when we discuss Canadian climate pollution in broad strokes.
The simple fact is that, for all the focus on the feds, Canada doesn’t have a unitary government — provinces have jurisdiction over electricity, heating, energy projects, buildings, agriculture, logging, transportation and industrial infrastructure — so many of the real-world activities driving climate pollution.
Many of the key provinces are not just reluctant participants but openly hostile to climate action, fighting the feds and taking them to court.
Crucially, not a single province has the most basic thing in place — a plan for a clean grid and a program to electrify (almost) everything.
The feds are stepping in on this front, developing a nationwide clean electricity regulation. It was one of several policies Trudeau discussed, but he gave it much too little emphasis. The public desperately needs to understand that moving from fossil fuels to clean electricity is the most basic mechanism of decarbonization.
The PM spent more time talking up more speculative and snazzier-sounding programs for hydrogen and carbon capture. And he certainly produced moments of bafflegab. Why does Canada have the worst performance in the G7? Trudeau trotted out the old canard: “Canada’s a big, cold country” — which, if we’re being very generous, might partially explain why our emissions got so high in the last century, but explains nothing about why they continued to soar as other countries cut them back.
Pressed on whether Canada would try to keep pace with the clean energy investments in the American Inflation Reduction Act, Trudeau said the Liberal government would introduce measures to stay competitive but claimed Canada doesn’t need to invest as much because, unlike the Americans, we have national carbon pricing.
That’s a pretty dubious assertion. If anything, Canada needs to invest proportionately more in industrial policy because the U.S. has such an advantage in sheer size and scale.
And, whatever its other attributes, carbon pricing doesn’t build political support in the way industrial policy can. Political scientists talk about “issue publics” — groups of citizens (voters) who increasingly see their interests aligned with certain policies. Decarbonizing a steel plant makes steelworkers more keenly interested in greening procurement. We need much more of that to eat away at polarization over climate policy — mobilizing HVAC installers, electricians, young people worried about jobs and parents worried about jobs for their kids.
A lot of Trudeau’s interview focused on Canada’s leading role among countries that have spewed the heat-trapping gases now wreaking chaos on the world. One question Trudeau bungled was about reparations to countries suffering from that chaos — the PM confused “climate finance” (to help developing countries make the energy transition) with payment for “loss and damage” (to compensate for climate impacts imposed by big emitters).
There was no avoiding the booming oil and gas sector, Canada’s biggest and fastest growing source of climate pollution. Despite all the whingeing from industry and conservative politicians, oil and gas production has kept rising and is now at record levels.
“If (fossil fuel) companies can … reduce their emissions, then there is room to increase production,” Trudeau said. “But the goal is any further oil plants or any further energy production is going to have to fit into our emissions reduction plan.”
The feds are developing regulations for an “emissions cap” on the oil and gas industry. It’s supposed to be finalized next year and, if it’s designed as advertised, would require the industry to steadily cut its emissions.
But one thing we know is countries that increase fossil fuel extraction, also increase emissions. And conversely, if you look at our peers, the countries that have cut emissions, have cut fossil fuel extraction.
Just take a look: the solid bars show greenhouse gas emissions, the dotted ones show extraction of oil, gas and coal. The pattern is pretty obvious.
The emissions cap for oil and gas is one of several policies Trudeau talked up this week. There’s also a regulation for sales of zero-emissions vehicles due by year’s end. The Clean Electricity Regulations are also working their way through the sausage maker. Trudeau was adamant the policies in place and under development will “bend the curve”:
“The fact is we are doing more to bend that curve, under more difficult circumstances than just about any other stable democracy around the world,” he claimed.
You’ve got to wonder what “stable” means these days and a lot of democracies might challenge our “more difficult circumstances.” But it is indisputable that much of what we need to do has to pass through the pulverizer of politics, and the circumstances for climate progress are difficult in Canada.
We’re not moving fast enough and yet industry and powerful politicians want to scuttle climate action in culture wars to slow us down, or worse. Pierre Poilievre’s Conservatives are itching for the chance to axe carbon pricing and tear down climate regulations. Prairie provinces are already girding for battle over the Trudeau government’s emissions cap on the oil and gas industry. Conservative politicians are boosting misinformation campaigns.
Trudeau gets hard questions, as any national leader should. I can’t remember ever seeing the head of a major polluting country grilled so extensively — a sad state of affairs this far into the climate crisis. Here’s to the day we roll out hot seats for the premiers as well.
For more on the Trudeau interview, here’s Akshat’s write up:
Natasha Bulowski’s report for Canada’s National Observer is here, and here’s an opinion piece by Bruce Lourie, who writes: “The context in Canada is NOT a widely supportive political environment calling for more action on climate change with the Liberals dragging their feet — quite the opposite.”
David Suzuki blazing mad
Randy Boissonnault announced federal funding for tourism on Oct. 14 while Vancouver was shrouded in wildfire smoke. “If a picture is worth a thousand words, the view today’s a million,” the minister declared, following what must have been prepared remarks since he was pointing at the barely perceptible outline of the North Shore Mountains.
David Suzuki crashed the press conference with some plain talk: “All this bullshit about how you’re trying to encourage the coming together to this beautiful land, what are we doing about this land?” Suzuki asked. “We’re not doing the right things to ensure tourism into the future.
“Look at the smoke, that’s the new reality. You talk about tourism? What are they going to have to come here in British Columbia if we’re not dealing with the major issues that confront us? The loss of biodiversity, old-growth forests being cut down and climate change from the use of fossil fuel.”
Anjali Appadurai DQ-ed
On the topic of fossil fuels, old growth logging and the pulverizer of politics, check your inbox for yesterday’s newsletter by Dana Filek-Gibson on the Anjali Appadurai disqualification. All I’ll add for now is that one lesson of Anjali’s campaign is how much leverage climate-focused organizers can exert in a provincial leadership race. And a lot of other provinces could sure use that.
Governments fail low-income Canadians hit hardest by high energy costs
“People need help now, and a well-designed approach can tackle … inflationary challenges,” write Efficiency Canada’s Brendan Haley and Abhilash Kantamneni in Canada’s National Observer this week.
“The federal government is trying to manage … cost-of-living struggles while reducing the emissions that cause climate change. It seems like an ideal time to expand energy efficiency, which reduces emissions and costs.”
North America’s not-so-great rivers
Maybe it’s a legacy of Mark Twain but there’s something particularly ominous about news the mighty Mississippi River is drying up.
But, of course, it’s not only the great American rivers. Here’s the Fraser River at Prince George, B.C.:
New Jersey sues big oil
New Jersey has joined the ranks of Rhode Island, Delaware, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Vermont as the latest state to sue some of the world’s largest oil companies, reports The Guardian.
The lawsuit is for liability but also fraud and, for good measure, New Jersey included the American Petroleum Institute (the American version of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers).
Europe wants a treaty to wind down fossil fuels
The European Parliament voted this week to call for a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty. The results were overwhelming: 450 votes for the treaty and 119 against.
The European Parliament was doing its prep for the upcoming UN climate summit and also called on its member nations to phase out fossil fuels as soon as possible, halt all new investments in fossil fuel extraction, and end all fossil fuel subsidies.
Just last year, before Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, a similar vote was defeated, with 510 MEPs voting against.
Quitting the Energy Charter Treaty
The Netherlands has joined Spain and Poland announcing it will exit the Energy Charter Treaty. The ECT allows investors to sue governments if their assets are threatened. Fossil fuel companies have been using it to fight coal phaseouts and sue when oilfields aren’t developed.
“Rebellion has mounted among EU countries,” says the Financial Times. “As the Netherlands became the third country to announce plans to withdraw from a pact it says stymies plans to tackle climate change.”
You might remember that Canada’s Competition Bureau opened an investigation into RBC last week.
This week, HSBC got slapped by the U.K. advertising watchdog — it banned a series of ads about the bank’s net-zero claims and demanded future green advertising disclose the bank’s role in financing climate change.
“Despite the initiatives highlighted in the ads … HSBC was continuing to significantly finance investments in businesses and industries that emitted notable levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases,” the agency said. “We concluded that the ads omitted material information and were therefore misleading.”
All-electric transit — now including ferries
“Oslo is on course to become the first capital city in the world with an all-electric public transport system,” reports EuroNews.
Norway’s capital is on track for the end of next year: replacing the city’s diesel buses with 450 electric ones. Oslo has already electrified most of its ferries.
Even Norwegian ferry routes north of the Arctic Circle are being electrified, reports The Barents Observer.
“Not long ago, many would say it would not be possible to operate an electric ferry on such a long and demanding stretch, but now we do,” says regional director Bjørn Laksforsmo with the Norwegian Public Roads Administration.
The oil industry’s Frankenstein
I’ll leave you this week with a suggested read by Simon Enoch in Briarpatch. The occupation of Ottawa was the oil industry’s Frankenstein — it grew out of industry campaigns to build public pressure against climate action.
“While Canada’s oil industry may have failed to build the kind of obedient and compliant social movement it wanted, it may have succeeded spectacularly in creating yet another obstacle to real climate action in our country.”
That’s all for this week. Thank you for reading Zero Carbon. Please forward it along and always feel free to write with feedback or suggestions at [email protected]
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