Canada’s Long-Term Strategy: 80% Carbon Cut by 2050, But No Ban on Pipelines
Canada plans to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050 under a long-term strategy released on the last day of the United Nations climate change conference in Marrakech.
“That means ratcheting down Canada’s entire output of greenhouse gases to 150 million tonnes a year,” Canadian Press reports. “The most recent Environment Canada inventory assessed the country’s carbon dioxide equivalent emissions at 732 million tonnes in 2014—and slowly rising.”
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The 87-page plan warns that most Canadians, while they support the effort to get climate change under control, have a less than complete picture of what will be involved. “Most Canadians recognize the need to mitigate climate change and limit the increase in the global average temperature, but the magnitude of the challenge is less well understood, with a requirement for very deep emissions cuts from every sector by mid-century,” it states.
The document, published on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) website, acknowledges the estimate by international agencies that a 70 to 95% GHG reduction from 2010 levels by 2050 will give humanity a better than 50% chance of holding average global warming to 1.5°C. That kind of math prompted Oil Change International to distribute medallions during the COP that showed the success of a 1.5°C future on one face and the devastation of missing the target on the other—to make the case that climate policy has to be better than a coin flip.
Earlier in the COP, Stephen Lucas, associate deputy minister at Environment and Climate Change Canada, listed six key elements of Canada’s long-term plan:
- Doubling non-emitting electricity by 2050 and expanding grid connections between provinces and across North America
- Electrifying major energy end uses, including transportation, buildings, and industry
- Making wider use of low-carbon fuels, including renewable gas and synthetic fuels
- Focusing more clearly on energy conservation and efficiency
- Sequestering carbon on forests and lands, and through carbon dioxide capture
- Scaling back short-term climate pollutants like methane and hydrofluorocarbons.
Canada’s announcement was part of a trilateral release with the United States and Mexico, after the three countries agreed during the North American Leaders’ Summit in late June to report on their long-term strategies by the end of the year. The U.S. committed to an 80% GHG reduction by 2050, Mexico to 50%. The U.S. announcement was welcomed as a glowing vision of a possible low-carbon future, but mainly interpreted as a noble gesture in light of the [political changes] [precipitous decline] [flat-out crisis] now sweeping that country’s federal government structure. (With state and local governments, businesses, and civil society organizations stepping up at lightning speed to fill the vacuum.)
Canadian climate organizations following the long-term strategy announcement from Marrakech or from home welcomed the serious commitment to decarbonization, but urged greater consistency in federal climate and energy policy. Just days before, Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr had issued a widely-circulated claim that Canada will still need a new pipeline to the east or west coast, even if U.S. President-elect Donald Trump reopens consideration of TransCanada’s controversial Keystone XL Pipeline.
“It’s excellent that Canada is one of the first countries to begin planning decarbonization pathways to 2050. A long-term vision sets the stage for immediate action to meet and then beat our current 2030 targets,” said Climate Action Network-Canada Executive Director Catherine Abreu. But “that means not approving new pipeline and liquefied natural gas projects that lock us in to dirty energy and keep us out of the global transition off oil.”
“If the Trudeau government is serious about this commitment, then this roadmap should serve as a compass that guides every single energy policy decision it makes,” agreed Keith Stewart, director of Greenpeace Canada’s climate and energy campaign.
“The report’s warnings on the dangers of building new infrastructure that locks in a high-carbon economy have to be seen as a big, flashing red light, telling Trudeau to reject the Kinder Morgan and Energy East pipelines,” he added. “It makes no sense to build new pipelines that would expand the tar sands to over 100 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions when the carbon budget for the entire Canadian economy will be only 150 million tonnes.”
Earlier in the COP, Earth Institute Director Jeffrey D. Sachs challenged Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Lucas directly on the pipeline issue, telling a packed session that Canada can’t behave like a “drug pusher” if the Donald Trump administration in the United States tries to reopen discussions around TransCanada Corporation’s controversial Keystone XL pipeline.
“In case it’s not clear, this will not be well received. It’s very important that we get this right,” he said, in wrap-up remarks that drew applause from the audience and from panelist Rodolfo Lacy Tamayo, Mexico’s deputy secretary of environment.
By the end of the Marrakech conference, the Trudeau government was receiving pointed warnings that Kinder Morgan’s proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion will become Canada’s Standing Rock if it receives Cabinet approval, a development that could come as soon as this week. Two Liberal backbenchers from British Columbia had come out against the project, Vancouver residents were laying plans for mass resistance, and Ensemble contre les pipelines was planning a Twitter Thunderclap [in French] for this Wednesday.
In a letter to Pacific Caucus MPs, Penticton, BC activist Dianne Varga noted that western opposition to Trans Mountain and Canada-wide support for a moratorium on new oil and gas pipelines are both growing and approaching majority levels. “The Liberal government has, of course, insisted that environmental concerns can and must be balanced against economic concerns,” Varga wrote. “But to many, this situation of one hand giving what the other takes away is not ‘balance’ at all. Just as a marine safety system that will not actually prevent spills cannot be called a safety system at all, it is an unresolvable contradiction to think that we can have environmental safety and also have fossil fuel exploitation.”
And that’s not the level of response the world expects and needs from Canada, especially as the locus of North American climate leadership at the federal level shifts decisively from south of the U.S.-Canada border to north.
During COP 22, “Canada defaulted to middle-of-the-road positions on a variety issues, including climate and adaptation financing,” said Climate Action Network-Canada Executive Director Catherine Abreu. “And the time for middle-of-the-road positioning is over. Canada has a history of punching above its weight, especially in the international arena. To revive this history, we must lock in climate ambition at home and up our game internationally, particularly on climate finance.”
Canada is “past the point where we can trade off a new pipeline against an ambitious building efficiency standard,” Abreu added. “Climate change is now a zero-sum game, and there are no more trade-offs.” That means Canada “must be the best it can be on climate change, especially when the world is turning to us for leadership.”