Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Environment and Climate Minister Catherine McKenna almost certainly have the public support and “political space” to begin—at last—to match national action with their climate commitments under the Paris agreement, and prepare for the changes the country has already set in irrevocable motion.
“There’s a new normal in Canada on the issue of climate change,” said Abacus Data Chair Bruce Anderson, after reviewing his company’s latest opinion findings.
It’s not quite unanimity, but it’s close: 79% of Canadians are fully aware that if we fail to contain climate change, we will face “catastrophic” consequences to wildlife and animal habitats, agriculture and farming, coastal cities and towns, and human health and safety. Throw in those who think the consequences will be merely “very severe” or “severe”, and you get to 85% of Canadians.
Frank discussion of an orderly transition away from fossil development may no longer be a lethal third rail in Prairie politics, the findings suggest.
The online survey found that even in the tar sands/oil sands provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, “more than 75% [of respondents] believe the consequences of inaction will be severe, or very severe, or catastrophic,” DeSmog Canada reports.
Fewer than one voter in 10 in those two provinces “prefers a party or candidate that favours doing nothing on climate change. More than 45% say they won’t vote for one who doesn’t have a plan.”
Most respondents from the region “do not believe that acting to fight climate change will be bad for the economy or for taxes.” In Alberta, “72% believe combating climate change could open up new economic opportunities”—not far off the 80% in the rest of Canada.
The strength of that support should persuade today’s generation of national leaders to do what earlier ones—and even they themselves—have so far not: turn words into sufficient action on emission reduction, Chris Hatch writes in the National Observer.
“A succession of Liberal and Conservative leaders,” he observes, “flew off to summits, made promises, and set targets for cutting greenhouse gases. No serious plans were ever implemented.” Last year’s pan-Canadian climate plan was supposed to break that pattern. But it’s based on a Harper-era target that Trudeau and McKenna have both called a floor, not a ceiling for the country’s climate ambition, and the plan falls many megatonnes short of that inadequate goal.
Hatch acknowledges the government has set a new tone and some worthy processes in motion: “accelerating the phase out of coal plants, rallying all but the most obdurate province into a national carbon pricing program, kicking off negotiations for a Clean Fuel Standard and an electric vehicle strategy, launching modernization processes for the National Energy Board and environmental assessments.”
But most of those elements remain at best works-in-progress, he says, “proposals and agenda items for consultations and task forces”.
Meanwhile, “Canada’s largest source of carbon emissions—oil and gas production—is not just steaming along but expanding, the feds have approved major export terminals for fracked gas, as well as oilsands pipelines to Vancouver harbour and the U.S. Midwest.”
Hatch isn’t alone in giving the Trudeau/McKenna team an A for climate ambition but a D- at best for accomplishment.
“Since 1992,” Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development Julie Gelfand wrote in a report to Parliament earlier this fall, “Canada has missed two separate emission reduction targets and is likely to miss the 2020 target as well.” The country, moreover, “is nowhere near being ready to adapt to the impacts of climate change,”
The Liberals have also abandoned regulations the Conservatives had been working on which could have been implemented “to achieve real reductions,” Gelfand added. It has spent nearly half of its four-year electoral mandate focused on 2030 “instead of developing a detailed action plan to reach the 2020 target for reducing emissions,” which might have positioned the country to elevate its ambitions thereafter.
In an embarrassing moment last week at the global climate summit in Bonn, Canada shared a Fossil of the Day Award from Climate Action Network-International with the United States, Australia, and the EU for dragging its feet on helping poor countries deal with impacts of climate change.
But with half of its mandate still in hand, the Trudeau government has an opportunity to raise Canada’s game and its own.
“Half of voters won’t consider politicians who don’t take the issue seriously,” Anderson said. “Most other voters believe action is needed, and inaction will result in catastrophe.”
As Hatch writes in the National Observer: “All of this points to an expanding political space for the Trudeau government to step things up.”