While the Trudeau government disappointed its climate allies with its much-anticipated decision to re-approve the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, it has also crafted a more complicated record on energy and carbon by committing to C$70 billion in low-carbon investment over a 12-year span, reporter Sandy Garossino writes in a provocative post last week for National Observer.
The net result for anyone trying to assess the entirety of that record: It’s complicated.
“For many Canadians, blocking TMX became synonymous with winning the climate war. If you support the pipeline, you’re a sellout. If you don’t, you’re a climate hero,” she writes.
“If only things were that simple.”
Garossino weighs the “unforgiving” carbon calculus of Canada’s rising greenhouse gas emissions against the political reality that has seen premiers like Ontario’s Kathleen Wynne and Alberta’s Rachel Notley, both allies for Trudeau’s GHG reduction effort, lose political support, their own ambitious climate plans undone by the governments that replaced them. “The same fate awaited Trudeau if he had cancelled TMX,” she writes. “Nothing else would have mattered—he’d have been gone by November, along with everything his government has achieved.”
From that starting point, she concludes that “we have to do better than rally around symbols. We have to do the much harder work of changing the game.”
The fight the climate community can’t afford to lose, Garossino says, is the transition to clean energy. And on that score, “the Canadian government has amassed a stunning war chest of more than $60 billion, with billions more on the way.” In addition to the broader policy moves in the pan-Canadian climate plan, the dollar commitments listed by the federal finance department include:
• $26.9 billion over 12 years for green infrastructure;
• $28.7 billion over 10 years for public transportation infrastructure;
• $2 billion over two years for in the Low Carbon Economy Fund;
• $1.5 billion over five years for the Oceans Protection Plan;
• $1.3 billion over five years for the Nature Legacy;
• $2.3 billion over five years for clean technology funding (though the technology that funding supports isn’t always exactly clean);
• $1.0 billion in energy efficiency investments through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.
Garossino also accepts the government’s promise that Trans Mountain will generate tax revenue and sale income that can be reinvested in the post-carbon transition. But either way, “there is so much more to reaching our Paris climate goals than a single pipeline,” she writes. With the Parliamentary Budget Officer pointing to a 79-million-tonne gap between the country’s Harper-era carbon target and its current performance, “the Liberal plan is to push that 79-megatonne number down using a spectrum of transportation, electrification, building innovation, and infrastructure initiatives, funded by general revenues, long-term debt, and TMX-generated taxes. That $70 billion will go a long way to getting 79 megatonnes to zero, maybe even further.”
Garossino’s bigger question is about politics and the art of the possible.
“We could cancel TMX tomorrow. The global network would recalculate supply routes faster than Google Maps, with no measurable GHG impact,” she writes.
“Canadian investor confidence would plummet, and in this challenging international environment Canada could enter recession very rapidly, eroding the government’s ability to meet its existing climate commitments.
“Trudeau would lose the next election, and Andrew Scheer would stop the Liberals’ climate plan in its tracks, just as Alberta and Ontario have done.
“That $70 billion for clean energy? Gone.
“The carbon tax? Gone.”
So while “no environmentalist or supporter of Indigenous communities wants to see the oil industry’s relentless expansion continue,” the country also has the $70 billion in place, two proposed pipelines dead, a third one on life support, and a litany of other regulatory changes on the books. “There’s no way to describe this other than as a revolutionary, ambitious, comprehensive, and powerful climate and conservation plan that makes compromises to preserve jobs and investor confidence,” she writes.
“Are there flaws? Of course there are, and will be,” including insufficient attention to Indigenous land interests and self-determination. “But in climate terms, this is a good bargain, maybe the best achievable plan we’ll see. It will set the course for decades into our children’s and grandchildren’s future,” making this “the most momentous opportunity in Canada’s climate history” and a chance that “won’t come again.”