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Throne Speech in Ottawa, COP Negotiations in Madrid Raise Pressure on Canada for Climate Action

With a much-anticipated Speech from the Throne taking place tomorrow in Ottawa, and United Nations climate negotiations under way in Madrid, the Trudeau government is under sustained pressure to make climate action a priority at home and do its fair share internationally to limit average global warming to 1.5°C.

In Ottawa this week, the Green Economy Network (GEN) called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to “make climate job creation a priority through investments in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and green buildings, public transit, and higher-speed rail transit,” states a release on GlobeNewswire.

“We’ll be looking for a clear signal from the government that it is prepared to invest in the climate jobs Canada needs to transition to the green economy of tomorrow,” said Canadian Labour Congress President Hassan Yussuff, who co-chaired the federal just transition task force in 2018-19. “The climate crisis is real, and the government must invest in the future of Canadian workers and their communities by making climate action a top priority for the upcoming mandate.”

“In this election, Canadians voted for ambitious climate action,” said Climate Action Network-Canada (CAN-Rac) Executive Director Catherine Abreu. “They elected a majority of Members to the House of Commons that support significant investment in a cleaner economy. We need to start a real conversation about economic diversification and good, clean jobs, and implement climate solutions that touch people’s everyday lives. This government has a clear mandate to make these long overdue investments.”

“Study after study has shown that Canada can create over a million climate jobs and substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions, provided that governments lead the way with targeted investment strategies,” added GEN convener Tony Clarke. “We just need the political will to do it.”

In Madrid, meanwhile, CAN-Rac released an assessment of Canada’s fair-share responsibility in the drive to 1.5°C as the world’s ninth-largest greenhouse gas emitter, its 10th-richest country, and a nation with a “moral obligation to protect human rights, which are threatened by climate change.” The release calls for Canada to cut emissions 60% from 2005 levels by 2030—double the country’s current, Harper-era target—aim for net zero domestic emissions as soon as possible before 2050, and contribute US$4 billion per year to international climate finance beginning in 2020.

“Canada has substantially contributed to the global buildup of greenhouse gas pollution in the atmosphere for over a century, and continues doing so today, reaping enormous economic benefits but also accumulating a substantial carbon debt,” the release states. “This means that Canada bears a large responsibility for creating the climate crisis and, as a wealthy country, possesses considerable capacity to act to address it.”

The release specifies nearly a dozen steps Canada must take, domestically and internationally, to live up to its fair-share responsibilities on climate. The list includes phasing out fossil subsidies, transforming transportation through fuel efficiency and electrification, greening buildings, protecting and enhancing natural carbon sinks, helping poor countries overcome energy poverty while leapfrogging fossil fuels, and eliminating tropical deforestation while upholding Indigenous rights.

But with the political realities of a minority parliament set to hit the floor of the Canadian Senate tomorrow afternoon, when Governor General Julie Payette reads the Trudeau government’s Throne Speech, news reporting and commentary point to the long, tough slog that will likely be needed to deliver on the climate community’s expectations. On The Hill Times [subs req’d], veteran reporter Susan Riley questions whether Trudeau’s climate action will ever match his rhetoric. In the Toronto Star, columnist Chantal Hébert points to climate change as the biggest threat the incoming government faces.

“If Trudeau is serious about rebuilding bridges with Alberta and Saskatchewan, his agenda-setting speech will not be silent on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion,” she writes. “By the same token though, the two out of three Canadians who supported a party other than the Conservatives should rightly expect a bit more than bromides about climate change.”

On paper, “the makeup of this Parliament should translate into impetus for more decisive environmental action,” Hébert adds. “But on that score, the message from the realignment of the cabinet was muddled—presumably as a result of Trudeau’s determination to not ruffle more feathers in the Prairies.” The Throne Speech will be the measure of the government’s commitment to climate action, she adds, and  “it is a sign of the times that Trudeau’s minority government may be the first whose actions—or inaction—on climate change could determine its longevity.”