With Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expected to increase Canada’s 2030 carbon reduction target to more than 40%, and the Conservative Party embracing carbon pricing (however fractiously) as a central plank of their own emerging climate strategy, analysts and major media are pointing to a narrowing of the political polarization that has helped block decisive action on climate change.
Some of the key details are likely to play out in the days ahead, with Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland tabling her long-awaited budget later today and Trudeau set to attend U.S. President Joe Biden’s virtual climate leadership summit on Thursday.
The higher federal target would represent “a major ramping up of [the Trudeau government’s] climate ambition as the politics around their current target heats up,” wrote Toronto Star economics columnist Heather Scoffield, in a post last Thursday that broke the news on the new, more ambitious target. “Taken together with the Conservatives’ new climate plan and surging investment into clean energy, it’s one more sign that Canada and Canadian voters are ready for fundamental changes to how our economy and our energy consumption work.”
A target in the 40% range would still fall short of the 45% in the European Green Deal, the 50% that Biden is under intensifying pressure to adopt, or the 60% demanded by many climate campaigners. But “it’s in the realm of what’s considered necessary to ensure global warming over the long term is held to just 1.5°C,” Scoffield said. “And it will set the cat among the political pigeons now that the Conservatives—after months of existential angst—have just laid out a plan for the 30% target.”
After years of promising that Canada’s Harper-era promise of a 30% cut from 2005 levels by 2030 was a floor, not a ceiling on the country’s climate ambition, Trudeau wowed all of us in the cheap seats in mid-December with a new, improved plan to get the country to…fractionally more than 31%. Or between 32 and 40% “if all the stars align,” as Scoffield put it, including complementary efforts from provincial governments.
“Now, the stars are actually aligning. With Biden fully engaged on climate change, Canada has a hope of working with the United States to reduce methane emissions for oil and gas production, and to harmonize fuel efficiency regulations for new cars,” she noted.
“To surpass a 40% reduction in emissions, however, the federal government will need more than compatibility with the Americans and a carbon tax aimed at consumers,” she added. “Meeting our new target will mean a laserlike focus on what we produce, what we drive, where we live, and where we work. That means government spending to support innovation, a massive switch to electric vehicles, and retrofitting of buildings across the country. It also means financing for a hydrogen strategy as well as carbon capture and storage,” along with close collaboration with the private sector to help companies shift to clean energy and low-carbon processes.
Scoffield pointed to the Conservative plan as evidence that the country is up to the challenge. “Say what you will about the stringency and credibility of the new Conservative plan on climate,” she wrote. “The fact that [Conservative leader] Erin O’Toole has finally now proposed a carbon levy of his own, embraced clean fuel standards, and seems to adopt the Liberal price on carbon for large emitters suggests a recognition that voters are indeed ready.”
Much of the news coverage surrounding the Conservative plan struck a similar tone.
“After years of carbon price wars, the partisan divide over a climate policy in Canada just got a lot smaller,” Smart Prosperity Executive Chair Stewart Elgie told CBC, “and that’s a good thing for our environment and our economy.”
“At long last, Canada’s silly war over carbon pricing is over,” agreed the Globe and Mail editorial board, even if it did involve O’Toole waving “what amounts to a white flag” on the issue. “Good for Canada, and good for the Conservatives.”
“While the content of the new Conservative plan is debatable—and it remains to be seen how well it will be received by Conservatives—it’s also still possible to see it as a significant step forward for climate policy in Canada,” said CBC reporter Aaron Wherry. “If multi-partisan consensus is how public policy endures, Canada may have moved closer to a sustainable approach to combating climate change.”
The opening section of the Conservative plan “reads like their party is having an argument with itself,” wrote Globe and Mail climate columnist Adam Radwanski. “This glimpse into the Tories’ inner monologue reflects what their leader, Erin O’Toole, has been going through,” seeking to “appease voters who believe his party needs to get serious about climate change, including through the market-based mechanism that should theoretically appeal to the centre-right, without alienating party members who consider any such concession a betrayal.”
But he still gives O’Toole credit for attempting a “nearly impossible tightrope walk” that ends with “a much more credible emissions reduction strategy than anything the Conservatives have put forward previously.” If O’Toole has the “fortitude” to stare down the in-house sniping the plan has already produced, and “if he campaigns unapologetically on what he has put forward, the next election will involve a debate about whose climate plan is better, not whether one is needed at all.”]