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Election 2021: How the four main federal parties plan to fight climate crisis

Climate change will almost certainly be top of mind in the upcoming election after a summer of intense heat waves has left apartment dwellers roasting with no relief and wildfires are sweeping through Ontario and B.C.’s rural communities.

A recent landmark report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) foresees a grim future with more of the same — and worse — if we don’t act now. An urgent call to action from the International Energy Agency (IEA) mapped out a path to net-zero emissions by 2050, but Canada has yet to meet an emissions reduction goal and the Paris Agreement climate targets may soon move out of reach without immediate and massive greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions, according to the IPCC report.

Here is where the Liberals, Conservatives, NDP, Green Party and Bloc Québécois stand on climate action.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau makes a public transit announcement at the CT — Oliver Bowen maintenance facility in Calgary, Alta.

Liberals up the ante on Canada’s climate target

Earlier this year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Canada’s new GHG reduction target will be 40 to 45 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. Whether we will meet this remains unknown, and given the country’s track record, some have doubts. Canada’s emissions jumped 3.3 per cent from 2016 to 2019, according to a report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the Corporate Mapping Project, the Parkland Institute, Stand.earth, West Coast Environmental Law and 350.org. Trudeau’s new target fails to keep pace with the Biden administration’s commitment to a 50 to 52 per cent reduction by 2030. On Sept. 1, the Liberals released their costed election platform, which promises roughly $7.4 billion for climate initiatives over the next five years.

Key initiatives

Carbon pricing: Gradually increase the carbon tax to $170/tonne by 2030.

Fossil fuel subsidies: End fossil fuel subsidies by 2023 — two years earlier than originally planned — and “develop a plan to phase out public financing of the fossil fuel sector, including from Crown corporations, consistent with our commitment to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.”

Clean electricity grid: Introduce a clean electricity standard to have a 100 per cent carbon-free power grid by 2035 and create a pan-Canadian grid council to improve integration among regional grids.

Nuclear energy: Released a small modular reactor (SMR) action plan in December, which lays out intentions to make the next-generation nuclear technology part of Canada’s clean energy transformation. The Liberals have also invested millions of dollars in SMRs, and the party’s climate plan, A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy, touts SMRs as a way to help decarbonize heavy industry.

Just transition: Launched a process to consult with provinces and territories; First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities; labour and non-governmental organizations; and small business owners and industry on how to best make the transition to a low-carbon economy. The party’s platform pledges to move forward with just transition legislation based on the feedback and would establish a $2-billion futures fund for Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador to “support local and regional economic diversification” and develop clean energy opportunities in the coming decade.

Climate accountability: Passed in June, The Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act sets targets for every five years from 2030 to 2050 to guide the country’s transition to net-zero. The act includes stronger, more frequent progress reports, an independent advisory body and a 2026 emissions objective requiring a plan within six months.

Hydrogen: Released a federal hydrogen strategy last year outlining a path to lower emissions and take advantage of the global hydrogen market, which it says could surpass $11 trillion over the next 30 years. The party also announced $1.5 billion to fund clean fuels in June.

Carbon capture: Budget 2021 earmarked $319 million over seven years for “research, development, and demonstrations” of carbon capture technology.

Reality checks

Environmental groups and the NDP, Green Party and Bloc Québécois have objected to the continued use of nuclear power because it produces toxic waste, and SMR technology won’t be built until 2026 to 2030, which many say is too late to address the climate crisis.

The NDP and Greens regularly criticize the Liberals for not eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, but Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said his party “violently disagree(s)” with Singh on what a fossil fuel subsidy is. The NDP views subsidies for things like orphan well cleanup as letting oil and gas companies off the hook, while the Liberals maintain this is not a fossil fuel subsidy because remediating orphan wells is good for the environment.

Trudeaut still touts the Trans Mountain oil pipeline and expansion project as a way to finance Canada’s climate objectives, despite a report from Canada’s parliamentary budget officer, which found the pipeline will only be profitable if Ottawa doesn’t take further steps to combat climate change.

A recent report from Environmental Defence points out that the government announced various supports totalling almost $18 billion to the oil and gas sector in 2020; meanwhile, its climate plan has earmarked $15 billion for climate initiatives over 10 years. It’s unclear whether this figure includes the $7.4-billion commitment in the party platform, which is spread out over five years.

Blue hydrogen may be worse than burning coal, according to new research. The Green Party warns that unless hydrogen solutions are green, it will hinder the transition away from oil and gas.

500 environmental groups and other organizations from Canada and the U.S. are calling on the feds to stop investing in carbon capture technology because it prolongs the use of oil and gas.

Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole campaigning in Ottawa on Aug. 31.

Conservatives catch up on carbon pricing

Earlier this year, a Supreme Court ruling put an end to legal challenges from the governments of Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Ontario that the federal government’s carbon pricing law encroached on provincial autonomy and was unconstitutional. After the release of Erin O’Toole’s climate plan in mid-April, all four major federal parties now support some variation of carbon pricing.

Key initiatives

Carbon pricing: Introduce carbon pricing that would start at $20/tonne and increase to $50/tonne — but no higher (The Liberal plan calls for pricing of $170/tonne by 2030.) The CPC’s 160-page election platform calls for the tax to be paid into “personal low-carbon savings accounts” when Canadians buy hydrocarbon-based fuel, and those savings could then be used for energy efficient retrofits, a transit pass or other green purchases.

Zero-emission vehicles: Introduce a zero-emission vehicle mandate based on British Columbia’s mandate that would require 30 per cent of light-duty vehicle sales to be zero emissions by 2030. However, the IEA’s report on reaching net-zero carbon pollution says ending the sale of new internal combustion engine passenger cars by 2035 is key to achieving net zero. The Liberals have set a “mandatory target” for all new light-duty cars and passenger truck sales to be zero-emissions by 2035, but Canada’s next steps are on hold until the U.S. reveals its plans.

Carbon capture: Invest $5 billion in carbon capture, utilization and storage.

Nature-based climate solutions: Invest $3 billion in natural climate solutions, like forest management and wetland, grassland and forest restoration.

Natural gas: Require a minimum of 15 per cent renewable content in natural gas by 2030; the Conservative platform suggests doing so by capturing methane from sources like farms and landfills.

Fuel standard: Implement a “low-carbon fuel standard” that would reduce the carbon intensity of transport fuels and incentivize environmental protection of agricultural lands and managed forests. The Conservatives’ fuel standard would require fuel suppliers to reduce the amount of carbon in their fuel by 20 per cent below 2016 levels by 2030; currently, the Liberals require a 13 per cent reduction.

Reality checks

O’Toole’s climate plan does not sit well with some of his party members. Earlier this year at the Conservative Party convention, 54 per cent of voting delegates voted against a motion that would include the phrases “We recognize that climate change is real, ” and “The Conservative Party is willing to act” in the party’s policy. Despite this failure, O’Toole insists “Canada must not ignore the reality of climate change.”

The Conservative carbon pricing plan is much lower than the costs proposed by its Liberal and NDP opponents, and alienated Conservative supporters staunchly against a carbon tax, like the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

It is not clear how a “low-carbon savings account” would work, and it would require administrative systems with maintenance costs likely passed on to consumers. What counts as a “greener life” purchase has also not been established.

Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh on Sept. 1.

NDP aims to enhance carbon pricing and climate accountability

After the Supreme Court ruled the implementation of the Liberals’ carbon tax was constitutional, MP Laurel Collins, the NDP critic for environment and climate change, issued a statement saying, “The Liberals have staked their entire climate plan on the carbon tax,” which “isn’t nearly enough.” The statement decries the Liberals’ ongoing support of big polluters and calls for immediate investment in transit, energy-efficient homes and buildings, and clean energy. The NDP’s costed platform is expected to be released Sept. 11.

Key initiatives

Carbon pricing: The NDP’s carbon pricing plan is similar to the Liberals’, but changes how the system works for industrial emitters. Under the Liberal system, companies exceeding 80, 90 or 95 per cent of the average emissions in their industry have to pay, but the NDP wants companies to pay tax on a larger portion of their emissions and said it would set the limit at 70 per cent.

Carbon budget: Establish multi-year national and sectoral carbon budgets to help guide Canada’s path to 2030 and 2050 goals.

Emission reduction targets: Aim to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, and a 50 per cent reduction below 2005 levels by 2030. The party would also create a “Climate Accountability Office” to provide independent, transparent information to ensure targets are being set and met through 2030 to 2050.

Large-scale retrofits: The platform sets a target of retrofitting all buildings in Canada by 2050 and providing families with low-interest loans to help families make energy efficient renovations to their homes. Ensure every new building built in Canada is net-zero by 2025 by improving the National Building Code.

Green jobs: Commitments to invest in clean energy, climate resilience, social infrastructure, transit, and energy efficiency, to create over a million new jobs. The job creation plan is to be paired with training, education, and targeted support to help workers, families, and communities make the transition to a “low-carbon future.”

Nuclear energy: Unlike the Conservatives and Liberals, the NDP does not support plans to fund nuclear energy, and instead supports the development of energy storage solutions to roll out renewables like solar and wind on a larger scale.

Civilian climate corps: Mobilize and employ young people by creating new jobs supporting conservation efforts and addressing the threat of climate change through activities like restoring wetlands and planting trees.

Electricity: Set a target of net carbon-free electricity by 2030, and move to 100 per cent non-emitting electricity by 2040.

Reality checks

The NDP opposes the Trans Mountain oil pipeline and expansion project, but at the English federal leaders’ debate, Jagmeet Singh dodged a question asking whether his party would cancel the project if elected. Singh has also expressed support for the Coastal GasLink LNG pipeline despite strong opposition from Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs. In 2019, Singh told Canada’s National Observer the Trans Mountain project failed on both the environment and consultation with Indigenous people fronts, whereas “with the LNG project, the company and the government have done significant work to obtain the consent and partnership of Indigenous communities,” noting that when it comes to reconciliation, “there’s still more work to be done.”

The NDP’s platform has been criticized as “light on implementation details,” particularly when it comes to achieving the ambitious goals the party has laid out, like the target to hit net-zero electricity by 2030 and achieve 100 per cent non-emitting electricity by 2040.

Green Party Leader Annamie Paul makes an announcement about the overdose crisis on Sept. 1.

Green Party pushes for fair share reductions

When Trudeau announced Canada’s new target of 40 to 45 per cent emissions reductions, federal Green Party Leader Annamie Paul told Canada’s National Observer those “unambitious targets” will be impossible to meet if the federal government continues to subsidize the fossil fuel industry and greenlight projects like the three offshore drilling projects recently approved off the coast of St. John’s, N.L. The Green Party released its election platform on Sept. 7; it has not been costed.

Key initiatives:

Emission reduction targets: The Green Party’s recovery plan commits Canada to a 60 per cent reduction of GHG below 2005 levels by 2030, an amount they say represents Canada’s fair share of emissions. Instead of net-zero by 2050, the goal is to get Canada to “net negative” emissions by 2050.

Carbon pricing — at home and at the border: After the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the Liberals carbon pricing system constitutional, Paul warned that, “a carbon tax plan is not a plan in and of itself” and the Green’s platform proposes implementing a carbon border adjustment so Canadian business won’t be at a competitive disadvantage with foreign companies. It said this could be Canada’s “single most impactful action” to encourage other countries to adopt strong emission reductions policies. The annual carbon tax increase would be $25 per tonne instead of the current $15 per tonne, hitting $250 a year in 2030.

Fossil fuel projects: The Green Party opposes the Trans Mountain oil pipeline and expansion project and wants to end all oil and gas exploration projects, new pipelines, and fracking activity. It would also phase out bitumen production between 2030 and 2035 and end all fossil fuel subsidies.

Just transition: The platform promises to introduce a Just Transition Act before the end of 2021 and would “replace every high paying fossil fuel sector job with a high paying green sector job.” It would achieve this job replacement through wage insurance, retraining programs, early retirement plans and investments in renewable energy and cleantech.

Carbon Budget: Enact a carbon budget to determine the cumulative amount of GHG Canada can emit to “do its part” to keep warming to C1.5.

Building retrofits: Implement a national green retrofit of all existing buildings and change the national building code to require all new construction and major renovations meet net-zero standards by 2030.

Transportation: Ban the sale of all internal combustion engine passenger vehicles by 2030 and convert all passenger ferries to electric or hybrid systems by 2030.

Renewable energy — but no nuclear: Aims for 100 per cent of Canada’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2030, while instituting “a ban on further development of nuclear power in Canada.” It also prioritizes investing in a national energy corridor.

Reality checks:

Despite being “technically feasible,” its plan for 100 per cent of Canada’s electricity to come from renewables by 2030 has been criticized given that electricity generation is a provincial jurisdiction.

Bloc Qébécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet.

Bloc Québécois opposes fossil fuels and nuclear

On Aug. 22, the Bloc Québécois released its 2021 platform complete with a pledge to end fossil fuel subsidies, pointing out that under the Liberals, fossil fuel subsidies increased beyond the Stephen Harper era. The platform says money from subsidies would be redirected to clean energies and research centres in Quebec while maintaining funding for Western Canada to transition away from fossil fuels.

Key Initiatives:

Emissions reduction targets: The platform does not specify any emissions reduction targets.

”Green equalization”: This program would reward provinces that take serious climate action and impose the polluter pays principle.

Fossil fuel projects: Opposes any new interprovincial oil transportation and any oil export projects from the tarsands; the party would end the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.

Nuclear energy: Opposes the development of nuclear energy, including SMRs.

Zero-emissions vehicles: Proposes federal government vehicle fleets be made up of 100 per cent zero-emission vehicles and would introduce a law forcing car dealerships to offer a “suitable” inventory of electric vehicles.

Reality Checks:

The IEA’s report says it is vital to end the sale of new internal combustion passenger cars by 2035 to achieve net-zero, and the Bloc has not set a specific target for 100 per cent electric vehicle sales.

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