Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with Alberta Premier Jason Kenney on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with Alberta Premier Jason Kenney on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Liberals face challenge to climate, economic policies early in 2020

Frontier mine’s approval will be contingent on determining how it fits into the ‘net zero by 2050’ goal

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau heads into 2020 promising to chart a path to Canada’s most ambitious greenhouse-gas emissions target yet: getting to a point within 30 years where Canada is adding no emissions that will stay in the atmosphere.

But one of the first things his government has to decide in the new year is whether to give cabinet approval to a major new oilsands project that environment advocates say is absolutely incompatible with reaching the “net-zero” target.

Environment groups say the decision will send a signal about how serious Trudeau is about ramping up Canada’s plans to cut emissions and do its part to slow global warming.

If his government rejects the project, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has warned, that will send a signal that Canada’s oil-and-gas sector has no future.

Rock, meet political hard place.

In an interview with The Canadian Press, Trudeau said he has “been unabashed that we have to get ahead of the fight against climate change and be really thoughtful about how we are moving forward.”

Moments earlier, in the same interview, he acknowledged he is not ruling out approving the Teck Frontier mine north of Fort McMurray, Alta.

“We have a process that is ongoing and I am not going to speculate on those outcomes,” he said.

A joint federal-provincial review panel gave conditional approval to the $20.6-billion Frontier mine in July, finding it was in the national interest. It’s expected to create $12 billion in tax revenues for Ottawa and $55 billion in tax and royalty revenues for Alberta over its 41-year life. About 7,000 jobs will be created in building the mine and 2,500 workers will be needed to operate it.

The panel also found the mine would cause “significant adverse environmental effects” to local wetlands and old-growth forests, and have some irreversible impacts on biodiversity.

It will, the panel noted, be a significant producer of greenhouse gases and likely make it harder for Canada to meet both its 2030 targets under the Paris climate-change agreement and its loftier 2050 goals. That fact was irrelevant to the panel’s decision because the review was done under now-obsolete rules, under which climate change was not within the purview of the review panel.

Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said during a visit to Calgary the week before Christmas that the Frontier mine’s approval will be contingent on determining how it fits into the “net zero by 2050” goal. Net zero, a phrase Canadians will be hearing a lot in 2020, means that whatever carbon dioxide or related substances are sent into the atmosphere can be absorbed by natural “sinks” like forests and wetlands, or engineered ones that capture carbon either to be used another way or stored.

The Frontier mine would be expected to produce 260,000 barrels of oil a day, and produce about four million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions every year, for more than 40 years. Every time Canada adds more emissions to the mix, it pushes the goals further and further out of reach.

Catherine Abreu, executive director of the Climate Action Network Canada, said the mine review is “the first test” of the Liberals’ insistence that climate is at the heart of their policy-making.

“If they are serious about net-zero by 2050 they cannot in good faith approve the largest oilsands mine proposed in Canadian history, that is scheduled to operate until 2067,” Abreu said. “A project of that scale, of emissions of that concentration, just blows all of those targets and all of those good intentions out of the water.”

Wilkinson said there is no question, based on the results of the federal election in October, that Canadians want more ambitious action to slow climate change.

But he said it is also clear ”the vast majority of Canadians also are pragmatic” and want climate action to come with a prosperous economy. For him, clean technology is the way out of the quagmire.

“In the short term it is about (getting) resources to market,” he said. “In the long term it will evolve towards clean technology, technology that will enable us to reduce the footprint we have and do so in a manner that will create economic opportunity.”

Wilkinson’s 2020 to-do list, he said, starts with figuring out how to close the 77-million-tonne gap between the policies Canada has in place and the existing 2030 climate target to reduce emissions to 30 per cent below where they were in 2005.

That figure, updated just a week ago, comes from projections of Canada’s emissions based on existing policies and those that are fairly firmly set to be implemented in the coming years, such as standards to make gasoline burn with fewer emissions and to curb methane released from oil and gas production, and plans to plant two billion new trees.

At the end of 2018, Ottawa expected to be 79 million tonnes shy of the 2030 goal.

When new policies like the carbon tax offset by increases in emissions from the oil and gas sector, and revisions to how much carbon dioxide trees are expected to absorb, the progress towards Canada’s 2030 goal in the last year was just two million tonnes.

The Paris target requires Canada to cut greenhouse gases produced from 730 million tonnes in 2005 to 511 million tonnes in 2030. The combination of existing and planned policies is projected to get Canada to 588 million tonnes by 2030.

But the government is now not just promising to hit the Paris targets. Trudeau promised during the election to exceed them, and get to net zero by 2050. Canada is also supposed to take a more ambitious plan to cut emissions to the next United Nations climate meeting, planned for Scotland in November.

Wilkinson warns that despite the pressure to act quickly, the needed changes are not going to get done overnight.

“What we’re talking about is changing the way we transport goods and people,” he said. “We’re talking about (changing) the way we generate energy, how we deal with waste, how we actually build our buildings, how we retrofit existing buildings. All of those are doable but people have to be realistic about how long that takes.”

Canadians can expect legislation in 2020 to set five-year goals on the way to both 2030 and 2050 emissions targets. Tim Gray, the executive director of Environmental Defence, said the details of that legislation are critical, including how it will be enforced. He is hopeful that the government will create an independent agency to file progress reports.

Abreu said she wants some very specific goals within those five-year increments, such as how many people will be using public transit by a certain year.

Canada has already set a goal for 10 per cent of all vehicle purchased to be electric by 2025, and 30 per cent by 2030. Between two and three per cent of new vehicles are electric now.

Besides the Teck mine decision, Ottawa has another call to make early in the new year — whether to allow British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Alberta to use their own proposed regulations to cut methane emissions, or be forced to use Ottawa’s version.

Alberta’s Premier Kenney put approving his province’s methane regulations on his list of demands from Trudeau when he visited Ottawa earlier in December. The first stage of the new federal regulations go into effect Jan. 1. Ottawa is allowing Alberta to use its own for now but is still negotiating a final agreement because federal officials don’t think Alberta’s version will reduce as much methane as Ottawa’s would. Alberta officials disagree.

Albertans are already set to start paying the federal carbon tax on Jan. 1, although Ottawa did recently give Alberta the green light to use its own pricing system for pollution coming from big industry like oilsands, power plants and mines.

Also coming up in 2020 is a review of carbon taxes for their impact on competitiveness, which could shine some light on whether the federal carbon tax is harming the economy.

The national carbon price on fuel purchases will rise to $30 a tonne on April 1, adding about another 2.5 cents to the cost of a litre of gas.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

BC Transit is planning several route expansions in Penticton in 2022. (Black Press file photo)
Transit use down in Penticton, multiple route expansions planned for post-pandemic

The number of riders is just over half the peak of January 2020

Police attend house party, then hear shots fired outside the Oliver detachment, with a truck fleeing and set on fire, followed by a pharmacy set on fire early Saturday morning. (File photo)
Shots fired at police, multiple arsons in same night ‘very concerning’ for Oliver RCMP

Police were called to shots fired at a house party, followed by a vehicle and pharmacy set on fire

Four windows were broken at Queen’s Park elementary over the weekend. (Google Maps)
Two Penticton schools hit by vandals recently

Queen’s Park elementary had four windows broken over the weekend

The City out Penticton is giving out free compost until May 21. (City of Penticton)
Penticton giving out free compost to interested residents

Penticton’s compost comes from the city’s wastewater recycling program

The bodies of Carlo and Erick Fryer were discovered by a local couple walking on a remote forest road in Naramata on May 10. (Contributed)
Police offer no updates into two brothers found dead in Penticton last week

The bodies of Carlo and Erick Fryer were discovered by a couple walking in Naramata on May 10

A prowling coyote proved no match for a stray black cat who chased it out of a Port Moody parking lot Friday, May 14. (Twitter/Screen grab)
VIDEO: Little but fierce: Cat spotted chasing off coyote by Port Moody police

The black cat is seen jumping out from under a parked car and running the wild animal out of a vacant lot

Several RCMP cruisers stationed out front of Kelowna’s Global Fitness following a shooting on the morning of Monday, March 29. The shooting was later revealed to be gang-related. (Michael Rodriguez/Capital News)
B.C.’s top gangs are operating in Kelowna: RCMP

‘We have all of the major gangs in Kelowna,’ said Supt. Kara Triance

Crews battled a grass fire behind the Tolko mill along the railway tracks off Otter Lake Cross Road in Spallumcheen Monday, April 26. (Caitlin Clow - Morning Star file)
Reports of man lighting Vernon fires with blowtorch

Grassfires sparked near train tracks, behind bottle depot

Kelowna RCMP precinct. (Michael Rodriguez/Capital News file)
Kelowna RCMP promotion process tainted with bias: federal judge

An officer was passed over for a promotion in 2015

White Rock’s Marine Drive is being restricted to single-lane one-way traffic to allow more patio space for waterfront restaurants, with indoor dining restricted from the end of March to some time after the May 24 weekend. (Peace Arch News)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate falls to 411 cases Tuesday

360 people in hospital, up slightly, two more deaths

The Banff National Park entrance is shown in Banff, Alta., Tuesday, March 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Minister asks Canadians to camp carefully in national parks as season starts

Kitchen shelters in Banff National Park closed, trails on Vancouver Island will only be one-way

Names of those aboard the ship are seen at Komagata Maru monument in downtown Vancouver, on Tuesday, May 18, 2021. The City of Vancouver has issued an apology for its racist role in denying entry to 376 passengers aboard a ship that was forced to return to India over a century ago. Mayor Kennedy Stewart says discrimination by the city had “cruel effects” on the Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims aboard the Komagata Maru, which arrived in Burrard Inlet on May 23, 1914. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver mayor says sorry for city’s role in turning away South Asians in 1914

Kennedy Stewart has declared May 23 as the annual Komagata Maru Day of Remembrance

A crew of WestCoast WILD Adventures employees tackled an onslaught of litter left at the ‘Locks of Love’ fence at Wally Creek on May 2. (Anne-Marie Gosselin photo)
Litter woes consume popular ‘Locks of Love’ fence on B.C.’s Pacific Rim

Popular view spot near Tofino plagued by people hanging masks and other unwanted garbage

Kamloops Fire Rescue’s Captain Brian Lannon has been identified as the diver who is presumed to have drowned in Okanagan Lake over the weekend. (Contributed/Kamloops Fire Rescue)
Presumed drowned Okanagan Lake diver identified as Kamloops firefighter

Crews continue efforts to recover Brian Lannon’s body from the lake

Most Read