Julie Gelfand, the federal Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, released a report entitled Perspectives on Climate Change Action in Canada at the end of March.
Canada has a pretty dismal track record when it comes to meeting its climate action commitments. We’ve already missed two targets — Rio in 2000 and Kyoto in 2012 — by a country mile. Everyone agrees that it will be impossible to come close to meeting our Copenhagen target in 2020. That leaves our 2030 Paris target as the next one to shoot for. What are our chances of coming close to the bullseye there?
Well, according to Gelfand, who works under the auspices of the Auditor General, the chances are next to zero. She reports that Canada’s present carbon output is just over 700 megatonnes per year, and our Paris 2030 target is to get that down to just over 500 megatonnes. If we continue with policies and practices now in place, we’ll be just treading water and our carbon dioxide output will not go down significantly. If federal and provincial governments actually implement recently promised programs, we can get that down to 650 megatonnes, still far above the target.
Why are we finding it so difficult? Part of the challenge is working within the Canadian federal system. Provinces have a lot of power and, as we’ve seen in recent weeks, they don’t always agree on what we need to do about climate and the environment.
Provincial action on climate change has been varied. Only five provinces and territories actually have targets of their own, and only four had a price on carbon before the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change was signed. British Columbia had both those policies in place.
I think it’s clear that the federal government must act boldly on its own in ways that are within its jurisdiction. There are many paths we could take, but I’ll mention two.
First, we should re-enact the ecoENERGY Retrofit program to allow Canadian homeowners to renovate their houses to become more energy efficient. This was an extremely successful project of the previous government that leveraged government spending by about five to one and helped 640,000 homeowners save an average of $200 on their annual energy bill. Unfortunately, the program has been passed over to the provinces to implement, and few have taken up the offer.
Second, we must move quickly to the electrification of transport systems. Incentives for electric vehicles, including rebates and exemptions from taxes, licensing fees and parking fees, will accelerate that shift. Building out a network of fast charging stations will make it easy for Canadians to choose electric when buying their next vehicle. If there are sectors where choice is not available or products are not yet suitable, such as electric pick-up trucks or vehicles that function efficiently in extremely cold weather, Canada should lead the way in developing these products.
We must do this. It’s by no means impossible. We’re behind most European countries, which had already met their 2020 targets by 2015. And remember, these early targets will be easier to reach than the necessarily ambitious target of 80% reduction by 2050.
The government proclaims every day that the economy and the environment go hand in hand, but when we consistently miss our climate action commitments we have to admit that we are failing both the environment and the economy. Proposals, such as those mentioned above, would create new jobs and build the economy of the future. That is what it looks like when the economy and environment truly go hand in hand.
We must act now, and we must act boldly. We can’t be seen by our grandchildren as the selfish generation, the generation that fiddled while Rome burned.
Richard Cannings is a member of the NDP and the South Okanagan-West Kootenay riding MP. Cannings is also the critic for post-secondary education and critic for natural resources.