Canadian Climate Action: Promises and Compromises

(Kayleigh Valentine/ The McGill Policy Association)

(Kayleigh Valentine/ The McGill Policy Association)

All four of Canada’s leading political parties have pledged to tackle climate change in their policy proposals by addressing CO2 emissions, which account for 80% of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). The oil and gas industry is the economic sector that contributes the most to Canada’s CO2 emissions, and is implicated in the two most divisive topics on climate action this election season: the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project and carbon taxation.

The Pipeline Expansion Project

Earlier this year, Trudeau’s government approved a plan to expand the Trans Mountain Pipeline, which runs from Burnaby to Edmonton, in order to increase its capacity from approximately 300,000 to 890,000 barrels of oil per day. While the expansion will generate an additional 400,000 tonnes of GHGs annually, the Liberal party claims it will not increase net emissions since the Trans Mountain Corporation will be required to offset 1 million tonnes of emissions. Additionally, the government plans to use the profits from the pipeline expansion project to facilitate a transition towards a cleaner economy. However, the Liberals have not laid out any further numbers or details, making it difficult to evaluate whether their promise could hold. Likewise, the Conservative Party supports the pipeline expansion project, and plans to repeal bill C-69, which would expedite approvals to new pipeline projects. Conversely, the New Democrat Party (NDP) and the Green Party both strongly rebuke the expansion project. Their energy plans have been primarily focused on carbon-free electricity: the NDP and the Green Party both support building an inter-provincial energy grid system that will funnel surplus energy from provinces like Manitoba towards energy sinks like Ontario.

Carbon Tax

Recently, a group of top bipartisan economists in the US asserted that carbon taxation is the most effective way to reduce emissions at the pace necessary to fight climate change. While the Liberals intend to raise the price of carbon pollution by $10 per tonne each year, the Conservatives would eliminate carbon taxation altogether, arguing that small businesses and homeowners carry the largest tax burden. Instead, a Conservative government will require companies that surpass a 40 kilotonne per year emission cap to pay into certified green investments, such as Canadian clean tech companies or university programs advancing green technology. The price of pollution, however, has not been defined, and hence critics of their plan have branded it as vague. The NDP also supports carbon taxation and has committed to retracting some of the breaks the Liberals have given to major polluters. Beyond voicing support for carbon pricing, the NDP has not released further details on their carbon taxation plan. In a similar vein, the Green Party plans to continue carbon taxation, but has not put forward any numbers yet. 

So, which plan will most effectively reduce emissions?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has stated that a net-zero emissions pledge by countries is a necessity in order to avert catastrophic environmental consequences. So far, only the Liberals and the Green Party have announced a pledge to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. However, the Liberals’ plan to hit net-zero emissions by 2050 lacks clarity, and the reality of meeting 2030 targets under the Liberals’ current policy is unlikely. The Conservatives have not announced any plans for reaching net-zero emissions. Climate expert Mark Jaccard has even gone so far as to say that the Conservatives’ climate plan will lead to increased emissions. The NDP has committed to meeting the IPCC’s targets and has budgeted $15 billion for its climate action plan, a plan which they say will create 300,000 jobs within their first mandate. Their plan to cut carbon emissions by 37% from 2017 by 2050 is rather ambitious, and has been labelled as unclear by environmental economist Andrew Leach. The Green Party’s climate plan to reduce emissions has also been called overambitious by experts.