Trudeau goes it alone with new climate plan, proposes carbon price hike
Four years ago, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appeared side by side with premiers as he announced a “pan-Canadian” climate plan. On Friday, he unveiled his new “federal” strategy, flanked by members of his cabinet.
The difference was immediately obvious, as Trudeau acknowledged in his remarks how the government still needed to talk turkey with the provinces and territories. “This plan for a healthy environment and a healthy economy was developed for the federal government,” Trudeau said in Ottawa.
“We look forward to working with the provincial governments and all Canadians as we move forward.”
It was a different image than the one on Dec. 9, 2016, when Trudeau rolled out the Pan-Canadian Framework while seated with premiers and talked about “co-operation and collaboration.”
Most of those premiers have now changed, and some provinces are now recalcitrant in the face of Liberal environmental policy, taking the fight over the carbon price all the way to the Supreme Court.
Trudeau, in turn, couldn't help but play defence when asked what would happen if the Supreme Court ruled against the federal government.
“There are some jurisdictions that still don't understand that the only way to build a strong economy for the future is to protect the environment at the same time,” he said.
“There are some places in this country that still want to make pollution free again.”
Carbon price rising to $170 per tonne
Trudeau’s new climate plan proposes growing the carbon price, tightening federal rules and injecting $15 billion worth of initiatives into the economy. His government is hoping that these efforts will result in steeper cuts to Canada’s carbon pollution that go beyond current measures.
A key part of the plan involves accelerating the growth of the carbon price each year. The current federal carbon pricing system is set at $30 per tonne of greenhouse gas equivalent, and is designed to rise by $10 per year to $50 per tonne in 2022.
The new plan proposes that the increase would accelerate in 2023 to $15 more per tonne each year, reaching $170 per tonne in 2030.
This carbon price increase would need to be discussed with provinces and territories, said Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson.
“The pricing proposal is a proposal. We will be reaching out to discuss with provinces and territories going forward,” he said.
“We’ve been very clear as a government that our view is that a price on pollution is the most efficient way to reduce emissions ... all of the provinces and territories are aware of that, and that conversation will continue.”
The Pembina Institute called the “significant” increase in the price a “smart” move.
“This is our most effective and powerful tool to tackle emissions that are contributing to climate change that is already costing Canadians billions of dollars,” said Linda Coady, executive director, and Isabelle Turcotte, federal policy director.
Meanwhile, Conservative environment critic Dan Albas called the proposal a broken promise, and said it was “shameful” the Liberals “failed to properly consult provinces on their plan.”
“The environment is an area of shared jurisdiction and Canada’s Conservatives will respect the jurisdiction of the provinces and territories by scrapping Trudeau’s carbon tax,” he said.
Alberta’s Environment Minister Jason Nixon said Friday afternoon that the province would be reviewing and providing feedback on the federal strategy when draft regulations become available.
But he took an initial shot at the plan for a higher carbon price, calling it “yet another attack on Alberta’s economy and on Alberta’s jurisdiction.”
‘There is no vaccine against a polluted planet’
Trudeau unveiled the plan Friday as new federal forecasts showed a rapid surge in COVID-19 cases, raising alarm bells about Canada’s death toll ticking upwards in the coming weeks.
The prime minister sought to tie the two crises together in his remarks, telling Canadians that science is a not a “buffet” where people can “pick and choose” which scientific conclusions to believe and which to ignore.
“If we trust scientists with our health, as we do, then we must also trust their research and their expertise when it comes to other existential threats — and that includes climate change,” he said. “There is no vaccine against a polluted planet.”
The $15-billion plan is broken up into five elements that involve carbon pricing, slashing energy waste through retrofit programs, boosting zero-emissions vehicles, promoting hydrogen and other alternative fuels as well as carbon capture technology and nature-based solutions.
The government is proposing “adjustments” to the output-based pricing system for large industrial emitters, as well as strengthening the “benchmark” criteria it uses to evaluate the strength of provincial carbon pricing systems that it accepts in place of its own.
As Wilkinson discussed in comments Thursday, it also includes an attempt to align Canada's “climate and industrial policies” by proposing “performance standards, investments and incentives” to ensure Canadian businesses are tuned towards low-carbon products and services.
Climate Action Network Canada executive director Catherine Abreu said the plan showed Canada was “finally joining countries representing 50 per cent of global GDP that know strong economic policy hinges on strong environmental policy.”
“With this plan, people and communities across Canada can see themselves joining the huge clean economy that is taking over global markets,” she said.
Other countries, however, have announced that they are stopping the expansion of fossil fuel investments, Abreu noted, while Canadian governments “continue to double down on fossil fuels.”
The plan acknowledges how greenhouse gas emissions from “Canada’s industrial sector, including oil and gas production,” are 37 per cent of Canada’s total carbon pollution. “Working with large final emitters is essential to Canada’s climate goals,” it says.
Canada’s top 25 highest-emitting facilities represented 118 megatonnes of emissions, reads the plan. Eight of those are coal-fired power plants, which the government is moving to phase out by 2030. The remaining 17 “are a mix of oilsands, steel, refining, and a pipeline.”
Three-quarters of those 17 facilities are in Alberta, the home of the oilpatch.
“Through targeted support to large emitters in the oil and gas sector, cement, iron, and steel sectors, this can enable near-term deployment of technologies to reduce emissions at the ‘megatonne’ scale,” reads the plan.
‘At least 85 million tonnes’ of new pollution cuts
The government said that the new proposed actions, if fully implemented, are projected to result in emissions reductions of “at least 85 million tonnes” beyond the current Pan-Canadian Framework.
That would, in theory, exceed Canada’s current target of 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, instead resulting in about a 32 per cent cut to 2005 levels by that date.
Government officials said this should not be interpreted as Canada’s new official national emissions reduction target. That will ultimately be informed by the coming engagement with premiers, Indigenous leaders and others, they said.
Canada is also already projected to overshoot its current 2030 target by 15 per cent.
“It's good to see policies that can, if implemented quickly and with the greatest stringency possible, take Canada's climate ambitions further than our current insufficient Paris pledge,” said Abreu.
“It is also good to see a significant investment of $15 billion in climate action. However, these numbers pale in comparison to commitments being made by our closest trading partners in the European Union and the United States under a new Biden administration.”
Carl Meyer / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer