New Environment Minister Has a Tough Row to Hoe

A new environment minister and a new cabinet are being sworn in today. So it’s timely to review the government’s progress on climate action. Find out more.

Last week, we took a hard look at the implications of the US decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Change Agreement.  Today,  Justin Trudeau is unveiling his new cabinet, including a new environment minister. It seems timely to discuss Canada’s Paris Agreement commitments and our progress toward our goals. 

In a happy coincidence, the international organization of climate experts called Climate Transparency has just released its annual climate change report card, called the G20 Brown to Green Report.  That gives us the perfect benchmark to assess how Canada is doing as the new team takes the field.

If we listen to Trudeau, the outlook is rosy.  Nobody can count the number of times that he repeated his boast throughout the recent election campaign.  “Canada is on track to reduce our emissions by 30 percent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels.”  This is just plain false, and his own government says so.

Trudeau has done nothing on emission targets

We should start by clarifying that Trudeau has done nothing to improve on Canada’s emission targets.  The goals Canada committed to in Paris were the same half-hearted goals set by the Harper government back in 2015.  Trudeau disparaged these feeble goals in opposition but did nothing to strengthen them when he came to power.  So, merely meeting Harper’s lame targets shouldn’t be the objective to begin with.  Besides, we’re not even clearing this absurdly low bar.

To be fair, we should judge performance based on the goals set.   Fairness also dictates that we look at the government’s own data.  So, let’s consider the reports from Environment and Climate Change Canada.  In their January 2019 report entitled Progress Towards Canada’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Target, the department says, “Emissions are projected to be 592 Mt CO2 eq or 19% below 2005 levels. This scenario accounts for additional policies and measures that are under development but have not yet been fully implemented.”

In other words, the numbers include things the government hasn’t even come up with yet.  Even at that, the best forecast they can manage is 19% below 2005 levels.  The goal is 30%.  How can the prime minister claim to be on track when he is falling this far short? 

He just made it up to win the election

His long-suffering environment minister, Catherine McKenna, had to shoulder the burden on that one.  When reporters asked her for a specific explanation, all she could come up with to back up her boss was, “”Do we have all the details? No, we’re going to figure this out, but the first thing we need to do is we need to get through this election.”  Translation: he just made it up to win the election.  After that, he’ll forget all about it, and we’re hoping Canadians will too.

Now, let’s get back to Climate Transparency’s report.  The G20 per capita average on emissions is 7.5 tonnes.  Canada’s per capita emissions are 18.9 tonnes.  The only country with higher per capita emissions than Canada is Australia.  Out of all the G20 countries, Canada is in the bottom three, along with Australia and South Korea. 

Further, based on our country’s fair share of emissions reduction, we will fall far short of the reduction needed to keep global temperature rise to 1.5˚ Celsius.  We need to cut our emissions below 327 megatonnes.  Yet, our current plan can only manage a reduction to 518 megatonnes.

G20 countries play the same numbers racket

About half of G20 members are genuinely on track to meet their Paris targets, so we should be able to do better.  It’s not like we can’t afford it.  Canada’s GDP per capita is $49,557 as compared to the G20 average of $22,694.  However, all the G20 countries are indulging in the same numbers racket as Trudeau. 

If every G20 country hit its numbers based on the Paris Agreement, it wouldn’t accomplish much of anything.  Global temperatures would end up rising by 3˚, even though scientists have warned policymakers that the goal should be less than 1.5˚.  All countries need to do far better than merely meeting their Paris targets. This means that even if Trudeau were reaching his goals (he isn’t), it would be nothing to brag about.  It’s also nothing that Canadians should find comforting.

The only federal politician who is giving Canadians the straight goods on this issue is Elizabeth May.  During the campaign, she committed to reducing emissions by 60% as opposed to Harper and Trudeau’s 30%.  She proposed to do this by modernizing the electricity grid, retrofitting buildings, ending the importation of foreign oil and investing in adaptation measures.

no long-term plan to adopt renewable energy

Climate Transparency makes similar recommendations.  They point out that Canada’s adoption of renewable energy in the power sector is low.  The report points out that we have no long-term plan at the national level to adopt renewable energy.  They also call for a building retrofit.  Another recommendation calls for a clean fuel standard and progress toward zero-emission vehicles. 

They go on to point out Canada’s inconsistency in subsidizing the oil industry and buying the TransMountain pipeline.  Like the Green Party, they point out that Canada is vulnerable to extreme weather events.  They tell us we need a plan to adapt to our new normal.

While I’ve been writing this, Trudeau has just announced his new cabinet.  Canada’s environment minister is now Jonathan Wilkinson from BC.  Up until now, he’s been the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans.  I imagine that Catherine McKenna is more relieved than anything else. 

Wilkinson has a tough row to hoe

She now has Trudeau’s dishonesty off her shoulders, shifting to the less controversial infrastructure portfolio. I know I’d be relieved. It’s never easy cleaning up your boss’s mess.  The trouble with dishonesty is that it’s tough to keep track of which lie is which.  Remembering the truth is much more comfortable.

As the new environment minister, Wilkinson has a tough row to hoe.  If he’s serious about Canada taking on its fair share of the work needed to keep temperatures below 1.5˚, he’s going to have to go way beyond today’s mild goals.  Our new minister is going to have to double the planned cuts in carbon emissions to have any hope of making a difference.

To get that done, he’ll need to introduce all of the urgent actions proposed by the Green Party and by Climate Transparency.  Those measures won’t make the Prime Minister look good, which we all know is this government’s top priority.

We should be grateful to Climate Transparency for educating us on this issue and the tough choices it entails.

We always have more to learn if we dare to know.

Learn more:

G20 Brown to Green Report
Progress Towards Canada’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Target
Globe and Mail
Nature Emergency – Time to Make it Official
Climate Crisis Becomes Undeniable


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