OTTAWA, O.N. – Environment Minister Catherine McKenna is hinting that the upcoming Liberal election platform will promise deeper cuts to greenhouse-gas emissions, including the possibility of legislating targets.
McKenna says her focus for now remains on Canada’s current targets _ to cut emissions so they are no more than 70 percent what they were in 2005 by 2030 _ and implementing the policies the Liberal government has already put forward, including carbon pricing, phasing out coal and a standard for clean fuel.
But she noted there is a federal election coming up and an entire platform from the Liberals to come.
“We all know we need to get to a better place,” she said. “We need to do more like the whole world needs to do more.”
Some parts of the world are doing more.
New Zealand introduced legislation in early May to get emissions by 2050 to “net zero” _ where emissions produced are offset entirely by greenhouse gases consumed by plants and trees or captured and stored using technology. Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May is making “net zero by 2050” legislation one of her final acts as her country’s leader, introducing a bill on June 12 to set legally binding targets. France is working on similar legislation.
Putting such targets into law might have little practical effect but it can be a symbol of how seriously a government takes a problem. Such a law can also require periodic reports from ministers and departments on what they’re doing to achieve particular goals and how much difference it’s making.
Canada’s plans are less clear.
Last fall, the government acknowledged projections that its existing policies will get Canada only a little more than halfway to its emissions target.
Emissions in 2017, the most recent year for which they are available, were 716 million tonnes. To hit the current targets, Canada needs to get to 513 million tonnes. Last fall Canada said the current policies leave us about 80 million tonnes shy of the goal.
McKenna believes Canada will get there all the same, as Canadians adopt technology like electric cars and once investments in public transit and other innovative solutions are taken into account.
But next week the Liberals are to decide whether to approve the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion for a second time. An expanded pipeline carrying more Alberta bitumen to the West Coast could see emissions from the oilsands go up another 10 million tonnes. Meeting the national emissions target would require even more cuts to come from other sectors.
The Liberals are under immense pressure to finally prove their long-standing claim that the environment can be protected while still developing Canada’s natural resources, a claim their opponents on both sides of the spectrum argue is bogus.
Six right-leaning premiers this week accused the Liberals of threatening national unity by pushing through a new environmental-assessment regime for major construction projects. Among other things, it requires climate-change impacts to be taken into account when deciding whether to approve new major projects like pipelines and hydro lines.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau wrote the premiers back on Friday to accuse them of being the ones threatening national unity as well as risking Canadians’ health and jobs, infringing Indigenous people’s rights and harming endangered species.
Green leader Elizabeth May, whose party is polling better on the national stage than ever before, said Friday that a law requiring Canada’s emissions to be “net zero” by mid-century is the least the country can aim for.
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh wants to cut Canada’s emissions in half by 2030, a more ambitious goal than the Liberals have set.
Conservative leader Andrew Scheer _ who is to unveil his much-anticipated climate plan June 19 _ hasn’t yet said how he will meet Canada’s existing emissions targets, and has been somewhat coy about whether he intends to meet them at all.
But pressure on McKenna to toughen the emissions target isn’t just coming from outside her party.
Toronto Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith introduced a private-members bill on June 5 that would enshrine in legislation a goal to get Canada to zero net emissions by 2050.
Erskine-Smith knows his bill will never see the light of debate, introduced as it was in the waning days of this Parliament, but he’s hoping to draw attention to the need for Canada to do a lot more than it’s doing to keep the planet from warming catastrophically.
“We have made some meaningful progress but to meet our international, generational and moral obligations to tackle climate change we need greater ambition,” he said. “I hope to see this in our platform going forward. In the end I hope to see it in all parties’ platforms.”
Last fall, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that if the nations of the world do not seriously step up action within the next decade, the planet will pass a point of no return on climate change.
The Paris climate-change agreement has every country in the world pledged to cut its emissions to help keep the planet from warming up much more than 1.5 C, compared to preindustrial times. By 2016, the world had already warmed up by 1 C, and it will hit 1.5 C by 2040 without drastic action. For countries such as Canada, the report said, emissions need to be cut 45 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, and to zero by 2050.