Canada’s new climate plan demonstrates the price we pay for procrastination

Addressing anonymous politicians who would say the current moment – with the war in Ukraine fueling inflation and driving up gas prices – is a bad time to fight climate change, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told his audience in Vancouver on Tuesday that “this is no time for apologies.”

“The question is not whether we continue to act for the climate,” Trudeau explained. “The question is how much more we can do and how quickly.”

The climate plan the Trudeau government released on Tuesday is a proposal for how broad and how quickly Canada should act. His government will continue to wonder if it is moving as fast as it could.

But the new report also shows exactly how bolder Canada’s governments and industries need to be if this country is to do its part to secure a sustainable future for the planet — and exactly where the boldest action is needed.

The new official plan to meet Canada’s 2030 greenhouse gas emissions reduction target is the first mandatory report to Parliament under new climate accountability legislation. the Document of 271 pagesa detailed account of what has been done and needs to be done to meet Canada’s emissions targets, was quickly hailed as a “decisive momentfor Canadian climate policy.

Over time, these regular progress reports could rival the annual budget as the most important document published by the federal government.

But the most useful aspect of this first report is the way it presents possible emissions trajectories for each of Canada’s major sources of greenhouse gases. This is the first time the federal government has looked at 2030 in such detail.

In his Tuesday remarks, Trudeau chose to focus on the oil and gas and transportation sectors — for good reason.

Although overall emissions in Canada have been relatively stable over the past 17 years, the national trend has masked significant differences between sectors.

Students take part in a demonstration against climate change in Montreal on Friday, September 24, 2021. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

“Since 2005, emissions in the oil and gas and transportation sectors have increased by 20% and 16%, respectively,” the report notes. “Decreases in electricity (48%), heavy industry (12%) and waste and other (10%) offset these increases.”

The oil and gas and transportation sectors are also the two largest sources of emissions in Canada.

The challenge is most acute – and most politically heavy – in the oil and gas sector. As the government acknowledges in its own report, “the oil and gas sector is a significant contributor to the Canadian economy” and “the challenge of meeting Canada’s climate goals and transforming an industry as complex as oil and gas in net zero emissions is huge”.

In its projections, the government suggests that the oil and gas industry could reduce its annual emissions from 191 megatonnes in 2019 to 110 Mt in 2030, a 31% reduction from 2005 levels.

Installation of Shell’s Quest Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta on October 7, 2021. (Todd Korol/Reuters)

The government identifies several policy levers that could help the industry achieve this – a new investment tax credit for carbon capture and storage, a decreasing cap on sector emissions and a focus on reducing emissions. methane leaks. It also promises support for workers who may be affected by disruptions in the sector.

Trudeau – a prime minister whom conservatives enthusiastically called “anti-oil” – framed the projections in decidedly pro-industry terms.

“If there’s an oil and gas industry in the world that can do it, it’s Canada,” he said. “And if there’s one workforce in the world that can drive this change, it’s Canadians.”

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who was campaign for the federal government to freeze the national carbon tax and post green energy policy memes – may not be so optimistic. Even Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley called the federal projections “fantasy.”

WATCH: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveils emissions report

Canada’s new emissions reduction plan calls for a 40% reduction by 2030

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announces Canada’s Emissions Reduction Plan to keep the country on track to net zero by 2050. 1:31

Federal Tories have warned that expecting such cuts from the oil and gas sector would be “devastating”. The government, the Conservatives said, should instead focus on getting Canada’s ‘ethical energy’ out into the world – though how energy products could be described as ‘ethical’ if they can’t be reconciled with Canada’s climate goals is anyone’s guess.

Industry leaders might be more willing to play along, with the caveat that such cuts will require a lot of “cooperation” – large amounts of public funding, in other words.

The carbon capture and storage tax credit is expected to be in next month’s federal budget, though it may not be as generous as oil executives hoped. The industry would like the credit to cover 75 percent of new investment costs. The government could offer to cover 50 percent.

But Trudeau also seems ready to assert that the industry is capable of helping itself.

“With record profits, now is the time for the oil and gas sector to invest in a sustainable future that will be good for business, good for communities and good for our future,” he said Tuesday.

Industry executives might also note that some critics think the sector got off easy in Tuesday’s plan.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau argues that with rising profits, the oil and gas industry can afford to do more to fight climate change. (Robert Short/CBC)

Prior to the publication of the report, the Pembina Institute argued that the industry should be able to reach 88 Mt by 2030 — a 45% reduction, in line with Canada’s overall objective. Caroline Brouillette, executive director of the Climate Action Network, said in a statement on Tuesday that “some sectors – notably oil and gas – will not contribute their fair share.”

Some emissions are more difficult to reduce than others and not all economic sectors or all provinces will evolve at the same pace. Questions of “fairness” and feasibility will always be debated.

But the ongoing lesson of climate politics is that avoiding reality doesn’t make anything any easier. A decline in oil and gas emissions in 2030 might be easier to envision now, for example, if action had been taken sooner after 2005. One might look wistfully the climate plan that Stephen Harper’s government tabled in 2008with his promise that tough new requirements would be imposed on the oil sands.

There may be some risk in trying to move too quickly. But simple calculations of climate change are even harder to avoid now. And if Canadian leaders don’t act as boldly as possible in the short term, it could be that much harder to cut emissions down the road.