Trudeau and the climate puzzle

Justin Trudeau promises that he will put in place in 2020 the instruments to reach the most ambitious greenhouse gas emission target that Canada has ever set itself: to be “carbon neutral” by 2050 – in 30 years only.
But his government will also have to quickly decide in this new year whether it will give the green light to a new big oil sands project which, according to environmentalists, would be absolutely incompatible with this target of a carbon neutral balance sheet. The Premier of Alberta, Jason Kenney, has warned that by rejecting this project, Ottawa will claim to the world that the oil and gas sector in Canada has no future.

In a year-end interview with The Canadian Press , Prime Minister Trudeau said he was determined to move forward in the fight against climate change. But in the same interview, moments before, he did not rule out giving the green light to the Teck Frontier oil sands mine, north of Fort McMurray, Alberta, which should produce 260,000 barrels of oil by day.

A federal-provincial review committee last month conditionally approved the $ 20.6 billion project, citing “national interest”. This operation is expected to generate $ 12 billion in tax revenue for Ottawa and $ 55 billion in tax revenue and royalties for Alberta over its 41-year lifespan. About 7,000 jobs would be created in the construction of the mine and 2,500 others in its exploitation.

The Joint Committee agreed that with this major producer of greenhouse gases, it will likely be more difficult for Canada to reach its 2030 targets under the Paris Climate Change Agreement and its higher targets for 2050. But this argument was not accepted by the joint committee because climate change was not its responsibility at the time.

New Federal Minister of the Environment Jonathan Wilkinson said during a visit to Calgary the week before Christmas that before approving the Frontier mine, it will be necessary to determine how this project would fit in with the “carbon neutral” objective. ” of the government.

A “first test”

A “carbon neutral” Canada means that all carbon dioxide and related substances that are spewed into the atmosphere can be absorbed by natural “sinks” like forests and wetlands, or by artificial sinks that capture carbon, to be stored or otherwise used. The Frontier mine is expected to add approximately four million tonnes of greenhouse gases each year for more than 40 years.

Catherine Abreu, executive director of the Climate Action Network Canada, believes that the approval process for this project will be “the first test” of the seriousness of the Liberals, who maintain that climate is at the heart of their public policy development.

“If they are serious about carbon neutral by 2050, they cannot in good faith approve this project for the largest oil sands mine in Canadian history, which should run until 2067,” said Mrs. Abreu. “A project of this scale, with as many emissions, shatters all targets and good intentions.”

According to Minister Wilkinson, the October election demonstrated that Canadians want more ambitious measures to slow climate change. But he also believes that “the vast majority of Canadians are also pragmatic” and want the fight to be accompanied by economic prosperity. For the Minister, the solution goes through “green technology”, which will also create good economic prospects.

Targets already missed

Minister Wilkinson will in any case have to find in 2020 a way to close the 77 million tonnes gap between Canada’s policies and the current climate goal for 2030 – reduce its GHG emissions by 30% compared to 2005 levels.

By the end of 2018, Ottawa was already predicting that it would miss its 2030 target by 79 million tonnes. When new policies like the “carbon tax” were offset by increased emissions from the oil and gas sector and revisions to the amount of carbon dioxide that trees should absorb, Canada, on the net, has only “gained” in the past year by two million tonnes.

Under the Paris Agreement, Canada has committed to reduce emissions from 730 million tonnes in 2005 to 511 million tonnes in 2030 – a reduction of 30%. However, the combination of existing and planned policies should allow Canada to reach only 588 million tonnes by 2030 – a reduction of 20%.

And the Trudeau government is not only promising to reach the “Paris target”: it now wants Canada to be carbon neutral 20 years later. Canada is also expected to adopt a more ambitious plan to reduce emissions at the next United Nations Climate Meeting (COP), scheduled to take place in Scotland in November 2020.

Remain “realistic”

Minister Wilkinson warns that despite the pressure to act quickly, the necessary changes will not happen overnight. “What we are talking about is changing the way we transport goods and people […] the way we generate energy, how we treat waste, build our buildings, modernize existing buildings . All of this is doable, but people have to be realistic about how long it will take. ”

Canadians can expect in 2020 that the federal government will pass legislation that will set five-year targets to meet the 2030 and 2050 emission targets. Tim Gray, Director of Environmental Defense ”, hopes that the government will then create an independent agency to measure the progress made.

Ms. Abreu, she would like very specific five-year targets – for example: the number of public transport users in a certain year.

In addition to the Teck mine decision, Ottawa will also have to decide at the start of the new year whether to allow British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Alberta to use their own rules, rather than the federal rules, for reductions in methane emissions. Already, federal officials do not think that the Alberta method will be better than the Ottawa method.

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