Canada must carry through on en­vi­ron­ment poli­cies

Es­pe­cially as U.S. wa­vers on global com­mit­ments

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - MARK WIN­FIELD Mark Win­field is a pro­fes­sor of en­vi­ron­men­tal stud­ies at York Univer­sity, and co-chair of the univer­sity’s Sus­tain­able En­ergy Ini­tia­tive.

The new ad­min­is­tra­tion of United States Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is now en­gaged in a very pub­lic re­jec­tion of for­mer pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s am­bi­tious plans to ad­dress cli­mate change. Trump is propos­ing to re­peal the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s Clean Power Plan for the elec­tric­ity sec­tor, roll back ve­hi­cle fuel econ­omy stan­dards, and is mov­ing for­ward with the ap­proval of car­bon in­ten­sive en­ergy in­fra­struc­ture such as the Key­stone XL pipe­line.

In Canada, these de­vel­op­ments are lead­ing to de­mands from some sec­tors that Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau’s gov­ern­ment to pull back on its cli­mate change plans, par­tic­u­larly the in­tro­duc­tion of a na­tional car­bon pric­ing sys­tem. There are sev­eral pow­er­ful rea­sons why Trudeau should re­ject these pres­sures.

First, deny­ing the ex­is­tence of cli­mate change, or its link­ages to hu­man ac­tiv­i­ties, such as burn­ing fos­sil fu­els and de­for­esta­tion, will not make the phys­i­cal re­al­ity a chang­ing cli­mate and its in­creas­ingly vis­i­ble con­se­quences for the United States and the rest of the world go away. The U.S. has al­ready ex­pe­ri­enced ex­treme weather events and their ef­fects, con­sis­tent with the pro­jected im­pacts of cli­mate change. Ex­ten­sive flood­ing of coastal ar­eas, for ex­am­ple, ac­com­pa­nied hur­ri­canes Ka­t­rina and Sandy.

Se­condly, un­do­ing key el­e­ments of Obama’s cli­mate change strat­egy may be much more dif­fi­cult than Trump an­tic­i­pates. Key el­e­ments of Obama’s plan are grounded in long-stand­ing pro­vi­sions of the U.S. fed­eral Clean Air Act. These pro­vi­sions re­quire that the ad­min­is­tra­tion act on pol­lu­tants that are found to “en­dan­ger” the pub­lic health and wel­fare of hu­man cur­rent and fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. An “en­dan­ger­ment” find­ing re­gard­ing green­house gases, and re­quire­ments for ac­tion were em­bed­ded in the set­tle­ment of lit­i­ga­tion be­tween the ad­min­is­tra­tion of for­mer pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush and twelve states, sev­eral cities, and non-gov­ern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions.

Al­ter­ing these ar­range­ments would re­quire amend­ments to the Clean Air Act. The Repub­li­cans may have the ma­jor­ity in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives needed to pass such amend­ments. The U.S. Se­nate is a dif­fer­ent story. There the Repub­li­cans are short of the 60 votes needed to over­come a Demo­cratic fil­i­buster.

In the elec­tric­ity sec­tor, a key fo­cus of Obama’s Clean Power Plan, the move­ment away from coal is be­ing driven by pow­er­ful eco­nomic and tech­no­log­i­cal forces far be­yond the mea­sures adopted by Trump’s pre­de­ces­sor. The avail­abil­ity of cheap nat­u­ral gas and in­creas­ingly cost com­pet­i­tive re­new­able en­ergy sources, are play­ing at least as im­por­tant a role in the de­clin­ing use of coal in the U.S. On ve­hi­cle fuel econ­omy, it is far from clear that all ma­jor au­to­mo­bile man­u­fac­tur­ers would aban­don the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­quire­ments even if Trump weak­ens them.

Ac­tion on cli­mate change seems likely to con­tinue at the global level. Cli­mate change poli­cies are deeply em­bed­ded with the EU and many of its lead­ing mem­ber states, par­tic­u­larly Ger­many. Those struc­tures would take many years to undo, even if right-wing Trump sym­pa­thiz­ers achieve some level of suc­cess in cur­rent Euro­pean elec­tions. Out­side of Europe, other na­tions, who are in­creas­ingly con­scious of the im­pacts of cli­mate change, seem ready to move into the lead­er­ship vac­uum be­ing left by the United States. China has specif­i­cally sig­nalled its in­ter­est in play­ing such a role.

Fi­nally, re­cent pub­lic opin­ion polling has shown Cana­di­ans to be re­ject­ing the en­vi­ron­men­tal poli­cies of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion by over­whelm­ing mar­gins. At the same time, sup­port for the in­tro­duc­tion of a na­tional price on car­bon re­mains solid, es­pe­cially among the pro­gres­sive vot­ers who handed Trudeau his ma­jor­ity in 2015.

All of this sug­gests that the most pru­dent course of ac­tion for Trudeau, both eco­nom­i­cally and po­lit­i­cally, is to carry through on his com­mit­ments to take ac­tion on cli­mate change. In­deed, if Canada is to meet its obli­ga­tions un­der the Paris Cli­mate Change Agree­ment, and in the longer term pre­vent “dan­ger­ous” cli­mate change, these ef­forts need to be in­ten­si­fied and ex­panded.

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