The Hamilton Spectator

Canada must carry through on environmen­t policies

Especially as U.S. wavers on global commitment­s

- 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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada