Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has longchampioned the Liberal party’s position that fossil fuel development and environmental concerns are not mutually exclusive – each can successfully co-exist. Whether the federal government’s position remains intact or is dealt a setback following the latest climate change summit in Poland remains to be seen.
Canada joined almost 200 other countries in ratifying a complex environmental package that will enact the general objectives set out in Paris three years ago. Following the Paris accord, Mr. Trudeau launched an ambitious plan to fulfill this country’s commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The deal struck in Katowice, Poland fills in many of the blanks and sets out how countries report their emissions and efforts to reduce them. Canada has less wiggle room now, even as it struggles to implement the general promises from Paris.
Mr. Trudeau is dealing with a number of setbacks. His carbon pricing plan is facing court challenges by four provinces, and three pipeline projects to get Alberta oil to markets have been scuttled. And what are the solutions to this crisis for Rachel Notley, the desperate Alberta premier who faces an election early next year? She is talking about building a major refinery in the province to boost prices but that will add dramatically carbon emissions. She is also floating the idea of using thousands of railway cars to transport Alberta oil – a more dangerous threat to the environment than any pipeline.
A recent UN report that climate change is happening more rapidly than first believed and that global temperatures are rising far more quickly than first anticipated raised the urgency level in Poland. It’s estimated that within 12 years, the Earth will pass the point of no return without immediate action to curtail greenhouse gases. A UN report says global emissions from fossil fuels must be cut in half by 2030 – or else.
The United States helped scuttle a Katowice declaration that the world must wean itself away from fossil fuels. The U.S. is sending mixed signals, pushing for more transparency in reporting emission cuts while declaring it’s in favour of increased “clean coal” development. The
U.S. signed the Katowice agreement, even as it intends to withdraw from the Paris Accord.
So how will Mr. Trudeau maintain his support for fossil fuel development and fulfil commitments to Paris and Katowice? He knows that a majority of Canadians support efforts to curb climate change. He also knows that off-shore oil revenues are forecast to help turn around the struggling Newfoundland and Labrador economy next year; and that the oilsands remain a major economic generator for the country. Oil royalties and revenues provide federal cash for transfer and equalization payments. What will replace them?
Some key climate change decisions were delayed in Poland – by at least a year – which might buy the prime minister enough time to get through an election next October; and before the “thousand little steps forward” in Katowice are jeopardized by truculent Canadian premiers intent on reversing progressive carbon pricing advances.