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Energy and Climate Change Review of Liberal Party Platform

The Liberal Party released their platform this past weekend. Here are some energy and climate change highlights and analysis.


Green Renovation Tax Credit: The Liberal party will set a goal of retrofitting over 1 million homes by 2017. This $400 million dollar investment will allow Canadians to claim a tax credit of up to 13,500 for home energy retrofits and will cover 50% costs of home energy audit.  The proposed 2011 budget also contained a $400 million price tag for extending the ecoENERGY Retrofit Homes program.

Renewable energy: The platform sets a target of quadrupling Canada’s renewable energy production from 2009 levels by 2017. This commitment goes further than the Conservatives which failed to renew funding for a critical federal renewable energy program in their proposed budget.

Offshore drilling and Arctic oil and gas exploration: The platform outlines Liberal support for an independent review of Canada’s offshore oil spill prevention and response capability, which will inform an oil spill contingency plan. The Liberal platform goes further in meeting our demand for a moratorium on oil and gas exploration in the Arctic, than the Harper government.

The platform calls for halting new leasing and oil exploration in Arctic waters pending an independent examination of risks. It also recognizes that there is no existing technology that can clean up an oil spill under Arctic ice. The Harper government has failed to respond to the request from the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation to suspend oil and gas explorations leases in the Beaufort Sea shortly after the disastrous BP Gulf of Mexico spill. The scope of the National Energy Board’s review of offshore drilling is far too narrow, focussing on how to improve the safety of drilling, pushing aside arguments as to why no offshore drilling is safe – particularly in the light of the risks of drilling in Arctic waters and needed action on climate change.

The Liberals have also stated that they will formalize the existing B.C. crude oil tanker moratorium which could present an obstacle to the strongly contested Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline project that would see tar sands crude head out of the coast to U.S. and Asian markets. The NDP and Green Party also support a moratorium.  The Conservatives have not declared support for a moratorium and opposed a non-binding opposition motioned passed in December that extended the prohibition to ships servicing Canadian ports.

Needs some work / lowlights:

Tar sands: The Liberal’s platform does recognize that the tar sands are poorly regulated. It calls for investments in technologies that reduce environmental impacts, increased rigour of federal government regulatory responsibilities and an increased knowledge base for responsible regulation. It also includes a plan to shorten the Conservative’s planned phase out of a lucrative subsidy, the Accelerated Capital Cost Allowance, for the tar sands.

This does not go as far as the NDP which recognize the need for a moratorium on new projects. The Green Party is calling for a moratorium on further increases in annual production.

The Council of Canadians is calling for a tar sands-free future and stronger policies that prevent corporate for-profit interests from trumping social and environmental priorities. We are demanding respect for indigenous rights and treaty obligations, meaningful regulatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions, and just strategies to transition affected workers and communities towards a sustainable green economy. We need policies that support increased conservation, energy efficiency and the expansion of public and community-owned renewable energy, which will help end our destructive addiction to fossil fuels. We need just strategies to transition affected workers and communities, and help build a sustainable, green economy. Intimately linked to these demands are our water and trade campaign efforts to recognize water as a public trust, demand a strategy to address water pollution, and challenge trade agreements that stand in the way of progressive change.

Cap and trade:

The platform proposes setting a ceiling (cap) on total amount of permissible greenhouse gas emissions (ghgs) by large industrial facilities. The Liberal’s would auction emission permits to companies who can then trade them amongst themselves to remain compliant with the cap.

Certainly a cap on emissions is needed, and it is good to see that the Liberal party state that they will auction credits rather than give them away which can lead to windfall profits to polluting industries.  It is the trading piece that is highly problematic. The Council of Canadians argues that cap and trade is a false solution to the climate crisis. You can read more about why in a recent blog I wrote here. For a quick overview of why carbon markets allow for business as usual to reign at a time when urgent action is needed, check out Annie Leonard’s The Story of Cap and Trade.

One of the biggest problems with cap and trade is the use of carbon offsets (an alternative to trading emission credits) which undermines the capping of emissions. The largest cap and trade system is in the EU.  The giving away and over-allocation of permits, widespread use of offsets and market manipulation has significantly undermined the system’s effectiveness.  For more information, see: EU Emissios Trading Scheme Threatens to trap Europe in a High Carbon Future and How Carbon Trading Works and Why it Fails (chapter 3)

Missing in Action:

Emission reduction targets:

While the platform indicates that the Liberal’s support a long-term target of reducing emissions 80% by 2050, it leaves a shorter term target up the insight of the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy.

Phasing out fossil fuel subsidies:

While it is good to see that the Liberal’s will phase out a tar sands subsidy at a pace faster than the Conservatives, what is really needed is an end to all fossil fuel subsidies. This is something that the NDP committed to. The Green Party has also made this commitment.

Sustainable transportation:

The platform highlights a number of important principles and directions for public transportation but is weak on providing tangible targets and monetary commitments.

Global leader in clean resources:

The section of the platform addressing Canada as a global leader in clean resources bears similarity to Harper’s messaging around being a clean energy super power. This is problematic. While we certainly must “green” all aspects of our economy, including exports, we must begin to look for ways to reduce the distance between producers and consumers and ways to build local economic resilience.  When it comes to renewable energy, we must first prioritize meeting local and regional needs. It would be a shame to see renewable energy exported while Canadian communities are reliant on fossil fuel sources.

Energy security:

The platform’s plan to launch a Canadian clean energy partnership, inviting provincial and territorial governments, private sector and stakeholders to work together on important energy sector concerns, is promising. Missing from the list of five key areas for discussion is the clear need to assess and plan for Canadian’s energy security – access to reliable and affordable energy.