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Trudeau must do better following Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate deal

While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is rightly ‘disappointed’ by U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement reached at the United Nations COP 21 summit in December 2015, he should also examine his own record and commit to doing much better over the next two years.

The Globe and Mail reports, “In a news conference at the White House Rose Garden on Thursday, Mr. Trump slammed the 195-country accord as a ‘bad deal for America’, saying it would force the country to abandon its world-leading reserves of coal and would create job losses in the coal, oil and natural gas industries and in the manufacturing sector. …It will take four years for the United States to officially withdraw from the accord that was ratified by then-president Barack Obama. In the meantime, the Trump administration will essentially ignore its obligation.”

The Toronto Star adds, “Trump’s decision increases the chances that the world will experience the most catastrophic consequences of sharply rising temperatures, such as deadly droughts, severe coastal flooding and mass migration. The withdrawal of the world’s biggest economy and second-biggest emitter of carbon dioxide could have far-reaching impacts on the climate and international affairs.”

While Trudeau quickly reaffirmed his support for the Paris Agreement – his own record deserves a closer look.

1. Weak emission reduction target – The Harper government had pledged to reduce carbon emissions 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. When translated to the more commonly used baseline of 1990 levels, that pledge equals just 14 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030. While the Liberals in opposition had described this target as “unambitious” and had said it would be a floor “not the ceiling” of what needs to be done, it adopted the Conservative target as Liberal policy in September 2016.

2. Not on target – Environment Canada now projects that on the basis of Liberal policies in place as of November 2016, Canada will not meet its (weak) 2030 emission reduction target. The ministry projects Canada will pump out at least 30 per cent more greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 than promised (between 697 and 790 megatonnes) compared to the government’s promise of 523 megatonnes.

3. Minimal carbon pricing isn’t the answer – In October 2016, Trudeau announced a charge of $10 per tonne of carbon starting in 2018 which would increase by $10 each year until it reaches $50 a tonne in 2022. But commentators, including Simon Fraser University economist Mark Jaccard, say the price on carbon would have to rise to $200 per tonne by 2030 to meet Trudeau’s climate emission target (of 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030), if Canada relied on emissions pricing alone.

4. Pipeline approvals – Trudeau has approved the 760,000 barrel per day Line 3 pipeline that would emit 19-26 megatonnes of upstream greenhouse gas emissions a year, the 890,000 barrel per day Trans Mountain pipeline (20-26 megatonnes a year), welcomed news of Trump’s approval of the 830,000 barrel per day Keystone XL pipeline (about 1.3 billion tonnes over a 50-year period), and is considering the 1.1 million barrel per day Energy East pipeline (at 30-32 megatonnes of carbon pollution a year).

5. Fossil fuel subsidies – The Liberals have delayed on an October 2015 election campaign promise to phase out billions of dollars in subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. They have also extended a $50 million-over-five-years tax cut to spur the liquefied natural gas industry in British Columbia – and approved the Pacific Northwest LNG export facility that would result in 5.3 megatonnes of emissions a year, along with an additional 6.5-8.7 megatonnes from the extraction and fracked gas that would feed the terminal.

The Indigenous Environmental Network says, “We’ve stated before that the Paris Agreement falls short of embracing the sort of climate solutions that lift up human rights and the rights of Indigenous peoples.” Nicaragua didn’t sign the Paris Agreement because they saw it resulting in a 3 degree Celsius increase, meaning a 4-6 degree Celsius increase in the developing world, and wanted to maintain “the right to compensation for damages and the right to litigate over legal responsibilities”.

Regardless of its shortcomings, the U.S. withdrawal from the deal is a major climate injustice and will hasten climate chaos.

In response, the Liberals should 1) commit to achieving a 100 per cent clean energy economy by 2050, 2) stop approving tar sands export pipelines, 3) stop fighting the incoming British Columbia government’s opposition to Kinder Morgan, 4) respect the right to free, prior and informed consent in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 5) phase out fossil fuel subsidies as they had promised during the last election, 6) remove energy proportionality from the North American Free Trade Agreement when those talks begin this August, 7) adopt an ambitious position going into the UN COP 23 climate talks in Bonn, Germany this November 6-17.