Late in 2020, Prime Minister Trudeau launched a new climate plan, A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy. It may well be the government’s most ambitious climate plan yet, but unfortunately due to decades of lackluster climate policies in Canada the bar has been set very low.
Does it go far enough?
Here are a few key takeaways from this plan:
It does talk about a 2030 target, filling a glaring gap in the recent Net Zero Climate Accountability Act. However, the 2030 target is essentially the same one from the Paris Accord, and it’s not good enough.
There are some hopeful commitments around housing that could lead to real improvements to Canada’s overall building efficiency. However, these promises overwhelmingly benefit the middle class and the rich, leaving those who need the most support with less.
This plan does not talk about leaving fossil fuels in the ground or planning a managed decline of the fossil fuel industry. This is a glaring and dangerous omission that is unacceptable at this late stage.
Trudeau – and the entire government – can and must do more. We can organize to ensure that they take the opportunity to do so.
While the plan is a far cry from a Green New Deal, it does address emissions reductions in a wide range of the sectors needed for a comprehensive and credible climate plan. This is both a testament to the intersectional climate justice organizing that has happened to date and a motivation to build on these successes and organize for deeper transformation.
The climate movement has been pushing for the government to move beyond the promise of net zero emissions by 2050, because targets 30 years from now are not nearly enough. 2050 targets on their own won’t work because we’re in a critical window between now and 2030 when significant emissions cuts are needed. The plan announced last week does include a 2030 target – just not the one we need.
We can consider the federal government’s renewed focus on 2030 as a modest victory for the movement in reframing the debate.
However, the actual 2030 targets in the plan aren’t nearly ambitious enough. The plan reiterates that Canada’s Paris agreement contribution is for greenhouse gas emission reductions of 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. The federal government argues that this plan would put Canada’s emissions reductions in the 32-40 per cent range.
While improvements are welcome and needed, if this were a report card that effort would be a D, perhaps a C- at best. But that’s if those hypothetical targets are even met, something the Canadian government hasn't done since 1992.
The plan also claims that Canada’s emissions are now declining following the introduction of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. This is demonstrably false.
The plan recognizes the federal government’s role in pushing industry to pivot its priorities, as it did with manufacturers retooling to produce Personal Protective Equipment for frontline workers, something the Council of Canadians supported Green Jobs Oshawa in pushing for. This kind of retooling to prioritize climate solutions is critical, including for electrified low- and zero- emission vehicles.
Again, like many parts of this plan, we want to see more. More retooling of more manufacturing facilities to produce technology needed for a rapid energy transition. More focus on public need and more public control over the manufacturing industry. More bold vision.
Housing and Buildings
The plan promises “net-zero energy ready model building code by 2030”. Given 75 per cent of the buildings that will be in place by 2030 have already been built, this appears to be a positive development.
The plan pledges “$2.6 billion over seven years” for homeowners to do home energy retrofits. While this appears to be newish funding, it’s a drop in the bucket of what is needed.
Meanwhile, for renters? The plan re-announced what’s already on the books for low-income households, which largely focuses on loans totaling $3.46 billion over 10 years. There are also “$2.26 billion over 10 years, starting in 2017-18" in “non-repayable contributions” already available for low-income households. While this may sound comparable to the $2.6 billion for homeowners, there are far more low-income people than those who are well off. This means the funds for low-income households are spread much more thinly.
This glaring inequality, where homeowners receive more support than low-income households, underscores why we still need a Green New Deal for energy efficient, affordable public housing to address the climate, housing, and inequality crises at the same time.
The plan doubles down on the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB) as a key tool in expanding climate-friendly infrastructure. The problem is, it’ll be privatized infrastructure.
The focus of the CIB is increasingly on developing public-private partnerships (P3s) for "$2 billion to finance the upfront capital costs of commercial and large-scale building retrofits,” as well as transportation, water and electricity infrastructure.
While many of the proposals for housing, transportation and electricity have potential, the intent to deliver some or all of these through P3s risks undermining them. Privatization has no place in a just recovery or a green new deal.
The plan also aims to implement “a ‘mines to mobility’ approach, the Government will leverage Canada’s competitive advantage in mining to build the Canadian battery and critical mineral supply chains needed to supply the electric vehicle market.”
Food and Agriculture
The plan appears to focus on supports for Big Agriculture corporations, which have been a leading cause of the climate crisis. However, the plan does at least acknowledge the need to also reduce emissions from fertilizers. What we need is a Green New Deal for agroecology and food sovereignty to transform our food system from a corporate-dominated model of agriculture to a community-led model, rooted in ecological and social justice.
People vs. Corporations
A running theme in this climate plan is far too much emphasis on individual choices, with a focus on rebates and tax incentives individuals and households. This ignores the biggest sources and disproportionately saddles those who have done the least to cause the crisis with carrying the heavy load to solve it.
One hundred corporations are responsible for 71 per cent of emissions. Let's focus on the real source of the problem.
Fossil Fuel Extraction
While the plan speaks of the importance of “final emitters”, AKA domestic downstream emissions, it appears to be silent on the reckless and relentless drive to extract and export fossil fuels. Any climate plan that doesn’t stop pipelines like Coastal GasLink and Trans Mountain in their tracks is not credible.
The plan also pledges “new measures to support Indigenous climate leadership” but is silent on the ongoing violent colonialism levelled against the Wet’suwet’en, Secwepemc and other Indigenous nations defending their land from pipelines and other fossil fuel projects.
Real support for Indigenous climate leadership must include when Indigenous nations and land defenders take action to protect the land, water and climate from fossil fuel projects.
Downstream Emissions – Did Trudeau Forget These Matter?
It’s 2020 and the federal government is still not talking about downstream emissions – those that are created from the fossil fuels Canada produces and exports. This is unacceptable.
The global carbon budget exists. We can’t pretend that we’re just not responsible for unearthing all the bitumen in the tar sands, all the oil offshore Newfoundland and Labrador and all the fracked gas across the prairies. As Seth Klien says in his recent book, A Good War, the newest form of climate denial is not to deny that climate change exists, but that it can be combatted without winding down the fossil fuel industry. Any climate plan that doesn’t acknowledge the scientific reality that nearly 85 per cent of known fossil fuel reserves must remain untouched in order to preserve climate stability is rooted in climate denial.
Ignoring downstream emissions from fossil fuels we’re responsible for extracting is like building and exporting landmines and pretending we bear no responsibility when they explode around the world. It's an absurd, immoral and anti-scientific argument.
This plan continues the phase out of coal with a just transition for workers and communities, but it doesn’t take the necessary parallel step of a managed decline of other fossil fuel extraction, pipelines, and offshore drilling. The coal phase-out shows that the federal government can enact a just transition for all fossil fuel extraction, now we need to keep organizing to make it happen.
Fossil Fuel Subsidies
The plan pledges to “help accelerate the reduction in methane emissions through the $750 million Emissions Reduction Fund that provides repayable funding to eligible onshore and offshore oil and gas companies to support their investments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
This is the opposite of making polluters pay. This is the opposite of corporations and rich people paying their fair share – it amounts to gifts to the fossil fuel industry.
The federal government must redefine “inefficient fossil fuel subsidies” to include all federal dollars going to fossil fuel companies, and every dollar of tax not paid.
The plan also pledges to “Launch a Small Modular Reactor (SMR) Action Plan by the end of 2020, following on the SMR Roadmap released in 2018, to lay out the next steps to develop and deploy this technology.”
Nuclear is not a solution to the climate crisis and has no place in a credible climate plan. Nuclear energy infrastructure takes far too long to build given the urgency of action by 2030; it is incredibly expensive, making renewables like wind and solar far more cost effective; it is a dangerous form of power in a world with a deteriorating climate; and is actually a source of greenhouse gas emissions.
The government is framing A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy as a starting point and over the “next few months” plans to consult with the provinces and territories, Indigenous Peoples, businesses and civil society to expand upon the plan.
Now, it’s up to the climate movement to push for a just recovery and a Green New Deal. Here’s what we can do:
Tell the government we need a just recovery for people, not corporations