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Trudeau’s popularity wanes as Liberals disappoint on climate change

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his Liberal government is “on the right track” to address climate change, but the public appears unconvinced.

In a year-end interview, Trudeau states, “If we’ve been seen to be able to bend the curve in the next few years and start to show a trend line that is going to reach and surpass that target — as I expect it to — people will know, in terms of emissions reduction, that we’re on the right track. …Governments have always tossed around targets and sort of try to out-do each other on ‘my target’s more ambitious than your target.’ What we’ve been consistently lacking, regularly, is a plan to actually reach those emissions reductions. And that’s what the pan-Canadian framework is all about.”

The government intends to charge $10 per tonne of carbon starting in 2018 and increase that by $10 each year until it reaches $50 a tonne in 2022. This past October, CBC reported, “The federal carbon price — even at $50 per tonne — isn’t high enough to match estimates of what’s needed for Canada to meet its Paris commitment of lowering emissions by 30 per cent of 2005 levels by 2030. A report last month by Simon Fraser University economist Mark Jaccard said the price on carbon would have to rise to $200 per tonne by 2030 to meet that commitment, if Canada relied on emissions pricing alone.”

There is also a problem with the Liberal’s target itself. This past September, CTV reported, “The Liberal government isn’t going to update the Conservatives’ carbon emission targets, despite calling them unambitious, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna says.” McKenna stated, “What I said is that we will at least meet the target, and that is what I am committed to. The Harper target was a fake target because they did nothing. It’s not a real target.” The Harper government had pledged to reduce carbon emissions 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, but when translated to the more commonly used baseline of 1990 levels, that pledge then equals just 14 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030. In comparison Ontario has pledged 37 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030, and the European Union has pledged a 40 per cent reduction.

Open Democracy has reported, “Cambridge University number cruncher Chris Hope concluded that if the European Union countries cut emissions by 40 percent by 2030, if the rest of the developed countries follow the U.S. commitment [which Canada is not even doing], and if the developing countries follow China’s promise [of stopping its emissions from growing by 2030], the most likely result will be a global temperature rise of 3.6 degrees Celsius in 2100.” That’s nowhere near the 1.5 to 2.0 degree pledge Trudeau made at the Paris climate summit in 2015.

Then there is the Liberal record on the approval of carbon intensive projects:

  • (March 2016) approval of the Woodfibre LNG terminal = 0.81 million tonnes of carbon pollution a year

  • (September 2016) approval of the Pacific NorthWest LNG terminal = 11.8 to 14 million tonnes of emissions a year

  • (November 2016) approval of the TransCanada NOVA Gas Transmission Ltd. fracked gas pipeline = 1.2 to 1.4 million tonnes of upstream emissions a year

  • (November 2016) approval of the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline = 19 to 26 million tonnes of upstream emissions a year

  • (November 2016) approval of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline = 20 to 26 million tonnes of emissions a year

The Trudeau government has also just appointed new members to the National Energy Board to enable the review of the Trans Canada Energy East pipeline (which would = 30 to 32 million tonnes of emissions a year) to proceed. Despite the cumulative impacts of the 890,000 barrel per day Kinder Morgan pipeline and the 760,000 barrel per day Line 3 pipeline, the Liberals are not ruling out the 1.1 million barrel per day Energy East pipeline and are supportive of the 830,000 barrel per day TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline (also backed by President-elect Donald Trump).

Yesterday, Toronto Star national affairs columnist Thomas Walkom wrote, “On its own, the carbon-price agreement is not enough to let Canada meet its climate targets. But in the end, it may be enough to convince enough Canadians that the pipelines from Alberta to the Pacific coast Trudeau wants should go ahead.”

But maybe that tide is shifting. This morning, CBC poll analyst Éric Grenier commented, “For most of 2016, public support for Trudeau’s Liberals appeared to be invulnerable to the slings and arrows of the opposition. But a series of recent polls suggests some of the attacks might be leaving a mark — though the extent of the damage isn’t entirely clear just yet. The first indication of Trudeau’s troubles came a little over a week ago in a Forum Research poll conducted for the Toronto Star. It was the first survey done in the aftermath of the government’s decision to approve two oil pipelines and reject a third.”

That poll found that the Liberals had fallen to 42 per cent from 51 per cent in the space of a month and that Trudeau’s approval rating had dropped by seven points to 51 per cent. It should also be noted that the average ‘political honeymoon’ for Canadian governments elected post-1979 has been about 16 months. That would take Trudeau to about February 2017.

This coming year could be fascinating with respect to the fight for climate justice and dipping political fortunes for the Liberal government.