Oct 28, 2021

A challenge to the 44th Parliament: Make the global fossil fuel phase-out your legacy

By and
Photo: Alexandros Michailidis / Shutterstock

In the past five years, the federal government has brought in important climate policies — including a national carbon price and coal power phase-out — that have helped flatten Canada’s emissions curve. On the other hand, this government has championed fossil fuel extraction at home and abroad, exemplified most clearly by the purchase of the TransMountain pipeline expansion project.

The net result has been a failure so far to reduce emissions at a pace consistent with our climate commitments.

Nevertheless, the federal government promises to reduce Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions by 40-45 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. To get there, the government needs to move quickly to implement a number of commitments made in the past year and during the election campaign. One key promise is to raise the national carbon pricing floor to $170 per tonne of carbon dioxide by 2030. Another is delivering on the much-delayed Clean Fuel Standard.

To be credible moving forward, the government also needs to steer clear of accounting tricks with Canada’s forests, such as a proposed GHG Offset Protocol that would allow large industrial players to delay emissions reductions by purchasing carbon credits. We should be similarly wary of expensive and unproven technologies, such as carbon capture and blue hydrogen, that allow the oil and gas industries to continue with business as usual.

In a world that takes climate action seriously, Canada won’t be producing oil and gas forever. We need to plan for a rapid but just transition out of those industries and into cleaner alternatives.

The Liberal election platform did include a proposed cap on fossil fuel production emissions, which currently account for more than a quarter of total national emissions. While this commitment was vague, the government can’t meet its promises without it. In a world that takes climate action seriously, Canada won’t be producing oil and gas forever. We need to plan for a rapid but just transition out of those industries and into cleaner alternatives.

Delivering on all these promises in order to meet Canada’s domestic targets is essential, but Trudeau’s climate legacy also hinges on playing a productive role on the global stage.

One of the go-to excuses for weak climate action in this country, peddled mainly by the fossil fuel industry and its supporters, is that Canada accounts for less than two per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. It’s a disingenuous critique that downplays Canada’s responsibility, both historically and on a per capita basis, for the current climate crisis.

Moreover, Canada is a major exporter of fossil fuels. If we consider all the carbon removed from Canadian soil (much of which is burned elsewhere), our contribution to global warming is double what we currently count as Canadian emissions.

If Canada reduces its exports of fossil fuels will some other country step in to replace that supply? Not necessarily, but it’s true that Canada alone can only do so much in the absence of global collective action on oil and gas production.

An agreement on fossil fuel supply is something the Paris Agreement is missing. Adding it presents a big opportunity to reclaim the mantle of leadership at the upcoming global climate summit, where Canada will otherwise be pressed to defend both its poor climate record and its modest climate targets relative to its peers.

Already, thousands of scientists, activists and sub-national governments, including the cities of Toronto and Vancouver, have endorsed a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty. At the national level, Denmark and Costa Rica recently launched the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance to pressure countries to leave their fossil fuels in the ground.

Canada is not new to international climate initiatives. Building on the success of our domestic coal phase-out, we have played a central role in the Powering Past Coal Alliance to help get other countries off that fossil fuel.

It is time to take the next step. It is time for Canada to step up as a true climate leader by championing an international agreement to phase out all fossil fuels, including oil and gas.