CBC with Angela Carter 11 October 2019
How do the political parties compare when it comes to tackling climate change?
The four major federal political parties — the Liberals, Conservatives, NDP and Green Party — have spelled out their targets and policies in their platforms. (The People’s Party of Canada does not consider human-caused climate change a threat, and the Bloc Québécois does not have a national climate plan, but supports policies aligned with Quebec’s provincial plan.)
The parties have all pledged to meet, or exceed, Canada’s stated goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.
To do so, the Liberals:
- would rely mostly on their Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, put in place while in government, which includes carbon pricing along with measures such as phasing out coal, setting a clean fuel standard and encouraging the uptake of electric vehicles.
- would cancel some Liberal policies, such as the consumer part of the carbon tax and the clean fuel standard, but leave in place a levy on industrial emitters and put that money toward green innovation.
- has promised to expand the carbon levy on industrial emitters, remove fossil fuel subsidies and increase government funding for things like clean transportation and renewable energy.
- have an ambitious, transformative agenda to dramatically cut oil production, retrofit every building in Canada and move to electric vehicles, among other things.
But which plan actually gets us to the target? CBC asked economic modelling firm Navius Research to project the impact of each party’s climate policies.
Climate action versus economic growth
Each plan goes to the heart of the party’s ideological approach to tackling climate change. The Liberals rely on market-driven measures, arguing that climate action and a strong economy can co-exist, while the Conservatives reject taxes on consumers or regulations on industry in favour of green technology. The Greens stress the dire warnings from scientists that even a 1.5 C increase in global temperatures could lead to severe climate disasters — and that emissions reductions should be seen as an urgent national security issue.
The Liberals’ plan is based on a market-driven carbon pricing approach that tries to strike a balance between reducing emissions without driving industries away from Canada. But the government’s own projections throughout their term have shown they need to go further.
“The Liberals have talked a really good game, started us going down the road that we need to go down, but I don’t think that they represent the kinds of radical policy change that we need to confront this crisis,” said Angela Carter, a political science professor at the University of Waterloo’s Interdisciplinary Centre on Climate Change.
The Liberals have pledged to exceed their 2030 targets and get Canada to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. According to Navius’s modelling, their current plan does not get us to this 2030 target, but the Liberals have proposed imposing binding targets through legislation and convening a panel of experts to advise on how to ramp up the government’s climate policies.
The Liberals have also proposed planting two billion trees, borrowing from a widely cited study published in the journal Science earlier this year about how reforestation can help fight climate change. Navius could not model the effect of planting trees on emissions, but the Liberals say their tree-planting initiative would reduce emissions by a further 30 megatonnes by 2030.
The Greens have also announced a tree-planting plan.
All the plans have the potential to perform better, or worse, depending on how a vaguely defined policy plan ends up being implemented in government. To give the fairest analysis of a party’s plan, Navius modelled a “best-case scenario” version of any policy that was vague.
The Conservatives want to get rid of the consumer part of the carbon tax — the tax people pay at the gas pump — but would leave in place a levy on large industrial emitters. We assumed their pricing levels on this levy would be similar to the pricing level of the current Liberal government’s levy on industrial emitters.
But if it isn’t — say, a scenario in which the Conservatives decided to halve the pricing levels — their plan would end up with an additional 18 megatonnes in 2030, getting us further away from the target.
Sandra Saghir, a senior economist at McGill University specializing in energy policy, said the Conservative plan lacks longer-term incentives for consumers and companies to keep reducing emissions beyond 2030, or to exceed legislated emissions caps.
The Conservative plan is “not incentive-based, so the impact on environment and on long-term sustainability is going to be limited.”
The NDP’s plan, which is being touted as “A New Deal,” only outperforms the Liberals by about 12 megatonnes. Meanwhile, their plan would have a more significant negative impact on economic growth. The party’s plan relies on government funding for many of the policies — things like $1.5 billion for green innovation, $2.5 billion for home retrofit incentives and $6.5 billion for electric vehicles and transit.
“The NDP relies on inefficient government intervention, but also on the myth that reductions can happen by hitting large industry instead of final consumers of coal-fired electricity, gasoline, diesel, natural gas, et cetera,” said Mark Jaccard, a professor at Simon Fraser University’s School of Resource and Environmental Management.
“Industry will simply move away. And subsidy programs for households have negligible effect — unless they are enormous subsidies, which would only be possible with enormous tax increases on the middle class and wealthy.”
The Greens have proposed policies that radically transform some Canadian industries. They propose, for instance, banning oil fracking, which means shutting down most oil production in Canada outside of the Alberta oilsands.
“The Green Party is the only party that is taking us to deep levels of decarbonizing the economy and deep emission reductions,” said Carter. “They give us a fighting chance of doing our part in the global community of keeping global temperatures to a 1.5 C of warming.”
The Greens have also proposed extending their biofuels requirements to heavy-duty vehicles. While it would cut the Greens’ emissions a further 100 megatonnes by 2030, this plan would present huge challenges — we would have to produce unprecedented amounts of crops to make enough biofuel.
Elizabeth May’s platform includes a plan for transitioning workers away from fossil fuel industries. But in Navius’s projections, their plan sees the greatest negative impact on Canada’s growth rate in the next 10 years.
There are a couple of factors that our analysis could not capture. The first was the potential benefits to Canadian companies from any overseas demand for clean technologies or fuels. Also, our GDP growth forecast does not take into account the cost of climate change and future climate disasters on our infrastructure or productivity.
“When I look at that GDP data I’m actually pretty reassured,” said Carter. “I mean even the Greens have what we’ve been calling the most radical policy here. They are not bringing us into recession. This is not a recessionary picture at all.”
The Canada’s Changing Climate Report, released by scientists across the federal government and university experts earlier this year, warned that Canada was warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world. The report also said that Canada is already experiencing damaging weather events like extreme fires, water supply shortages and a heightened risk of coastal flooding.
“The impact on growth [of these plans] is way smaller than the loss that the environment will have on the economy [if we do nothing],” said Saghir.
Navius Research’s analysis employs gTech, a technologically detailed economic model. It has been carefully calibrated to historical energy, emissions and economic data sources. Historical emissions are from the Canadian government’s 2019 National Inventory Report.
The forecast for the Liberal plan includes federal Pan-Canadian Framework, along with implemented and announced climate policies in the provinces. Western Climate Initiative (WCI) credits under Québec’s cap-and-trade system are subtracted from the total. Reductions in land use, land-use change and forestry emissions are based on federal projections. The Liberals have also announced additional policies for home retrofits and a tax cut for clean technology companies.
Angela Carter is a political science professor at the University of Waterloo.