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Canada positioned itself as a world leader on climate change — is it?

Global News with Angela Carter 26 September 2019

 

Just after the 2015 federal election, Justin Trudeau claimed Canada was “back” on the world stage as a leader on climate change. Years later, however, experts say Canada isn’t doing enough.

Studies on the issue, and climate advocates, suggest Canada has a long way to go in terms of curbing its emissions.

An April 2019 report on emissions showed 716 million tonnes of greenhouse gases were produced in Canada in 2017 — an increase of eight million tonnes from 2016.

The uptick pushed Canada even further away from its Paris climate change agreement pledge to slash emissions to 70 per cent of what they were in 2005 by 2030.

Pressure on Canada — and the rest of the world — to take a stronger stance on climate change mounted this week, during the United Nations Climate Action Summit.

The New York conference involved leaders from around the world, but high-ranking Canadian officials didn’t attend due to the election campaign.

Environmental Defence’s national climate program director, Dale Marshall, was at the summit this week and told Global News that there has been a “shift” in Canada’s reputation on climate change.

“It’s mixed record,” he said. ” There have been some initiatives that have been welcomed, but Canada needs to be doing a lot more.”

Marshall said that other countries are starting to think about reducing the amount of oil and gas that they produce and limiting emissions. He cited the example of New Zealand, which announced last year that it would not grant any new offshore oil exploration permits.

“We will have to curtail production of oil and gas,” he said. “Canada is going to have to do that at some point.”

When it comes to countries promising action, Marshall pointed out Finland, which has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2035.

He also cited promises from developing countries, which have set ambitious climate agendas, but need support from wealthy countries to achieve them.

While Canadian officials were unable to attend the UN conference, Marshall said he hopes the discussions that happened influence leaders on the campaign trail.

“We’re hoping that the fact that this summit happened means that parties commit to much greater action if they do form government.”

“Other countries continue to step up in ways that Canada hasn’t yet,” he said.

The issue of climate change is important to Canadian voters, according to an Ipsos poll conducted on behalf of Global News.

The poll found that climate change is becoming a “consensus issue” in Canada, with agreement across generations and genders that it needs to be addressed. One in three Canadians believe the country needs to do “everything we can” to fight climate change immediately.

Climate change, according to respondents, is the third-most important issue in the election behind health care and affordability.

Despite agreement that climate change is an important issue, many seem to be unaware of how Canada is handling the issue.

For example, last November, a coalition of international climate organizations found that Canada produces the most per-person greenhouse gas emissions among G20 economies.

But when asked if this was true or false, only 13 per cent of respondents in the poll had the correct answer. Fifty-four per cent said it was false and 34 per cent said they didn’t know.

Sean Simpson, vice president of Ipsos, says there are two reasons why Canadians might not get the facts straight on the issue: misinformation on social media and a lack of information from the government.

“There’s just a lot of confusion out there about what the facts are regarding climate change and how it impacts Canada,” he told Global News.

“For example, most Canadians do not know that the rate of warming is twice that in Canada than it is in other parts of the world. Also I think they don’t recognize that there are rebates they can personally receive from the carbon taxes.”

Thirty-nine per cent of respondents said they were unaware about the rate of warming, 40 per cent said they were unsure, and only 21 per cent knew that to be true.

The poll also found there were clear divisions among party lines.

Fifty-two per cent of Green Party voters list climate change as one of their top three election issues, 35 per cent of NDP voters agree, followed by 34 per cent of Liberals, 32 per cent of Bloc Quebecois voters and 10 per cent of Conservative voters.

Election promises, so far

On Tuesday, the Liberals vowed to get Canada to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, saying they plan to introduce “legally binding” targets to get them there. However, details on exactly how they plan to achieve that are still scarce.

The plan contains no information on what specific measures a re-elected Liberal government would take to achieve net-zero emissions or what the legally binding targets it would introduce would be, other than pledging they would “exceed Canada’s 2030 emissions goal.”

Election promises, so far

On Tuesday, the Liberals vowed to get Canada to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, saying they plan to introduce “legally binding” targets to get them there. However, details on exactly how they plan to achieve that are still scarce.

The plan contains no information on what specific measures a re-elected Liberal government would take to achieve net-zero emissions or what the legally binding targets it would introduce would be, other than pledging they would “exceed Canada’s 2030 emissions goal.”

By 2030, the Greens want 100 per cent of Canada’s electricity to come from renewable sources and to ban the sale of passenger vehicles with combustion engines by that year.

The Conservatives’ Andrew Scheer has pitched a climate plan he says is focused on technology rather than taxes. The plan, which Scheer has previously said will include cutting the carbon tax, would set emissions standards requiring major emitters that produce more than 40 kilotonnes per year of greenhouse gases to invest in private sector research and development of green technology.

The entire plan contains $2.5 billion in pledges.

Angela Carter, an associate professor of political science at the University of Waterloo, told Global News that federal leaders have to address Canada’s “deeply contradictory approach” to climate commitments.

“The Canadian government is really torn between its stated desire to act on the climate crisis, but it’s interested in boosting the oil and gas sector,” Carter said.

She noted that it’s impossible for Canada to meet its emission targets without reducing emissions from the oil and gas industry.

Carter said that in order for Canada to truly be a leader on climate change, it needs to have a multi-pronged approach — meaning addressing the oil and gas industry, but also working with Indigenous communities and investing in greener transport options and infrastructure.

But Carter noted that Canada is not alone in its struggle to meet targets. While many point to European Union members, she said there is no one country that is truly a leader on the issue.

“All countries need to increase ambition, all countries need to work harder to get this done.”

Angela Carter is a political science professor at the University of Waterloo.