A made-in-Canada climate plan can’t rely on outsourcing the solution

Oped - June 5, 2019 - By Simon Dyer

Published in The Hill Times (June 5, 2019).

Any political party serious about governing in Canada and sincere about slowing climate change will put forward a climate plan designed to rapidly and significantly drive down greenhouse gas emissions here at home to improve the lives of Canadians and honour our international commitments.

What’s more, given the incredible economic opportunity that decarbonizing presents, that climate plan will be fair (by including carbon pricing that internalizes the costs of this pollutant), it will reduce emissions now (as opposed to years from now when new technologies are operationalized), and through investment in renewable energy and innovation it will position our industry as competitive in a low-carbon economy and our nation as a purveyor of the cleanest energy (yes, including cleaner oilsands exports) in the world.

Canadians need this, considering climate change is already costing Canadians billions of dollars in disaster relief and insurance coverage for floods in New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, and Alberta, and for wildfire damage in British Columbia, Alberta, and the Northwest Territories. And then there are the still-to-be accounted costs to Canadians’ health due to increasing wildfire smoke, air pollution, and vector-borne diseases (such as ticks), loss of way of life for Indigenous people in the rapidly melting North, and climate-change-accelerated wildlife loss.

Canada is among the top 10 emitters of greenhouse gases in the world. Canada’s contribution to the solution must at least match our contribution to the problem, and it must be multi-sectoral in approach to succeed in reducing emissions across our economy.

Solving our emissions problems here at home offers environmental gain with a massive economic upside. The low-carbon economy is predicted to be worth $26-trillion by 2030, supporting 65 million jobs. Canada’s energy sector has long been a beacon of innovation and excellence. The potential for Canada to become a leading exporter of clean energy technology—throughout our economy—is very real.
A strong climate plan doesn’t rely on outsourcing the solution. Any outsourcing of our emissions reductions, including selling our natural gas abroad, needs to be subject to a rigorous, yet-to-be-built international accounting system to ensure real, permanent, verifiable, and additional emissions reductions are achieved. There’s no way, currently, to verify outsourcing will lead to overall global emissions reductions.
A strong climate plan doesn’t rely on shifting the burden within our economy and federation, either—it treats all sectors fairly. A strong national climate plan must include a coherent plan to deal with all of Canada’s largest sources of emissions—including from the oil and gas industry. Alberta’s commitment to cap oilsands emissions should be applauded, but further action is needed.
A strong climate plan should also include increased efforts to reduce emissions of methane—which is 96 times more powerful than carbon dioxide and is leaked into the atmosphere during the exploration for and production of oil and gas. And while a key step for driving down emissions is to finish phasing out coal, a strong climate plan won’t replace the dirtiest fossil fuel with another greenhouse-gas emitting energy source. Instead, it will invest in the creation of a renewable energy grid that will make Canada’s oilsands exports more attractive by ensuring each barrel is as low-carbon as possible.

Investment in innovation must be accompanied by investment in job training programs that ensure Canada’s workers are part of this new low-carbon economy. And the fact is, economic and policy upheaval isn’t beneficial for investors or Canadians workers who want good-paying jobs in sectors with long-term stability and growth potential.

A strong climate plan will include a multi-sector, transformational approach. Because the second largest source of GHG emissions in Canada is transportation, a strong climate plan will transform our transportation systems by decarbonizing our vehicles, including medium- and heavy-duty fleets. Deep energy retrofits to buildings and strong energy efficiency programs are also essential, as are enhanced measures to conserve landscapes with high-carbon storage value.

This is no time for half measures. Canadians don’t take politicians at face value on promises for jobs or economic growth—they demand to see how plans will deliver on results being promised. We will assess climate plans on their ability to achieve actual emissions reductions in Canada, and to capitalize on the economic opportunity diversification presents—and Canadians should, too.


Simon Dyer

Simon Dyer is the executive director of the Pembina Institute. He is based in Edmonton.


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