Canada delays new climate plan as provinces rebel

Trudeau and McKenna to update strategy on Thursday as implementing tougher carbon cuts proves troublesome

Justin Trudeau and Catherine McKenna at the COP21 summit in Paris (Pic: Environment and climate Canada)

Justin Trudeau and Catherine McKenna at the COP21 summit in Paris (Pic: Environment and Climate Canada)

By Ed King

Canada has delayed its promised climate strategy by six months as the government remains at odds with the country’s powerful provincial leaders.

The ten premiers will meet prime minister Justin Trudeau and environment chief Catherine McKenna on Thursday to thrash out a loose framework for future greenhouse gas cuts.

“While everyone knows we need to reduce emissions, having a plan to get there requires work… it’s not about the federal government just telling everyone what to do,” McKenna told reporters in Ottawa on Monday.

Canada was a vocal member of the ‘High Ambition Coalition’ at the UN’s Paris climate summit last December, which helped secure a global pact to limit warming to well below 2C this century.

But the country’s own efforts are well off course. A recent submission to the UN revealed it’s likely to increase emissions 19% by 2030 on 2005 levels based on policies in place as of last September. Its goal is a 30% cut.

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The influential oil and gas sector and transport account for nearly 50% of those emissions, reported the biennial assessment.

Green groups want the federal government to adjust its goals in light of Paris, aiming for an aspirational warming limit of 1.5C, as agreed in the French capital.

“We have been urging the government to update the target for Canada – given this new commitment of 1.5C our target is even more out of line,” said Dale Marshall, national program manager at Toronto-based Environmental Defence Canada.

“We’re also urging a [target date] move from 2030 to 2025… having a weak target is bad but one that’s 15 years away does not express urgency that’s needed.”

While the Trudeau government came to power last October promising a radical shake-up of climate policy, the country’s decentralised government makes that harder to achieve.

McKenna has proposed a national price on carbon, but it’s opposed not only by Manitoba and oil-rich Saskatchewan, but also Ontario and Quebec, who already have CO2 pricing systems.

“The very last thing we need right now is another new tax,” said Saskatchewan’s centre-right leader Brad Wall, who is standing for re-election in April.

Marshall told Climate Home a new national climate plan would likely be delivered in September, but urged the government to move on measures it can implement before that date.

Carbon pricing, green energy spend and efficiency measures will feature in Thursday’s strategy he said, allowing the federal government to consult on implementation with provinces.

“It’s all good for government to engage and come to common ground but at the end of the day they have the tools to put in their own system,” he added.

“The Harper government used CEPA [Canadian Environmental Protection Act] to regulate coal emissions, and greenhouse gases are considered toxic under that legislation.”

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