Environment ministers confront Canada's carbon-cutting realities
Canadian Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna speaks during a news conference, in Paris, France, on Nov. 29, 2015. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Bruce Cheadle, The Canadian Press
Published Friday, January 29, 2016 12:09PM EST
Last Updated Friday, January 29, 2016 6:07PM EST
OTTAWA -- Canada's environment ministers took the first tentative steps toward weaving together a national strategy on combating climate change during two days of talks this week in the capital.
The first hurdle cleared was a frank acknowledgment that more will need to be done to curb emissions beyond the provincial, territorial and federal plans already on the books.
Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said the ministers had "taken stock of the challenge ahead" as the country looks at meeting established targets for 2020 and 2030.
"The data is clear and confirms that more needs to be done to close the gap between where are today and where we need to be," McKenna said at a news conference Friday afternoon, flanked by her provincial counterparts.
It was the first ministerial meeting on the climate file in almost a decade, a period during which provinces have each pursued their own climate policies in the absence of an over-arching national plan.
And it comes barely a month before premiers and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are to hold a first minister's meeting on climate change that's supposed to nail down a plan -- including a Liberal promise for a national price on carbon.
Those lofty aspirations may have received a reality check this week.
Herb Cox, Saskatchewan's environment minister, rejects a federal carbon price and said during the two days of talks there was "a lot of continuity between the other jurisdictions as well, that felt that this probably wasn't the right time to do something like that -- especially with a federal tax."
At a UN-sponsored summit last month in Paris, the new Liberal government -- in consultation with the provinces -- agreed with nearly 200 countries to limit global warming to below two degrees Celsius by mid-century.
A new report this week from the Ivey Business School at Western University in London, Ont., lays out the scale of the challenge Canadian governments have set themselves.
While Canada emits just 1.6 per cent of global greenhouse gases, the country is in the top three for the amount of emissions per person.
Canadians, per capita, produced about 20.6 tonnes of GHGs in 2012, says the report from former senior federal civil servant Paul Boothe, compared with a global average of 6.2 tonnes per capita. A United Nations research group says that in order to meet the Paris temperature target, citizens globally must be down to per capita GHG emissions of just 1.7 tonnes by the year 2050.
The previous Conservative government set a 2030 target of reducing Canada's emissions 30 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030, a target adopted "as a floor" by the incoming Liberals. Several provinces, meanwhile, have set their own reduction targets.
Despite the hard realities, the ministers professed satisfaction with the outcome of their conference.
"What is different from the past conferences I've attended is you sense a real will from everybody to work together constructively," said Quebec's David Heurtel.
Several premiers spoke of Ottawa's new willingness to use federal "spending power" and jurisdiction to pull together provincial actions.
Shannon Phillips, Alberta's minister, said "there will be a number of other initiatives, I'm certain," citing green infrastructure and clean tech funding with federal help.
Climate skeptics like to point out that Canada's relatively small contribution to global levels of carbon dioxide means any Canadian reductions will have a negligible impact worldwide. Advocates counter that climate change poses the classic dilemma of the commons: If a wealthy, industrialized, self-respecting international citizen like Canada -- with one of the highest standards of living on the planet -- won't do its part, then how can developing nations be convinced to curb emissions?
"Significant challenges lie ahead for Canada as it works to meet its GHG emission targets and those challenges parallel the ones faced by the international community," Boothe and co-author Felix Boudreault say in the conclusion to their report.
"Finding ways to equitably share the burden of GHG emission reductions and practical mechanisms to allow regional and national economies to transition to a low-carbon world will test the ingenuity and will of political leaders at home and abroad."