How Trump and Biden’s climate change plans would impact Canada
Climate change is often described as the most urgent political issue of our time, and whoever wins the White House in November will have the power to lead the U.S. through a moment that many top environmental experts consider a tipping point in human history.
We have just 10 years left to limit global warming to 1.5 C, according to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Experts say any warming beyond that point would permanently damage our planet and lead to devastating droughts, disastrous sea level rise and kill nearly all the planet’s coral reefs.
U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden have offered dramatically different plans on climate change and the environment. Here’s a look at their platforms and how their victories would impact Canada and our planet at large.
TRUMP’S ENVIRONMENT PLAN
Trump has a history of acknowledging the existence of climate change while simultaneously casting doubt on environmental science. He’s called environmental advocates “hoaxsters” and “prophets of doom” and said he’s not convinced climate change is manmade. Once, on a particularly cold day in New York City, he tweeted, “Where the hell is global warming?”
As for his 2020 platform, Trump’s campaign website doesn’t lay out a plan so much as a list of “achievements” under the banner of “energy and environment.” Most of the achievements are related to Trump’s efforts to make it easier for oil, gas and coal companies to do business in the U.S. and sell their products internationally.
At the top of the list of “achievements” is the fact that Trump signed an executive order to “expand offshore oil and gas drilling and open more leases to develop offshore drilling.”
Trump’s campaign also highlights his administration’s approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport oil from Alberta to the U.S., and the New Burgos Pipeline, a cross-border pipeline between the U.S. and Mexico.
Also making the list is Trump’s effort to scrap Barack Obama’s signature Clean Power Plan, which aimed to reduce U.S. power sector emissions 32 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, and replace it with his own Affordable Clean Energy Rule, which would lower emissions by less than 2 per cent.
The words “climate change” and “global warming” do not appear anywhere on the page. The word “climate” only appears once, in reference to Trump withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement. Trump said he pulled out because the agreement was costly and unfair to Americans.
References to climate change appear more regularly on Trump’s Twitter feed, where he has consistently retweeted supporters criticizing Biden’s environmental plan, which is repeatedly described as “radical.”
BIDEN’S ENVIRONMENT PLAN
Biden’s environmental plan is starkly different from Trump’s. In July, he released a $1.7 trillion “Clean Energy Revolution” plan that would invest heavily in green technology and aggressively pursue making the U.S. power sector emissions-free by 2035.
Biden says his plan goes beyond Obama’s environmental platform and would ensure that the U.S. reaches net-zero emissions no later than 2050. On airline emissions, which make up about 2 per cent of global emissions, Biden vows to “pursue measures to incentivize the creation of new, sustainable fuels for aircraft, as well as other changes to aircraft technology and standards, and air traffic management.”
He has also vowed to recommit the U.S. to the Paris Climate Agreement and to encourage other countries to ramp up their own emissions-cutting goals.
On Keystone XL, Biden vowed early on that he would scrap the pipeline, calling it “tarsands we don’t need.” Alberta has already invested billions into the project.
Whereas Trump boasts of creating more opportunities for the oil and gas sector, Biden says he would “take action against fossil fuel companies and other polluters who put profit over people and knowingly harm our environment and poison our communities’ air, land, and water, or conceal information regarding potential environmental and health risks."
Biden pitched his environmental plan as part of a coronavirus recovery mission, saying that the investments in green infrastructure will create much-needed jobs and help kickstart the slumping U.S. economy.
The Democrat’s climate plan is part of a broader campaign to woo younger and left-leaning voters, and it was drafted following recommendations from a joint task force involving Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who focused much of his failed campaign for the Democratic nomination on climate.
HOW CANADA’S AFFECTED
It’s hard to imagine two more divergent environmental platforms, according to Ryan Katz-Rosene, an associate professor at the University of Ottawa who researches environmental policy.
“I can’t emphasize enough what different worlds they’re advocating for,” Katz-Rosene told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview.
Katz-Rosene says Trump’s stance on the environmental is “destructive” and “non-sensical.” Alternatively, Biden’s plan seems to convey the same ambitious language of the environmental movement and climate justice advocates.
“There’s always a big discrepancy between what a candidate proposes and what happens. Just because Biden has this ambitious, highly acclaimed plan doesn’t mean it will come to fruition,” he said.
While climate change is a global issue, Katz-Rosene says both candidates’ platforms would have direct impact on Canadian policy and industries.
Since the U.S. left the Paris Climate Agreement, Canada has taken on more of a leadership role on the international stage to encourage other countries to cut emissions. If the U.S. were to rejoin the global pact under Biden, Katz-Rosene says Canada would likely have less of a voice in these discussions.
Biden’s promise to invest in green industries could also spur competition for similar investments north of the border. In particular, green hydrogen — a clean but costly alternative to fossil fuels — could see some healthy market competition, Katz-Rosene says.
“If the U.S. is pouring trillions of dollars into green tech, that changes the situation,” he said.
"All of a sudden, Canadian producers of green hydrogen … they start saying, ‘Now we need to ramp things up.’”
This cross-border ripple effect could also affect Canadian policy, since the U.S. and Canada are already linked by CUSMA and other international agreements with environmental clauses. If Trump stays in power, he likely won’t be putting any pressure on Canada or other countries to do their part to fight climate change, Katz-Roese says.
“And when one of the parties is checked out and doesn’t really care about it, it brings the other partner back as well,” he said.
Climate Action Tracker, which monitors whether or not countries are on track to hit the Paris Agreement’s 1.5 C goal, lists just one country — Morocco — as doing enough to hit the mark. Canada’s level of action is considered “insufficient,” while the U.S. is considered “critically insufficient,” a ranking behind China, India and Brazil.
Some environmentalists see the choice between Biden and Trump as a make-or-break moment in the fight against climate change. But Katz-Rosene doesn’t see it that way.
“Instead of a singular moment or ‘nail in the coffin’ rhetoric, I view it as steps forward or backwards. And I think Trump’s government has taken many, many steps backwards and has slowed down our chances of mitigating climate change,” he said.
“Quite frankly, before Trump the chances weren’t great that we were going to meet the Paris Agreement targets…but he sure doesn’t help the situation.”