Federal election primer:
The global climate crisis—often framed as an abstract and future problem—is increasingly obvious outside our windows.
Summer hasn’t officially started yet, but out-of-control wildfires are already raging across Alberta and British Columbia. Following the record-breaking burns of the past two years, another bad wildfire season is in the forecast for Western Canada as temperatures pick up.
Meanwhile, communities in northern and western Canada are already grappling with unseasonable heat waves. The central provinces of Quebec, Ontario and New Brunswick are still recovering from the second once-in-a-century floods of the last three years while preparing for a heightened risk of flash floods this summer. Atlantic Canada is bracing for another active hurricane season.
The extreme weather ravaging the country this summer will form a fitting backdrop to a federal election campaign that places climate policy at the forefront. Acknowledging the reality of a the climate crisis (and, more importantly, the rising concerns of voters), every party has promised to put forward a climate plan this year.
But the mere existence of a plan is not sufficient given the severity and urgency of the challenge. An adequate climate plan must be ambitious and comprehensive. So what standard should we expect?
Drawing on the costed 2019 Alternative Federal Budget, here’s what the CCPA would include in an adequate Canadian climate policy in 2019.
Raising our ambitions
The Canadian government talks a big game on climate change, but we’re failing to appreciate the full scope of the climate breakdown. Canada needs to introduce more ambitious greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets consistent with the Paris Agreement targets—the AFB calls for a 50% reduction below 2005 levels by 2040—and introduce legislation to enforce them.
Declaring a national climate emergency, as many Canadian cities have done, will also enable more rapid and far-reaching government action.
Phasing out fossil fuel production
There’s no way around it: the combustion of coal, oil and natural gas is the primary driver of global heating and we must stop producing those fuels in Canada and around the world.
As a start, Canada must stop expanding fossil fuel production (e.g., by placing a moratorium on new projects). Canada must also end both direct and indirect subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, which currently add up to billions of dollars per year.
A clear timeline for phasing out oil and natural gas production (e.g., by 2040) will facilitate a managed transition rather than a sudden collapse of the sector.
Investing in the clean economy
As Canada shifts away from fossil fuels, massive public investments in low- and zero-carbon infrastructure will be necessary. The biggest challenges are expanding renewable energy generating capacity, building a more robust and integrated electricity grid, retrofitting homes and buildings to use less energy, expanding public transit options within and between cities, and driving the transition to fully-electric vehicles.
The Canadian government is already investing in each of these areas, but the size and pace of funding is inadequate. Canada needs a dramatic infusion of capital into these projects, which should be led by the public sector. Among other initiatives, the AFB calls for an immediate increase in green infrastructure spending of $5 billion per year plus $10 billion over five years for retrofits of multi-unit residential buildings.
Ensuring a just transition
The decarbonization of the Canadian economy will eliminate some jobs while creating many more. To minimize the harm to fossil fuel workers and communities while maximizing the benefits for clean economy workers, Canada needs a comprehensive just transition strategy.
The AFB recommends a Just Transition Transfer to the provinces to support people negatively affected by the phase-out of fossil fuels. It also recommends a new Strategic Training Fund to bolster and diversify the workforce in growth industries, like renewable energy, the building trades, and public transit.
Canadian climate action is sometimes dismissed by critics as inconsequential given our small share of total global emissions. Although this argument is both false and cynical—all emissions reductions matter and every country has to do their part—Canada can do even more to tackle the climate crisis by directly supporting climate action in other countries.
Many countries in the Global South are among the most vulnerable to climate breakdown yet they have the least capacity to reduce emissions or adapt to changes in the climate. By increasing our commitment to international climate financing—the AFB suggests $3 billion per year as a start—Canada can fight for global climate justice while realizing some of the lowest-cost emissions reductions in the world.
It’s not too late to save the world
The unfolding climate crisis presents enormous emotional challenges. Despair is a common and rational response to continued inaction on this problem. But for all the bad news, there is also a clear way forward: one that ensures a liveable planet for us and future generations without requiring sudden undue hardship.
In this fall’s federal election, we hope the parties choose a path of ambitious climate action grounded in social and economic justice. It won’t be easy or painless, but the alternative—a stubborn commitment to the status quo—guarantees a far worse outcome for Canadians, our economy and the planet in the years to come.
Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood is a researcher on international trade and climate policy for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Follow Hadrian on Twitter: @hadrianmk.