Learn More About Climate Change in Canada

The issue of how to deal with climate change in Canada is a controversial one, with various levels of government — municipal, provincial and federal — all taking different approaches to tackling this important issue.

climate change canada

(Image credit: 10 10 on Flickr)

Up until the election of the new Trudeau federal government in October 2015, Canada had been roundly criticized both domestically and internationally for its lack of action on climate change. 

While progress was stymied at the federal level, there has been progress over the last few years at the provincial government level, namely in the provinces of Ontario and Quebec, which have both committed to a cap-and-trade system.

Up until recently, British Columbia was heralded as a leader on climate change, introducing the first carbon tax in the world in 2008. A study by researchers at the University of Ottawa found that the B.C. carbon tax had reduced fossil fuel use in the province by 19 per cent since its inception, when compared to the rest of the country.

However, in 2013 the B.C. government froze planned increases in the carbon tax, calling into question the government's commitment to climate action. The B.C. government now says it plans to keep the freeze on the carbon tax until at least 2018.

Climate change and environmental protection remain hot topics in Canada, with polls for many years consistently showing these issues as top-of-mind. DeSmog Canada reports regularly on the issue of climate change in Canada and we index all of that news in the section that follows below.


DeSmog Canada's latest news coverage on Climate Change in Canada 
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For years, the Canadian public has been besieged with the same message: Alberta’s pipeline network is completely maxed out, meaning the oilsands are landlocked and new pipelines must be constructed to allow producers to ship their product to new markets and eliminate the discount imposed on exports.

It’s a notion that’s been repeated by politicians of all stripes, including Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

But there’s no merit to that argument, according to a new report from the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Oil Change International.

I’ve often thought politicians inhabit a parallel universe. Maybe it’s just widespread cognitive dissonance, coupled with a lack of imagination, that compels them to engage in so much contradictory behaviour. Trying to appease so many varying interests isn’t easy.

Rather than focusing on short-term economic and corporate priorities, though, politicians should first consider the long-term health and well-being of the people they’re elected to represent. When it comes to climate change and fossil fuels, many aren’t living up to that.

Hydropower is usually touted as clean energy, but a new study has found man-made reservoirs are producing far more greenhouse gases than previously believed, with most of those emissions in the form of methane, a potent climate-warming gas.

Tweet: Weird. #Hydropower reservoirs worldwide produce as much GHGs as all of Canada annually http://bit.ly/2dStxvA #bcpoli #cdnpoli #SiteCResearchers found that reservoirs are producing 1.3 per cent of all greenhouse gases produced by humans, or, to put the figure in context, more than all greenhouse gases produced in Canada annually.

We weren’t super-surprised at the magnitude of the emissions, but one thing we were surprised to see is the per area rate of methane emissions. They are 25 per cent higher than previously thought,” Washington State University researcher Bridget Deemer, lead author of the study, published Wednesday in the journal BioScience, told DeSmog Canada.

It was supposed to be a national first. Perhaps even a global first.

But the implementation of a bylaw requiring all gas stations in North Vancouver to apply warning stickers on their fuel pumps about the relationship between driving and catastrophic climate change has been co-opted and undermined by an industry supergroup called Smart Fuelling, says Robert Shirkey, founder of the non-profit Our Horizons.

The label designs, released by the municipality on September 20, no longer feature the tobacco-like warnings that feature “disclosures of risk” such as species extinctions and ocean acidification that Our Horizons had been pushing for since early 2013.

Instead, the stickers — explicitly designed by Smart Fuelling, a collaboration between the Canadian Fuels Association (CFA), the Canadian Independent Petroleum Marketers Association (CIPMA) and the Canadian Convenience Stores Association (CCSA) — feature advice about increasing the fuel efficiency of motor vehicles, including checking tire pressure, turning off your engine instead of idling and cutting down on the use of air conditioning. Members of the Canadian Fuels Association include Husky, Imperial Oil, Chevron, Shell and Suncor. 

Canadians could be forgiven for being a bit confused about how Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is doing on climate change these days.

Last week he approved one of the largest sources of carbon pollution in the country — the Pacific Northwest LNG export terminal in B.C.

The week before that his government announced it would stick with Harper-era emissions targets.

Now Trudeau has announced the creation of a pan-Canadian carbon-pricing framework, which means our country will have a carbon tax nation-wide for the first time ever.

So are we hurtling toward overshooting our climate targets or are we finally getting on track?

Catherine McKenna and Christy Clark

The federal government has issued an approval for the $36-billion Pacific Northwest liquified natural gas (LNG) export terminal on Lelu Island on the B.C. coast, undermining its commitments to take action on climate change.

Tuesday’s decision — announced an hour behind schedule in Richmond, B.C., by a trio of ministers including Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna — means it will be virtually impossible for B.C. to meet its climate targets.

The announcement was seen as the litmus test on whether the Liberals would live up to its climate promises.

With today’s decision on the Pacific NorthWest LNG project, Minister McKenna made it much more difficult for Canada to meet its climate targets and signaled that it’s OK for provinces to miss their own emissions targets,” said Matt Horne of the Pembina Institute.

“If built, Pacific NorthWest LNG will be one of the largest carbon polluters in the country and a serious obstacle to Canada living up to its climate commitments.”

Pacific Northwest LNG — wholly owned by the Malaysian government and boasting a questionable human rights record — lobbied the federal government 22 times between February 1 and April 21 this year, including meetings with McKenna and her chief of staff Marlo Raynolds.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark and Environment Minister Mary Polak

British Columbians will not find out before next spring’s provincial election if the province has adequate programs in place to adapt to climate change.

Earlier this month Auditor General Carol Bellringer released a list of projects her office intends to investigate in the next three years and, among the hot button issues — ranging from grizzly bear management to the Site C dam — is whether government is adequately managing risks posed by climate change.

In the wake of heavy criticism of Premier Christy Clark’s August release of the province’s “Climate Leadership Plan” — which does not include carbon tax increases or set emission targets for 2030 — some were hoping that Bellringer would release the report early next year.

It is a question I am being asked, but the timing is not going to work,” Bellringer said in an interview with DeSmog Canada.

We are probably going to have finished our field work by spring, but we won’t be able to issue it before the election,” she said.

Justin Trudeau and Canada's premiers

For decades, the urgent need for climate action was stymied by what came to be known as “climate denialism” (or its more mild cousin, “climate skepticism”).

In an effort to create public confusion and stall political progress, the fossil fuel industry poured tens of millions of dollars into the pockets of foundations, think tanks, lobby groups, politicians and academics who relentlessly questioned the overwhelming scientific evidence that human-caused climate change is real and requires urgent action.

Thankfully, the climate deniers have now mostly been exposed and repudiated. Relatively few politicians now express misgivings about the reality or science of climate change (the current Republican nominee for U.S. president being a notable exception, along with some other conservative bright lights like Sarah Palin and Canadian MP Cheryl Gallant).

That’s the good news.

The bad news is we face a new form of climate denialism — more nuanced and insidious, but just as dangerous.

Marc Jaccard

Last week, Mark Jaccard — a renowned climate policy analyst and professor at Simon Fraser University — published a short paper exploring federal approaches to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The report was quickly shared by other climate policy experts, including the University of Alberta’s Andrew Leach, Clean Energy Canada’s Dan Woynillowicz and York University’s Tzeporah Berman.

Unfortunately, many news outlets, including the Toronto Star and Metro, ran articles suggesting that Jaccard was petitioning against a carbon tax, with emissions reductions entirely accomplished via regulations.

That’s clearly not the case if one bothers to read the paper (a reality Jaccard spent much of the following days pointing out on Twitter).

Given the recent announcement by federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna that the government is examining carbon pricing as a tool to meet 2030 targets, actually reading Jaccard’s report is very much worth the time.

Salmon have been swimming in Pacific Northwest waters for at least seven million years, as indicated by fossils of large saber-tooth salmon found in the area. During that time, they’ve been a key species in intricate, interconnected coastal ecosystems, bringing nitrogen and other nutrients from the ocean and up streams and rivers to spawning grounds, feeding whales, bears and eagles and fertilizing the magnificent coastal rainforests along the way.