Learn More About Climate Change in Canada

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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.


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.

  

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DeSmog Canada's latest news coverage on Climate Change in Canada 

 

Exactly a year has passed since the centre-left New Democratic Party (NDP) rolled to a stunning win in Alberta.

Yet it’s still deeply surreal to think about that victory on May 5, 2015, which increased the party’s seat count from four to 54 in the 87-seat legislature and elevated former labour lawyer Rachel Notley to the position of premier.

After all, the Progressive Conservatives (PCs) — a union-bashing and petroleum-entrenched behemoth of a party — had governed the province without challenge since 1971.

For much of the ‘90s and 2000s, the province was led by Ralph Klein, an austerity-obsessed alcoholic who cracked jokes about human-caused climate change, berated homeless people for being unemployed and blew up a hospital to save a bit of money.

If people keep rapidly extracting and burning fossil fuels, there’s no hope of meeting the 2015 Paris Agreement climate change commitments. To ensure a healthy, hopeful future for humanity, governments must stick to their pledge to limit global warming to 1.5 or 2 C above pre-industrial levels by 2050. Many experts agree that to meet that goal, up to 80 per cent of oil, coal and gas reserves must stay in the ground. That makes fossil fuels a bad investment — what analysts call “stranded assets.”

Putting money toward things that benefit humanity, whether investing in clean energy portfolios or implementing energy-saving measures in your home or business, is better for the planet and the bottom line than sinking it into outdated industries that endanger humanity.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna earlier this month said the federal government does not have a preferred carbon pricing system. Whether the provinces and territories go with cap and trade or a carbon tax, McKenna simply wants to see Canada produce less greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

“I just care about how do we reduce emissions at the end of the day,” McKenna said during a panel discussion on Canadian climate action in Ottawa. “That is the most important piece.”

Unlike the previous federal government, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has made putting a price on carbon pollution a priority. A recent meeting between premiers and the federal government on a national climate strategy nearly broke down last March because of the Trudeau government’s insistence on a national minimum carbon price.

“The carbon pricing lobby sucked all the air out of the room,” leading Canadian energy economist Mark Jaccard told DeSmog Canada. “What we should be doing is looking at those jurisdictions that have made progress and learn from them instead of closing our eyes saying ‘I want a carbon price and don’t bother me with the evidence.'”

Gary Krause was mystified by an unusual fish he caught in his trawl net off B.C.’s Pacific north coast in October. It was a Pacific electric ray, named for a pair of organs behind its head that can knock a human adult down with a powerful shock.

Trawl fishery records show 88 of these rays in B.C. waters since 1996. Although an electric ray was first recorded off Vancouver Island’s west coast in 1928, nearly a quarter of the more recent sightings came from 2015 alone.

Fishermen like Krause, who worked an astounding 4,000 days at sea over the past 35 years, are often the first to observe the beginnings of fundamental ecosystem shifts. In 2008, he also identified the first ever brown booby, a tropical seabird, in Canada’s Pacific waters.

Why are creatures like electric rays, which prefer warmer southern California or Baja waters, turning up with greater frequency further north?

I’m not a scientist. And chances are, neither are you.
 
That likely means we both find ourselves deferring to the opinion of others, of experts who know more about complex matters — like health or nuclear safety or vaccinations or climate change — than we do.
 
But heck, even scientists have to rely on the expertise of others (unless they’re some sort of super scientist with infinite knowledge of all things. Ahem, Neil deGrasse Tyson).
 
But for the rest of us intellectual Joes, we rely heavily on what we think the experts think. As it happens, figuring out what the experts think isn’t so easy, not even in those instances where the majority of experts agree on a subject.
 
Take for example, the issue of climate change, which is just what cognitive scientist Derek J. Koehler had in mind when he launched a recent pair of experiments designed to investigate what factors might contribute to our collective failure to grasp expert consensus.

Christy Clark LNG

Christy Clark is our province’s very own natural gas salmon, swimming gamely upstream against the advice of evidence and experts from multiple fields, determined to spawn B.C.’s LNG business in the heart of the province and give it the best start she can — everything else be damned. Or dammed, or whatever.
 
On a visit this week to Fort St. John, which is currently on fire, the premier bragged that producing and burning LNG will help prevent wildfires by causing a net decrease in carbon emissions as it displaces coal in China.
 
“If there’s any argument for exporting LNG and helping fight climate change, surely it is all around us when we see these fires burning out of control,” she told reporters at a press conference.

By Aimée Slangen, Utrecht University and John Church, CSIRO

Global average sea level has risen by about 17 cm between 1900 and 2005. This is a much faster rate than in the previous 3,000 years.

The sea level changes for several reasons, including rising temperatures as fossil fuel burning increases the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. In a warming climate, the seas are expected to rise at faster rates, increasing the risk of flooding along our coasts. But until now we didn’t know what fraction of the rise was the result of human activities.

In research published in Nature Climate Change, we show for the first time that the burning of fossil fuels is responsible for the majority of sea level rise since the late 20th century.

As the amount of greenhouse gases we are putting into the atmosphere continues to increase, we need to understand how sea level responds. This knowledge can be used to help predict future sea level changes.

Workers are laying down their tools across the Canadian oilpatch as the price slump draws on. Alberta had a net loss of nearly 20,000 jobs in 2015, with skilled workers being laid off and little hope in sight. The reaction, then, to talks of climate action has been often hostile, with people fearing more economic damage from carbon pricing or other new environmental regulation.
 
But for some there is an upside to the glut of out-of-work skilled people: it’s an opportunity to shift gears and put them to work in a growing green sector. Former oilsands tradesman Lliam Hildebrand started a non-profit group, Iron & Earth, to get oilpatch workers back to work on the next generation of green energy projects. (Investment in clean energy now doubles that of fossil fuels world-wide.)
 
“We have the skills to build the renewable energy infrastructure required for Canada to meet their climate target,” Hildebrand told CBC News. “That will open up a huge amount of opportunity for us if we can start diversifying our energy grid and it would ensure that we are less vulnerable to price fluctuations.”
 
The new organization brings a fresh perspective to a longstanding perceived tension between climate action and its spinoff benefits and the fear of damaging existing emissions-intensive industries.

In a panel discussion last week Environment Minister Catherine McKenna assured Albertans that the Liberal government would not risk damaging “national unity” by acting quickly on climate change. For some, her comment begs the question: when exactly will the Liberals be ready to start acting on their emissions reductions targets?

A complaint filed with Alberta’s Office of the Ethics Commissioner on Tuesday argues that the president of the Coal Association of Canada contravened the Conflict of Interest Act by lobbying for the coal industry shortly after leaving his post as an Alberta cabinet minister.

Until six months ago, coal lobbyist Robin Campbell served as Alberta’s finance minister. He previously held positions as minister of aboriginal relations and minister of environment and sustainable resource development.

The Conflicts of Interest Act bars a former minister from lobbying any public office holder for 12 months after their last day in office.

Progress Alberta, a non-profit progressive advocacy group, filed the ethics complaint, arguing that Campbell’s activity on behalf of the coal industry may contravene rules in the Lobbyist Act designed to prevent the use of “grassroots communication” to persuade members of the public to pressure public office holders.

Since his controversial appointment as Coal Association president, Campbell has visited communities across Alberta and spoken with media about the lobby group’s positions. At least one media report indicates Campbell called on audiences to get in touch with their elected officials.

An average $2.5 trillion (£1.76trn) of the world’s financial assets would be at risk from climate change impacts if global temperatures are left to increase by 2.5°C by 2100, warns a new study by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics.

The study, published today in the journal Nature Climate Change, is the first of its kind to produce a comprehensive estimate of the total value at risk from climate change impacts. So far most of the attention has focused on the risk of climate change to fossil fuel companies.

Under the Paris climate deal, nations have agreed to limit global warming to “well below” 2°C from pre-industrial levels. However, under business as usual emissions are set to increase global average temperatures by approximately 2.5°C.

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