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The Canada-China FIPA Restricts Canada's Climate Options

This is a guest post by Gus Van Harten, professor at the Osgoode Hall Law School and author of Sold Down the Yangtze: Canada's Lopsided Investment Deal with China. This post originally appeared on the Globe and Mail.

For years, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government told Canadians that it could not act on climate change until China joined in. Yet, in 2014, the government quietly finalized a 31-year investment treaty that, in essence, gives Chinese oil companies an advance bailout against a range of steps that Canada may need to take on climate change.

Take, for example, the call by more than 100 scientists for limits on oilsands expansion until a serious Canadian plan on climate change is in place. What is a serious plan? The scientists said it would need “to rapidly reduce carbon pollution, safeguard biodiversity, protect human health and respect treaty rights.”

Now, consider Canada’s new Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA) with China. 

Here’s Why Canada Needs Federal Carbon Pricing Leadership

Despite the federal Conservative government’s seven-year attack on carbon pricing as a “job-killing carbon tax,” Canada is actually making progress provincially on pricing carbon pollution.

Without any direction from the federal government, Alberta, British Columbia, Quebec and recently Ontario have all introduced systems that require polluters to pay for the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions they produce (as we’ve pointed out elsewhere in this series, those systems have had varying success).

But without an overarching carbon pricing system there is only so much the provinces can accomplish. 

There’s nothing stopping the federal government from attempting to help provinces and territories strengthen and expand their existing GHG programs,” Katie Sullivan, North America policy and climate finance director at the International Emissions Trading Association, said.

Ottawa could provide model rules, methodologies, guidance, tools and centralized infrastructure and architecture for a variety of program elements,” she said. “The federal government could play a valuable ‘enabling’ role.”

So You've Been Publicly Shamed Into Climate Action: On Harper’s Promise to End Fossil Fuels

Stephen Harper’s participation in the G7 leader’s declaration to decarbonize the global economy by 2100 was a massive headline generator in Canada, and not surprisingly so.

For a Prime Minister who has openly mocked the idea of carbon pricing, mercilessly driven an expensive (both financially and politically) energy superpower agenda and earned a reputation for pulling out of or stalling climate negotiations, the very idea of an ‘end’ to fossil fuels would seem … counterintuitive.

Although the shock of seeing Harper even touch something called ‘decarbonization’ is still reverberating, experts were quick to point out a long-term goal that shoves off concrete climate policy is likely just what Canada was hoping for.

Harper Agrees to End Use of Fossil Fuels by 2100, Make Deep Cuts to Emissions by 2050 at G7 Summit

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has signed on to a G7 commitment to eliminate the use of fossil fuels by 2100 and make significant cuts to greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The move will “require a transformation in our energy sectors,” Harper said at a news conference in Garmisch, Germany.

Nobody’s going to start to shut down their industries or turn off the lights,” he said. “We’ve simply got to find a way to create lower-carbon emitting sources of energy — and that work is ongoing.”

According to federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May, an earlier draft of the G7 committment sought full decarbonization by 2050, but both Canada and Japan fought to weaken the declaration. 

The final version of the G7 leader’s declaration states: “We emphasize that deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions are required with a decarbonization of the global economy over the course of this century.”

“We commit to doing our part to achieve a low-carbon global economy in the long-term including developing and deploying innovative technologies striving for a transformation of the energy sectors by 2050 and invite all countries to join us in this endeavour.”

Canada Creating a 'Death Spiral for Government Science,' Says Newly Retired Federal Scientist

They say the truth will set you free. But sometimes all it takes is retirement.

That’s the case for Steve Campana, a former federal scientist with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans who is using his retirement as an opportunity to speak openly about the federal government’s policies and the damage Prime Minister Stephen Harper has caused to public interest science.

I am concerned about the bigger policy issues that are essentially leading to a death spiral for government science,” Campana told the CBC.

He said federal scientists work in a climate a fear.

I see that is going to be a huge problem in coming years,” he said. “We are at the point where the vast majority of our senior scientists are in the process of leaving now disgusted as I am with the way things have gone, and I don’t think there is any way for it to be recovered.”

Experts Slow Clap for Canada’s Late and 'Inadequate' Climate Target

Months after most countries revealed national climate targets in the lead up to the December 2015 UN climate summit, Canada has finally announced its contribution to global emissions reductions — and its commitment is getting a failing grade from the climate community.

The NewClimate Institute rated Canada's target as “inadequate.”

In rating Canada ‘inadequate,’ our lowest rating, we note that other governments will have to take a lot more action to make up for the hole left by Canada’s lack of ambition — if warming is to be held to 2˚C,” said Niklas Höhne of the institute.

Canada is promising to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030.

According to Climate Action International, Canada is unlikely to meet that target, even though it is much weaker than commitments made by other industrial nations.

Most Canadians Support Carbon Pricing, See Climate as Election Issue: New Poll

A new poll released today by Angus Reid finds the majority of Canadians support carbon pricing programs and more than half the population would like to see a national climate policy instituted at the federal level.

Although Canadians say they’re ready for climate action, there’s a lot less certainty surrounding climate leadership at the federal level, according to poll results.

There also appears to be some question about the actual impact of a carbon price but, despite the uncertainty, 75 per cent of Canadians support the idea of a national cap and trade program, and 56 per cent support the idea of a national carbon tax.

Currently Canada has a smattering of province-led carbon price initiatives — B.C.’s celebrated carbon tax being perhaps the most notable — although no national program to reduce emissions exists.

The Faulty Logic Behind the Argument That Canada's Emissions Are a ‘Drop in the Bucket'

At the premiers' climate summit this week, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall brought up a statistic that has received a fair amount of attention lately: Canada’s emissions account for fewer than two per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

He's not wrong, but used as an argument against doing our part to combat climate change, his point does contain some flawed logic.

“Showing leadership matters, signals matter, examples matter, but the numbers are the numbers,” Wall said.

Essentially, Wall appears to be suggesting that because no single action by itself will solve the problem, we shouldn’t take that single action.

Applying this logic to other situations reveals just how faulty it is.

Premiers Clark, Prentice to Skip Quebec City Climate Summit

On Friday afternoon, federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq sent a letter to Canadian premiers detailing how each of their provinces are falling short on targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.

In her message Aglukkaq notes that the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia are the furthest from reaching their targets. Ontario, Saskatchewan and Quebec are next on the list.

Unfortunately, neither B.C Premier Christy Clark nor Alberta Premier Jim Prentice will be attending tomorrow’s Premiers' Summit on Climate Change in Quebec City.

Bloomberg News reported on Friday afternoon that Clark would be skipping the meeting to attend a World Bank meeting. On Monday morning the Office of the Premier of Alberta confirmed to DeSmog Canada via phone that Prentice would not be attending the summit either.

As part of its 2020 targets, British Columbia pledged to reduce its annual greenhouse gas emissions from 62 gigatonnes per year to 42 gigatonnes per year. Environment Canada predicts British Columbia’s emissions will actually rise to 69 gigatonnes per year by 2020. More distressingly, these figures do not account for the new emissions that would be created by new liquefied natural gas development or the two oilsands pipeline and tanker projects under consideration.

Cities Emerge as Climate Leaders at World Congress But Still Need More Government Support

Cities are responsible for 70 per cent of global CO2 emissions but they can save the planet by greening one community at a time said Vancouver’s David Cadman at the close of the ICLEI World Congress 2015, the triennial sustainability summit of local governments in Seoul, South Korea.

We can do it. We must do it,” Cadman, the retiring president of Local Governments for Sustainability, told some 1,500 delegates from nearly 1,000 cities and local governments in 96 countries on April 11.

The majority of climate actions and most plans to reduce CO2 emissions are happening at the city level, Cadman told DeSmog Canada in Seoul.

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