Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s performance at the UN Climate Summit in Paris last December wooed and amazed the international community.
Fresh off the election circuit, Trudeau proudly proclaimed, “Canada is back,” to a cheering crowd of global delegates.
Just days later Canada, along with the rest of the international community, signed the Paris Agreement, a historic treaty designed to limit global temperature rise to two degrees Celsius (or as close to 1.5 degrees as possible) that came into effect Friday, November 4.
But A LOT has happened in the interim in Canada, between signing the document and its coming into force.
Much of that does not bode well at all for climate action.
Pacific Northwest LNG Approval
Let’s start with the most obvious: In late September the Trudeau government approved the Pacific Northwest LNG export terminal on the coast of B.C.
The project is estimated to be the single greatest point source of greenhouse gas emissions in all of Canada.
The export terminal, proposed by Malaysian gas giant Petronas, will make it impossible for B.C. to keep its climate targets.
The project including upstream impacts from fracked gas is projected to emit 9.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent every year, about the same as adding 1.9 million cars to the roads.
According to its own climate targets B.C. was supposed to emit only 13 million tonnes of carbon pollution by 2050. With this new project on the docket those targets are completely blown out of the water.
About That Promise to Restore Science…
At last year’s climate summit, Trudeau promised to bring science back to decision making in Canada.
Trudeau promised specifically to make decisions “based on the best scientific information and advice.”
The Pacific Northwest LNG terminal approval infuriated the scientific community which vocally called on the federal government to reject the project’s environmental review because of inadequate or flawed science.
The LNG terminal is proposed for Lelu Island near the mouth of the Skeena River in a region scientists have termed a unique salmon superhighway — something, incredibly, federal scientists have known about since the 70s when they first deemed the area inappropriate for industrial development.
The federal government’s approval of the LNG terminal has already been met with a legal challenge based on the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency’s reliance on flawed scientific information.
The Liberal government has promised to review Canada’s environmental assessment process but so far hasn’t given any indication of what kinds of changes might be made. Consultations with the public are currently ongoing.
The federal government also promised to make the decision-making process for major projects more transparent but as the science-advocacy group Evidence for Democracy recently pointed out, that vague promise lacked discernable follow-up.
Honouring Canada’s Indigenous Peoples
In addition to recommitting to science at the Paris climate summit, Trudeau also reinforced his promise to restore relations with Canada’s indigenous peoples.
The Pacific Northwest LNG project, while violating the principles of the scientific community, is also being advanced against the wishes of local First Nations.
The federal government is currently facing two legal challenges from B.C. First Nations opposed to the LNG terminal.
Indigenous peoples in Canada were also troubled by the federal government’s approval of the controversial Site C megadam near the Peace River in B.C.
The hydro dam, which will flood 82 kilometres of river valley and prime agricultural land, has also flooded renewable energy out of the power market in the province all while violating the rights of Treaty 8 First Nations who are fighting the project in the courts.
Approvals of the Pacific Northwest LNG terminal and Site C have concerned First Nations opposed to the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline running from Edmonton, Alberta to Burnaby, B.C.
Cabinet is expected to make a final decision on the pipeline in December and many anticipate Trudeau will approve the project despite a lack of local First Nations consent.
A recent ministerial panel report found the Trans Mountain pipeline will have significant and unavoidable impacts on climate and indigenous rights. This report could give the federal government the cover they need to refuse the project.
The same can’t be said for the TransCanada Energy East pipeline. The review of Energy East has been suspended after the National Observer revealed regulators had met in private with company representatives.
On the campaign trail, Trudeau promised to revamp the National Energy Board pipeline review process and indicated pipelines like Trans Mountain and Energy East would be put through a new process. That did not happen.
Weak Climate Targets and a Weaker Carbon Price
Many have also criticized the Trudeau government for adopting the weak and inadequate climate targets of the Harper government. Others (like DeSmog Canada’s James Wilt) have pointed out this is better than adopting more ambitious climate commitments Canada will certainly not meet.
Canada has committed to reduce emissions 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. A recent analysis by the Climate Action Network anticipates Canada will overshoot that target by 91 megatonnes.
Fossil Fuel Presence Still Massive in Canada
Under the Paris Agreement Canada committed to reducing carbon pollution as soon as possible and achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. Meeting those marks will entail a major wind down of fossil fuel extraction and consumption.
Canada, clearly, has not made significant steps in that direction.
Trudeau also promised to transition fossil fuel subsidies from the fossil fuel sector to renewables, but that hasn’t happened yet.
Through incentives and tax breaks, Canadians still subsidize the fossil fuel industry to the tune of $3.3 billion every year.
Image: Justin Trudeau via Prime Minister's Photo Gallery