Five Surprisingly Good Things That Happened in Canada in 2016

The election of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named south of the border is leaving many Canadians with a case of the climate doldrums as 2016 winds to a close — but here’s the thing: 2016 was actually the most promising year Canada has had on climate action in more than a decade.

To be sure, us Canucks have had some not-awesome news on the climate and energy front lately, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s approval of the enormously polluting Pacific Northwest LNG terminal near Prince Rupert, B.C., Enbridge’s Line 3 from Alberta to Wisconsin and the hotly contested Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain oil pipeline to Vancouver.

Many had higher hopes of climate leadership from Trudeau and they’re not wrong to be disappointed. However, as this year comes to a close, it’s also worth looking back on some of the significant steps forward that were made in 2016 — victories that in many cases were unimaginable even two years ago.

1. Dawning of New Age in Alberta

Where better to start than Alberta? In 2016, that province, home to the oilsands and heaps of coal-fired power, legislated a price on carbon and passed a law that requires at least 30 per cent renewable electricity by 2030.

Getting off coal is a clear win in Alberta, where air quality is consistently worse than Toronto due to emissions from coal-fired power plants. Those emissions annually result in an estimated 107 premature deaths, 80 hospital visits and almost 5,000 asthma-related sick days in Alberta, costing the province around $300 million a year.

Better yet, Alberta has loosened the regulations around citizens being able to generate their own electricity — a move that ought to speak to the free-wheeling spirit of Albertans.

2. Ratified Paris Agreement

With negative or even downright scary climate news dominating the headlines it’s easy to forget that a historic climate treaty was just ratified by nearly every country on the planet.

The Paris Agreement, a global pact to keep temperature increases as close to 1.5 degrees Celsius as possible, has been ratified by more than 114 nations in 2016 representing more than 80 per cent of global emissions.

Now major polluting countries like China (responsible for a whopping 20 per cent of global emissions), Brazil, India and the U.S. are having some of the most productive and concrete conversations about climate action ever in the history of the planet.

And while president-elect you-know-who previously promised to pull out of the Paris Agreement there are early signs he may back down from that position. But even if he doesn’t, and the U.S. goes hog wild with its emissions, there are a lot of reasons why that doesn’t mean game over for the planet.

3. Arctic Drilling Ban

Perhaps one of the most unexpected announcements coming out of the last days of the Obama administration, the recent ban on Arctic and Atlantic drilling is huge, celebration-worthy news.

The ban in U.S. owned waters is permanent, meaning these areas will be indefinitely protected from future oil and gas development. Canada also banned offshore Arctic activity, subject to periodic reviews.

Climate change is being experience more severely in the Arctic, where food and life systems rely heavily on ice. So protecting sensitive polar regions from both climate change and further fossil fuel extraction is critically important.

4. Tanker Ban and End of Northern Gateway Pipeline

At long last, a crude oil tanker ban will be implemented on the north coast of B.C., according to an announcement by Trudeau in late November.

The Great Bear Rainforest is no place for a pipeline and the Douglas Channel is no place for oil tanker traffic,” Trudeau said in making the announcement.

At the same time, Trudeau officially rejected Enbridge’s Northern Gateway proposal that would have brought more than 200 oil tankers a year into B.C.’s Great Bear Rainforest.

The announcement marks a monumental victory in a fight that’s gone on for more than a decade.

5. Canada's National Climate Plan

Despite much posturing from Canada’s premiers, a national framework on fighting climate change was reached. It’s not perfect, but it does take us a long way toward meeting our 2030 climate target. From stronger building codes to electric vehicles to a price on carbon, there’s a lot to be hopeful about in the document.

For the first time ever, Canada’s premiers and prime minister are committed to working together to reducing our carbon emissions — seems worth raising a toast to, doesn’t it?

Bonus Good News: Federal Review of Environmental Assessment

Sure the federal government has broken some of its promises this year, but one of the promises it has kept is to review the way we assess major energy projects. The federal government has initated reviews of the environmental assessment process, the Fisheries Act and the National Energy  Board. All of these reviews hold the potential to create positive long-term change in terms of how Canada considers energy projects — and could help get us out of the myopic gridlock we often find ourselves in. Huzzah!

Image: Rally against the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline in Vancouver, March 2014. Photo: Zack Embree