“Canada stands at the threshold of building our clean growth economy,” the opening line of Canada’s new declaration on clean growth and climate change states. The declaration was endorsed by the prime minister and premiers in Vancouver Thursday.
“We will grow our economy while reducing emissions. We will capitalize on the opportunity of a low-carbon and climate-resilient economy to create good-paying and long-term jobs. We will do this in partnership with Indigenous peoples based on recognition of rights, respect and cooperation,” the Vancouver Declaration continues.
The document itself is not a national climate plan, but rather lays the foundation for one to be finalized in the fall. The document represents a major change in the political tide for Canada, with the federal government, provinces and territories working together to reduce Canada’s production of global warming greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
“Politicians coming together and talking about this is a great step for Canada,” Dave Sawyer, a leading environmental economist in Canada, told DeSmog Canada. “It is very positive that first ministers are setting up a process to align provincial climate policies and look to fill holes in policies across the country.”
Provincial Climate Policies Hold the Details
Canadians looking for meaningful climate action from the federal government since the signing of the Kyoto Protocol — the world’s first climate treaty — in 1997, may be disappointed the Vancouver Declaration lacks specifics.
The six-point document contains no renewable energy targets, sector specific regulations on GHG emissions, or any mention of Canada’s number one contributor to climate change: the oil and gas sector. The sole national target mentioned in the document is a commitment to meet or exceed Canada’s 2030 target of 30 per cent cuts in emissions levels compared to 2005 levels — a target established under the previous federal government that has been criticized as weak.
Sawyer argues many of the details missing in the Vancouver Declaration are actually contained in existing and emerging provincial climate policies and regulations.
“In the past, we have had this tendency of pledging to ambitious targets and then backsliding from there,” Sawyer said. “Over the last ten years of federal policy inaction, we have had a fair amount of provincial policy put in place to drive down emissions.”
In late 2015, Alberta released plans to cap oilsands emissions and phase out coal-fired electrical generation and Saskatchewan adopted a 50 per cent renewable energy target for 2030. Ontario and Manitoba announced last year they would adopt cap and trade carbon pricing systems.
Building on the success of provincial and territorial policies is a cornerstone of the Vancouver Declaration which recognizes “the commitment of the federal government to work with the provinces and territories in order to complement and support their actions without duplicating them, including by promoting innovation and enabling clean growth across all sectors.”
"What is different this time around is we have a credible federal back stop," Sawyer, who is the CEO of the consultancy EnviroEconomics, told DeSmog. "A subtle reminder to the provinces and territories that if they don't find a way to drive down their emissions the federal government will find a way for them."
Carbon Pricing 'Mechanisms' to be Used
Pricing carbon pollution emerged as a source of contention in advance of the First Ministers' Meeting. Prior to the Vancouver event, the premiers of Saskatchewan, Yukon, and Manitoba made it clear they would not support Ottawa imposing a national minimum carbon price on the provinces and territories.
During his election campaign Trudeau promised to implement a national price on carbon and indicated a carbon price was an intended outcome of the Vancouver meeting.
“I was happy to see the Prime Minister move away from an exclusive focus on carbon pricing. Carbon pricing alone won't get you there,” Sawyer said from Ottawa. “You need regulations, technology innovation, and other measures as well as carbon pricing to transition cost-effectively to a low carbon economy."
A compromise was found in the end. The Vancouver Declaration commits the premiers to “adopting a broad range of domestic measures, including carbon pricing mechanisms” but not an actual per tonne price of GHG emissions found in cap and trade or carbon tax systems.
What those mechanisms may include has yet to be defined. Any policy measure driving up the costs of burning fossil fuels for energy could be conceived as an aspect of carbon pricing. During the meeting, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil floated the idea that the high rates Nova Scotians pay on electricity fulfills a similar function as a price on carbon.
Working Groups To Study Climate Plan Over Next Six Months
The Vancouver Declaration also created four federal-provincial working groups that will refine recommendations on the pillars of an eventual pan-Canadian clean growth and climate change framework. Over the next six months the working groups will study clean technology solutions, carbon pricing mechanisms, GHG reductions “opportunities,” and adaptation and climate resilience.
The declaration requires the working groups to “engage Indigenous peoples in the development of the pan-Canadian framework on clean growth and climate change," adding the work of the declaration should be "complemented by a broader engagement process with Indigenous peoples.”
National Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Assembly of First Nations urged Canada to move quickly toward consultation with indigenous peoples.
“We are the first ones to feel the impacts of climate change and we know this crisis is real and it is upon us. Working together we can succeed but we have to start working now,” Bellegarde said in a statement.
Recommendations from the working groups will be submitted to the premiers and the federal government who will then finalize the Canadian climate framework in October. In the meantime, the federal government has committed to funding green infrastructure, public transportation and energy efficiency in social infrastructure to kick start and support low-carbon initiatives across the country.
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