10 Things Canada Would Be Doing if We Were Serious About Climate Change

Right now Canada is participating in the final day of the 20th annual United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Lima, Peru. The country already caught flack for thinking a progressive stance on hydrofluorocarbons will convince the international community Canada is doing its due diligence when it comes to the world’s problem of growing greenhouse gas emissions. To make matters worse, this week Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced in the House of Commons that it would be “crazy” to regulate emissions in Canada’s oil and gas sector, signaling the long-overdue rules are no longer on the table.

Meanwhile in Peru, Canadian delegates are working hard to keep Canada’s oil and gas sector off the climate-negotiating table, despite the genuine efforts from nations across the planet to come to a meaningful agreement for addressing the globe’s growing carbon emissions problem. As a result, Canadian NGOs are saying the country is losing its international credibility. As the disappointing climate talks close today in Lima many countries are saying wealthy nations like Canada are creating an atmosphere of distrust and vulnerability by delaying meaningful, collaborative climate action.

So looking ahead to COP21 in Paris, Canada will have to do more than delay and obscure its climate problems with miniscule good deeds if it wants to show the world we deserve a big kid chair at the negotiations table.

Here are 10 things Canada would be doing if we were actually serious about addressing climate change at COP20 in Lima and beyond.

  1. Slow expansion of the oilsands.

    The oilsands are Canada’s fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions and according to the Canadian government and the oilsands industry, they are expected to continue growing. There are numerous negative fallout effects of the rapid rate of oilsands expansion, including the significant pollution of the local environment and communities, the disregard of First Nations' rights (which is creating serious legal conflict in Alberta), the push for new oil-carrying pipelines (which is creating serious conflict in nearly every other province in Canada) and the country’s growing greenhouse gas emissions.

  1. Introduce climate legislation and regulate fossil fuel industry emissions.

The international community has called Canada out for its total lack of national climate legislation. Recently Prime Minister Stephen Harper said it would be “crazy” to regulate emissions from the oil and gas sector and that nowhere else in the world are countries willing to do this. But as Heather Libby reported, numerous jurisdictions around the world are getting serious about taxing carbon and regulating emissions. What makes matters worse is that Canada’s current lack of emissions regulations from the oilsands is undoing all the good deeds of the provinces, like Ontario’s phasing out of coal power.

  1. Nationalize our natural resources.

Right now large, multinational corporations are running roughshod over Canada’s natural resources as they work to serve their individual business interests and obligations to shareholders. But this leads to a piecemeal and purely profit-driven approach to managing Canada’s natural resources. So we end up with a situation where provincial governments pander to industry, lowering royalties or promising outlandish tax cuts — to compete for large corporations that could simply choose to pull up their stakes and leave when the situation no longer serves their interests.

Half of Canadians already support the idea of nationalizing Canada’s oil industry according to a survey conducted by Leger Marketing. A move in that direction would free both corporate and political leaders to consider concerns beyond profit — such as healthy communities and environments — in the management of these resources. Public opinion research shows that Canadians care about more than just an economic bottom line.

  1. Build a rainy-day fund with oil revenues like Norway did.

On a related note, Canadians are missing a tremendous opportunity to seriously benefit from oil production like every single Norwegian is. Years ago Norway got together and made a really sensible decision: to save a large portion of its oil revenue in a rainy day fund. The growing pool of money, called the Sovereign Wealth Fund, has ballooned to nearly one trillion dollars, or roughly $200,000 per person in Norway.

The effect of saving oil revenues is that state services and provisions are not dependent on oil taxes and royalties, like they are in Alberta. The result is the oil industry in Norway doesn’t have the stranglehold on elected leaders like it does in Canada. Albertans sometimes argue they can’t stop or slow oil development because it would mean schools and hospitals would be shut down. This reflects precisely why schools and hospitals should never run on oil revenues in the first place — it puts everyone in an uncomfortable bind that clearly serves industry interests first. Norwegians could stop oil production tomorrow (if they wanted to) and it wouldn’t send nearly the shockwaves through the economy that it would in Alberta.

  1. Stop subsidizing fossil fuel development.

Unlike Norway’s envious $200,000 per person fund, Canadians each paid about $787 to subsidize fossil fuel development in 2013. The International Monetary Fund estimates Canada provides energy subsidies to the tune of $34 billion every year. These subsidies approach about $2 trillion each year worldwide.

G20 countries spend about $88 billion every year to subsidize just the exploration of new fossil fuel reserves which is occurring, of course, in serious conflict with efforts to keep carbon in the ground.

A report produced by the Overseas Development Institute and Oil Change International referred to this kind of subsidized fossil fuel activity as creating a ‘triple-loss’ scenario by exacerbating climate change, directing finance into high-carbon assets and also diverting that investment away from renewable energy. Recent polling shows that even though Canadians assume the oilsands contribute more to the national economy (it contributes about 2 per cent), the vast majority still support a clean energy shift.

  1. Invest in clean, renewable energy.

On that note, a turn to investment in low-carbon sources of energy could mean great things for Canada’s climate. A new report recently released by Clean Energy Canada showed the green energy sector in Canada grew by 37 percent in the last five years and attracted $24 billion in investments. That’s despite the fact that very little support – in the form of credits or tax breaks – has come to the sector from the federal government.

By making green energy a national priority, Canada could incentivize clean energy production and use over carbon-intensive and heavily-polluting forms of energy like fracked gas and oilsands bitumen.

  1. Give serious money to Green Climate Fund and help developing nations transition to clean energy.

Right now at the COP20 negotiations in Lima countries are looking beyond the domestic to see how a clean energy transition could be used to quicken an international transition to clean energy. Although Canada has contributed to the Green Climate Fund, Canadian negotiators at the climate talks are fighting specifics on quantitative financial agreements, saying they are only interested in agreements that are “best suited” to domestic needs.

The rest of the world is treating the question of how to finance a global shift away from fossil fuels very seriously and certainly the issue of climate finance has taken a prominent position among talks here in Lima. With an international shift in sentiments around responsibility to developing nations – which have played a very small role in global climate change and yet are feeling the consequences the greatest – Canada risks once again being left behind, a climate pariah on the international stage.

  1. Work with (rather than against) science and environmental organizations.

Canada has put substantial time, energy and finances into limiting the influence of and silencing environmental and science organizations across the country. And yet these individuals and groups hold the key to greater engagement in a clean energy future. Canada eliminated thousands of science and research positions in recent years creating gaps in our knowledge about local environments, the impacts of resource development on ecosystems and the effects of industrial pollutants in waterways. At the same time environmental organizations hold the key to more balanced and representative community engagement when it comes to climate-significant project proposals like the construction of pipelines.

Scientists and groups that work to conserve and protect the environment are critical to Canada’s climate future. If we were serious about climate we’d be working with these individuals and organizations, rather than against them.

  1. Respect Canada’s indigenous people. Yes, this is a climate strategy that even the IPCC advances.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change “Indigenous, local, and traditional knowledge systems and practices, including indigenous peoples’ holistic view of community and environment, are a major resource for adapting to climate change.” There is no single solution to climate change and so working with groups that hold alternative perspectives – to the predominantly market-based and corporate-driven mandates that guide Canada’s actions – is critical.

Canada’s First Nations are facing serious territorial threats from expanding oil and gas projects from new oilsands projects to proposed pipelines. First Nations also have constitutionally-protect rights and treaties that the Canadian government and industry will ultimately have to disregard if they choose to force these projects through. But if the government and industry – or the courts for that matter – choose to respect First Nations’ rights, they’ll ultimately be working towards climate action.

  1. Use our political clout to bolster international climate efforts (rather than obstruct them).

The U.S. and China recently made headlines for forging ahead with a bold new climate deal that is meant to urge other developed and industrial nations in the right direction when it comes to emissions reductions. Canada has previously indicated that it will follow the U.S.’s lead on emissions reductions and regulations, although with Harper’s announcement this week that he will not move to regulate emissions from the oil and gas sector, the country risks falling out of step with our neighbor and ally to the south. Canada is a wealthy nation with a strong economy that, with the right moves, could emerge as a renewable energy giant with a booming cleantech sector. With the right moves…

Image Credit: Oxfam International via Twitter

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