Justin Trudeau and climate change

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Climate Change

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Climate Change

Below you will find background information, news and analysis related to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s commitments and actions on the issue of climate change.

After reading the overview section, please scroll down to see the latest news and analysis from The Narwhal on this topic.

Overview of Justin Trudeau and Climate Change

When running in the 2015 federal election, Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party of Canada made specific commitments to address climate change.

Those commitments included the following: 

  • “We will fulfill our G20 commitment and phase out subsidies for the fossil fuel industry over the medium-term.”
  • “We will also work in partnership with the United States and Mexico to develop an ambitious North American clean energy and environmental agreement.”
  • “Together, we will attend the Paris climate conference, and within 90 days formally meet to establish a pan-Canadian framework for combating climate change.”
  • “We will endow the Low Carbon Economy Trust with $2 billion in our mandate.”

After Trudeau and his Liberal party won the federal election on October 19, 2015, the party appeared to be off to a good start in fulfilling its election promises on climate change.

At the Paris climate summit, both Prime Minister Trudeau and Catherine McKenna, minister to the newly named Environment and Climate Change portfolio, received global media attention for the renewed, positive role Canada played at the conference. Canada signed the Paris Agreement, which aims to limit global temperature increase to as close to 1.5 degrees Celsius as possible, phase out fossil fuels, finance clean energy and aid less-developed countries in achieving their climate targets.

On March 3, 2016, the Trudeau government and provincial premiers convened a First Minister’s Meeting in Vancouver, B.C., where all parties agreed to a climate change framework that included an agreement in principle for a carbon-pricing mechanism. Carbon pricing makes the cost of emitting greenhouse gases higher, creating a strong incentive for businesses and individuals to reduce their polluting activities.

A federal carbon levy came into force on April 1, 2019. It applied only to Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick because those provinces did not adopt their own carbon taxes or have other plans for carbon pricing. The federal levy is also scheduled to take effect in Alberta on January 1, 2020, after Premier Jason Kenney abolished his province’s consumer carbon tax.

 The $2 billion Low Carbon Economy Fund was launched on June 15, 2017, as part of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. The fund is designed to support projects that will generate clean growth and reduce greenhouse gas emissions but has controversially included significant investments in technology for private companies operating in the Alberta oilsands.

In June 2017, Trudeau, then U.S. President Barack Obama and Mexico President Peña Nieto issued a Leaders’ Statement on North American Climate, Clean Energy, and Environmental Partnership. The three leaders also announced a historic goal for North America to strive to achieve 50 per cent clean power generation by 2025, accomplished through clean energy development and deployment, clean energy innovation and energy efficiency. 

On the election pledge to phase out oil and gas subsidies, the Trudeau government has not yet delivered. A September 2018 report found that although there has been some progress on fossil fuel subsidy reform in Canada in recent years, there is still a significant amount of work to be done for Canada to meet a G7 country promise to end all “inefficient fossil fuel subsidies” by 2025.  

Justin Trudeau, Trans Mountain Pipeline and Fossil Fuel Emissions

The Canadian government under Trudeau has made some positive climate progress, but many Canadians feel the Prime Minister’s position on the fossil fuel industry conflicts with his climate commitments. Trudeau has been a firm supporter of the extraction of carbon-intensive fossil fuels from the Alberta oilsands and his government even took the extraordinary step of buying the Trans Mountain pipeline for $4.5 billion one day after declaring a national climate emergency. 

A 2019 government of Canada report says our country, on average, is experiencing warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world, and northern Canada is heating up at almost three times the global average. 

The Trans Mountain pipeline currently has the capacity to transport 300,000 barrels of oil per day. An expansion plan, which as of October 2019 is being contested in the courts, would increase that capacity to 890,000.

The Trans Mountain pipeline has also become a focal point for Canadians’ anxiety over climate change. Canada committed to lowering its emissions by 30 per cent by 2030 and 80 per cent by mid-century under the Paris Agreement. That commitment precludes locking in further expansion of oilsands without bringing all other economic sectors down to more or less neutral emissions.

In April 2019, Canada’s Environment Commissioner Julie Gelfand called Canada’s slow progress “disturbing” and said the country is not on its way to meeting those targets, which require Canada to limit its greenhouse gas emissions to 150 megatonnes per year by 2050. 

Although Environment and Climate Change Canada estimated the upstream emissions from the Trans Mountain pipeline would equate to 13 to 15 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year, the pipeline’s climate impacts were not considered by the National Energy Board’s review of the project. 

The pipeline purchase coincided with the two-year anniversary of Canada’s commitment, alongside other G7 nations, to eliminate unnecessary fossil fuel subsidies. 

The pipeline is also expected to fuel growth in the Alberta oilsands, Canada’s fastest growing source of carbon emissions. The federal government is due to make a decision on the fate of the Teck Resources Frontier Mine by February 2020. The project is one of the largest oilsands projects ever proposed. If approved it will contribute four megatonnes of emissions, equal to three per cent of all of Canada’s allowed emissions in 2050.

The federal government has also supported the expansion of a carbon-intensive liquified fracked gas export industry in British Columbia through the approval of the LNG Canada project and the Woodfibre LNG project near Vancouver.

According to the B.C. government, phase one of the LNG Canada project is expected to emit about four megatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually, the equivalent of adding 856,531 cars to the road. That will account for 10 per cent of B.C.’s entire carbon budget by 2050, putting massive pressure on other sectors such as transportation, building and industry to undergo a rapid decarbonization.

Carbon emissions from the Woodfibre LNG project would add the equivalent of 170,000 new cars to B.C. roads each year, while the project would use the same amount of freshwater annually as 5,500 households, according to the Pembina Institute.

Trudeau has indicated he will work with Canada’s premiers to achieve provincial climate targets although it is not clear how his government will achieve Canada’s overall climate targets if emissions at the provincial level (especially in B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan) remain near current levels or rise due to the extraction, consumption and export of fossil fuels.

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