Today, Canada has formally joined the Paris Agreement on climate change. The countries which have joined this week have pushed the Agreement over the threshold required for full Entry Into Force by November 4, 2016. This is an unprecedented achievement, as most expert observers believed the Paris Agreement would not enter into force until at least 2017 or 2018. Canada’s decision to ratify shows that it understands the existential threat that the planet is now facing – but it’s clear that Canada must do more domestically to reduce its own carbon pollution, prepare its economy for a global transition to clean energy and contribute its fair share to the fight against climate change.
Canada committed to emissions reductions as part of the Paris Agreement. Unfortunately, the current set of federal and provincial policies do not put Canada anywhere close to meeting the targets. The goal laid out in Canada’s “Nationally Determined Contribution” is a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.
The problem is that Canada does not have a credible plan to achieve that target. In fact, Canada is likely to miss the target by a very wide margin for several reasons:
- Explosive growth in tar sands extraction and export plans
Alberta’s cap on tar sands for 2030 still allows for substantial growth in emissions. TransCanada—which was thwarted in its effort to drive Keystone XL through America’s heartland—is attempting to launch waterborne tar sands pipelines that would threaten the U.S. Atlantic, West and Gulf coasts. On the east coast, the proposed Energy East tar sands pipeline would bring as much as 1.1 million barrels per day of mostly tar sands oil from Alberta to Canada’s eastern seaport of Saint John, New Brunswick. From there, nearly 300 supertankers per year would form a high-risk “pipeline” down the entire U.S. Eastern Seaboard, from the tip of Maine to the Florida Panhandle, around Florida’s peninsula, and on to refineries along the Gulf Coast. Meanwhile, the Canadian federal government is expected to decide on Kinder Morgan’s proposal to increase the capacity of the TransMountain tar sands pipeline through Canada’s west coast by capacity by 590,000. The majority of this tar sands would then by shipped by tanker down the U.S. West Coast to refineries in California. Not only will these tar sands pipelines send hundreds of tar sands tankers down U.S. coasts and threaten our coastal communities with tar sands spills that our emergency responders don’t have the tools to clean, they would also mean an increase in carbon pollution equivalent to the annual emissions of nearly 80 million passenger vehicles.
- Expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure including for LNG export
The Trudeau Administration recently announced its approval for an LNG export terminal in British Columbia. It is certain that this would cause British Columbia to miss its climate commitments because it would account for over 75 percent of the province’s emissions. This decision has raised serious doubts about the new government’s commitment to the Paris Agreement and full implementation to meet Canada’s emissions reduction target.
- Weakening of protections for Boreal forest
A report released by Global Forest Watch (GFW) Canada revealed an alarming erosion of Canada’s large intact forests (known as an intact forest landscapes) across Canada’s boreal region, with cumulative losses of intact forests in Canada between 2000 and 2013 totaling the area of Great Britain. Long-term boreal forest management strategies need reevaluation as these are vast carbon sinks. Only 17 percent of the remaining large intact landscapes in Canada are located within interim or permanent protected areas, leaving the vast majority of unbroken, wild expanses potentially available to logging, oil and gas development, hydroelectric development, or mining. We need strong federal and provincial action in Canada to avoid severe degradation of the remaining forests.
For Canada, there is a serious contradiction between the ambitious aims of the Trudeau Administration and what the government has done in practice. Just this week, a federal carbon price was announced in Canada, and is already facing strong opposition from some provincial governments but getting support from others. Canada’s plans to export energy via the proposed Energy East and Kinder Morgan tar sands pipelines and the west coast LNG terminal, along with the plans to exploit boreal forests are striking evidence that Canada’s commitment to reducing emissions is in danger of becoming an empty promise. After ratifying the Paris Agreement, Canada must turn the ship around – it’s time to reconsider these initiatives that would take the country far off track from the emissions reductions goals that are already enshrined as part of the Paris Agreement.