The results of the recent federal election – a liberal minority relying on the NDP or Bloc Québécois for support – have been widely seen as a “Groundhog Day” aspect. This left the structure of parliament the same as before, reinforcing questions about the need for elections in the first place.
Yet the election has major implications for Canada’s approach to climate change and other environmental issues. Many progressives probably wanted the result: a liberal government – but one they can’t fully trust to deliver on their promises on climate, child care and many other issues – relying on more progressive parties to stay in office.
The overall result may have actually left Canada in a better position ahead of the election to make significant progress on reducing its greenhouse gas emissions.
In the NDP, the Greens and Quebec, the liberals’ efforts to address challenges from the bloc Quebecois translated into an impressive menu of climate commitments.
Even before the election, the government increased Canada’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gases by 40 to 45 percent by 2030, compared to 2005. (Canada’s previous target was 30 percent below 2005 levels.)
Read more: Canada finally has a climate plan that will let it meet its carbon targets by 2030
Canada has also said it will reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Under that scenario, the details of which are not yet fully developed or modelled, any remaining greenhouse gas emissions would have to be balanced by amounts absorbed by biological processes (such as growing trees) and carbon sequestration or storage technologies.
The government’s December 2020 climate policy paper proposes raising the backstop federal carbon price to $170 a tonne by 2030. Now it is expected to be implemented.
The campaign promised to ensure net-zero emissions to the oil and gas sector by 2050, “with a five-year target starting in 2025.” There were also commitments to a 75 percent reduction in fossil industry methane emissions by 2030 from 2012 levels and to “develop a plan to phase out public funding of the fossil fuel sector, including by Crown corporations.”
Electricity, Transport and Building
About 17 percent of Canada’s electricity comes from fossil fuels. In addition to the planned phase out of conventional coal-fired electricity generation by 2030, a proposed “clean electricity standard” would cut the electricity grid to near-zero by 2035. Thermal coal exports will end by 2030.
Transportation is the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada. The federal government has accelerated its target so that every new passenger vehicle sold in 2035 and beyond is a zero-emissions vehicle (ZEV). The commitments come with electric vehicle discounts of up to $5,000 for 500,000 buyers, plus 50,000 new charging stations nationwide. And a low-carbon fuel standard would reduce emissions from gas-burning vehicles that remain on the road.
For homes and buildings, which account for about 13 percent of Canada’s emissions, the government has promised a $5,000 energy retrofit grant for nearly half a million homes, with interest-free loans of up to $40,000 for deep retrofits. There will also be a national strategy to bring the building stock down to net-zero by 2050 with “ambitional milestones”.
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Now the important question will be the follow up on these commitments. Many of the government’s promises, such as a commitment to reduce fossil fuel and power sector emissions, could lead to significant federal-provincial conflicts, particularly with Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Over the past six years, there has been some profound contradiction in the approach of liberals to addressing climate change. The government purchased and approved the Trans Mountain pipeline, and it has supported controversial technologies such as small modular nuclear reactors, carbon capture and storage, and fossil-fuel-dependent “blue” and “gray” hydrogen.
Read more: Why green hydrogen – but not gray – could help solve climate change
To its credit, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government had already implemented far more real climate policies than all of its predecessors, Liberals and Conservatives, combined. The government’s minority status, relying on two opposition parties with strong commitments to climate action, would help see these further commitments through to implementation, even though some say its pledges still meet revised emissions reduction targets. required to complete.
The election had an impact on other parties as well. The credibility of the Conservative Party’s stance on climate change remains questionable, and is reinforced by the anti-environmental legacy of the Stephen Harper government and the behavior of the current Conservative provincial governments in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario. Support for the Green Party fell to its lowest level in two decades, yet the NDP failed to garner any significant gains among progressive voters, despite Jagmeet Singh’s relatively strong campaign performance.
The overall results leave Canada in a reasonably good position to move forward on its climate commitments. Now the question will be whether the re-elected Trudeau government will live up to its promises. Its survival through the next federal election may depend on the results.