Canada What a renewed Trudeau minority government means for climate policy in Canada
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A Liberal win in the 2021 federal election means many of Canada’s existing climate change policies are likely to continue.
Liberal Leader and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to keep Canada on a path toward net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and to slash emissions by 40 to 45 per cent by 2030.
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He’s also pledged to bring in strict emissions targets for the country’s oil and gas industries, which emit more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than any other sector of the economy.
But these promises are only as good as Trudeau’s plans for achieving them, environmentalists and climate scientists say.
And while Canada has a “dismal track record” for meeting its past emissions targets, there’s hope this time things will be different.
“We need ambition and action that’s commensurate with that ambition,” said Alan Andrews, climate policy manager at Ecojustice Canada.
New climate promises
Many of the Liberals’ climate change promises during the 2021 election were previously announced while the Liberals were still in government.
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But there are several new promises that Trudeau and his party say will help Canadians transition to a greener life.
The Liberals have pledged to create a $2 billion “future fund” for workers in the fossil fuel industry in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador. The money will help workers transition to green jobs as the country’s oil and gas sectors gradually phase out production over the coming decades.
The Liberals have also pledged to stop exporting thermal coal -- the kind used to generate electricity -- by 2030.
But as a Global News investigation revealed, Canada could still be burning coal to generate electricity well beyond the 2030 deadline set by the Liberals.
“Our position hasn’t changed. We have committed to phasing out the use of thermal coal domestically by 2030,” said Liberal Jonathan Wilkinson, who is also Canada’s environment minister, during an interview with Global News on Sept. 1.
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Trudeau has also promised to set five-year targets for greenhouse gas emissions for the oil and gas sectors in Canada. Trudeau says these targets will ensure Canada meets its 2030 emissions goal and net-zero goal by 2050.
But, environmentalists say, the Liberals’ plan to cap oil and gas emissions lacks detail and doesn’t offer any specifics in terms of what mechanisms will be used to enforce or monitor progress.
It’s also unclear if the Liberal proposal to cap oil and gas emissions will include carbon dioxide produced from burning Canadian exports of fossil fuels.
“Many details remain to be clarified and that includes the question of whether this will really address Canadian exports,” said Caroline Brouillette, domestic policy manager at Climate Action Network Canada.
Since 2015, when Trudeau first became prime minister, emissions from domestic consumption of fossil fuels and from Canadian exports have increased, according to government statistics.
The Trudeau era continues — for now
It's not a majority. It might not even be a stronger minority. It could, in fact, end up being an election that produces a House of Commons nearly identical to the one that was dissolved five weeks ago. But it's a win for Justin Trudeau — which, for him, at least beats the alternative.It could, in fact, end up being an election that produces a House of Commons nearly identical to the one that was dissolved five weeks ago.
There are also several old climate change promises the Liberals say they still intend to keep.
In 2020, the Liberals promised to ban specific types of single-use plastic by the end of 2021. These include grocery bags, straws, utensils, and hard-to-recycle food and beverage containers.
The Liberals have also promised mandatory content rules for all new plastic items made in Canada. This means that by 2030, any new plastics must include at least 50 per cent recycled content.
In order to accomplish these goals, the Liberals listed “plastic manufactured items” as “toxic” under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. This designation gives the government the authority it needs to regulate the plastics industry.
But the specific regulations to ban certain types of single-use plastic and to mandate recycling were not finalized prior to the election.
Researchers say the Liberals will need to make this a priority if they want to reach their goals by the end of 2021.
“My hope is that plastic pollution stays on the agenda, that It remains a priority for the environment and that we continue to push forward,” said Chelsea Rochman, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Toronto.
Trudeau and the Liberals have also doubled down on an old promise to preserve land and freshwater in Canada, known collectively as “terrestrial areas.”
The Liberals have repeatedly said they’ll protect 25 per cent of land and freshwater by 2030.
The party says that it has made “historic investments” toward protecting these areas over the past three years, worth roughly $4 billion, and that it will take time for these investments to pay off.
But the Liberals have a track record of missing targets for protecting land and water.
When the Trudeau Liberals first came to office, they inherited the target set by former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper of protecting 17 per cent of terrestrial areas by 2020. The Liberals failed to meet this goal.
Trudeau strikes a triumphant tone after an election that was his to lose .
Twenty-three months ago, Justin Trudeau sounded chastened as he met reporters in the wake of an election that saw his Liberal party win 157 seats. This week, he's claiming a clear mandate from voters.Twenty-three months ago, Justin Trudeau sounded chastened as he met reporters in the wake of an election that saw his Liberal party win 157 seats.