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We Need An Immediate Solution To 'Runaway' Climate Change

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As Justin Trudeau prepares to meet with the premiers in early December to finalize a pan-Canadian climate plan, a key contradiction remains in the Liberal's framework for a low-carbon economy.

Namely, that the government's steadfast commitment to expanding fossil fuel exports is fundamentally antithetical to real action on climate change.

At this year's COP22 in Marrakech, Canada was criticized for pursuing new oil and gas projects. The United Nations-sponsored event saw many poor nations appeal for a more concerted global response to curb the frequency of droughts, floods and sea level rise affecting the planet's most vulnerable communities.

Canada should be committing to much more ambitious reduction targets, and adopt 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050.

"Developed countries have a moral obligation to honour the Paris Agreement," said Benson Ireri of Christian Aid Africa. "It is a serious concern when we see the international community not honouring their commitments."

Despite rapidly shrinking commodity returns, Trudeau has shown a willingness to green-light fossil fuel projects during his first year as PM. In September he approved a controversial $27 billion liquified natural gas mega-project in British Columbia. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency has calculated it to be "one of the largest greenhouse gas [GHG] emitters in Canada."

He's also hinted at authorizing Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. On November 19, thousands marched in Vancouver in opposition to the project which would carry bitumen from Alberta's oil sands to the Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby, B.C. Environmental groups warn it will add around 15 megatonnes of upstream GHG emissions. To put that in perspective, the federal government's national floor price on carbon, announced in October, is estimated to result in an 18 megatonne reduction in GHGs by 2030.

Facing the prospect of 'runaway' climate change -- the "point of no return" when no amount of cutbacks on emissions will prevent catastrophic global warming -- Canada should be committing to much more ambitious reduction targets, and adopt 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050.

"Staying in one place might be just fine in regular politics," writes Keith Stewart of Greenpeace Canada, "but climate scientists are telling us we have to move fast and far in one direction, and only one direction: replacing fossil fuels with clean energy by mid-century."

Of course, it would be misleading to suggest the Liberals have failed to respond at all to the rapid heating of the planet. On the heels of the Vancouver Declaration, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna announced on November 21 the government would phase out coal-fired electricity by 2030. This will reduce CO2 emissions by five megatonnes per year, equivalent to taking more than one million cars off the road.

Yet of the almost $500 billion spent globally last year on clean energy such as solar and wind power, Canada is lagging far behind its major partners. According to a Clean Energy Canada report from 2015, nearly half of that money was used in the developing world. Morocco, for instance, built a $9 billion solar power plant on the edge of the Sahara desert that will provide electricity for more than one million people. By 2030, 52 per cent of the North African country's energy will come from renewables. Contrast that with Trudeau's pledge to cut emissions 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Effective energy transition policies start by rejecting the notion that carbon pricing and pollution regulation hurts the economy.

Shockingly, the Canadian government still gives $3.3 billion worth of subsidies to oil and gas companies while remaining one of the top-ten absolute emitters in the world (Canada has the highest emissions per capita, double the global average).

As prices for solar power and other technologies continue to fall sharply, the Liberals' face an historic juncture: continue with the twin pursuit of expanding fossil fuel exports and GHG reductions, or, collaborate with provincial leaders to adopt the radical solutions the environment is demanding.

Governments must make bold choices, and fast, to keep the world from breaching the 1.5 degree Celsius threshold. That means accelerated reductions through renewable alternatives; expanding the electricity sector; raising subsidies for zero-emission vehicles; and shifting to a clean technology portfolio that combines solar, wind, geothermal and hydroelectric power.

It also means rejecting projects like TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline, although the Liberals (and President-elect Donald Trump) have long expressed interest in reviving it.

Effective energy transition policies start by rejecting the notion that carbon pricing and pollution regulation hurts the economy. On the contrary, a failure to fulfill Canada's climate commitments will spell grave repercussions at home and abroad.

Through high-stakes partnership, and by incorporating the best of provincial policies as nationwide standards, a pan-Canadian climate plan might begin to resemble the clean energy present our future demands.

In the words of renowned author and activist Naomi Klein, "we are all going to have to stop being so impeccably calm and reasonable. We're going to have to find that part of ourselves that feels this threat in our hearts, as well as our heads."

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