12/08/2015 10:57 EST | Updated 12/08/2016 05:12 EST

Canada's Climate Inaction Undermines Its Words In Paris

Plant in Hamilton, Canada. Smoking pipe plant over the blue skySmoking pipe plant
Krakozawr via Getty Images
Plant in Hamilton, Canada. Smoking pipe plant over the blue skySmoking pipe plant

I am really confused by my government right now, because when it comes to climate action, it feels like I have two different governments. One government is in Paris, and their words on climate sound like the kind of ambition we need. The other one is in Ottawa, and its actions are looking more and more like the Harper government's on climate change.

Here's what I mean.

On the one hand, Canada's Environment and Climate Change Minister, Catherine McKenna, announced that this government would support a push for a global climate agreement to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius rather than the two degrees Celsius agreed to by governments in Copenhagen. This is a big move and follows a call from the Global South, small island states and Indigenous peoples around the world to set more ambitious warming limits.

On the other hand, before she boarded a flight to Paris, McKenna spoke to media in Ottawa and confirmed that under this government, the National Energy Board reviews of the Energy East and Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain pipelines would continue, despite the NEB being a broken process that now Prime Minister Justin Trudeau railed against on the campaign trail.

They followed this up by hiring a notorious pro-Tar Sands lobbyist to a high-level position in the Minister of Natural Resources' office. Before becoming chief of staff to Minister Jim Carr, Janet Annesley worked for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers at the exact time that CAPP was lobbying to gut environmental regulations.

The changes to Canada's regulatory regime that Annesley pushed for were the building blocks for the broken environmental review processes that the prime minister pledged to fix on the campaign trail and again last week in his throne speech.

This gap is important because Canada is well on track to blow past our commitment to do what it takes to keep global temperature rise below two degrees Celsius. In order to get under a 1.5 degrees Celsius ceiling, Canada will need to cut at least 61 to 71 per cent of our emissions reductions below 1990 levels by 2030.

Right now, the target that Canada is negotiating with in Paris amounts to less than a two per cent emissions cut on those same timelines. In other words, we need policies that increase out ambition by at least 59 per cent, knowing that the policies on the books right now aren't even enough to meet Stephen Harper's weak targets.

Given that we know that hitting a two per cent target would require keeping most of the tar sands in the ground, a 1.5 degrees Celsius target only makes the need to keep it in the ground even higher.

With that in mind, you would think that considering the emissions of pipelines with the same climate impact as adding millions of new cars to Canada's roads would probably be a smart idea. Even better, freeze tar sands expansion and come up with a plan to transition Canada off of fossil fuels, starting with the tar sands, in line with our international climate commitments.

The truth is, it's easy to talk like a climate leader, but it's a lot harder to govern like one. In order to do the latter, this government is going to need to stand up to big oil, and they're not making the kinds of political moves at home that would suggest that's a reality they're taking seriously.

That's why I'm confused by this government right now. They seem to be governing on climate like one hand doesn't know what the other is doing. If what we're seeing is just the struggle of a new government finding its legs and the bold climate action is coming, I'm looking forward to it. If, on the other hand, Canada's ambitious words in Paris are only words, they're in for a rude awakening when they get home. If they won't take bold action, you can be sure that the people will.


Paris Climate March - November 2015