Yesterday was the five year anniversary of the historic conclusion of the climate negotiations in Paris. I remember it as if it were yesterday. Claire Martin, Jaymini Bhika and I had pulled three all nighters in a row as the negotiations wore on. But then again I remember the signing of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Rio in 1992 as if it were yesterday. I am cursed with a good memory. I say “cursed” because, at least in the case of the climate crisis, remembering is torture. All those opportunities. All those promises. All those failures and betrayals.
When Canada pledged in Rio to reduce our emissions such that we could avoid levels of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere becoming “dangerous” (and, dangerous is the word used in the UNFCCC), we emitted 590 Megatonnes (MT)/year. By 2018, the last year for which Environment Canada published information, we emitted 729 MT – 17% more.
We are not alone. Collectively, humanity has emitted more GHG between 1992 and now than in the entire time between the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and the Rio Earth Summit and the negotiation of our first major climate treaty.
It is uniquely Canadian to repeat (mindlessly) “targets don’t work.” We keep missing our targets so therefore targets don’t work. This is one of the ways environmental groups and commentators have given Trudeau so much wiggle room. Targets do work when political leaders act to meet them.
Targets worked when we were fighting acid rain. We set targets to reduce sulphur dioxide by 50% – and we did. Targets worked when we were fighting ozone depletion. In the Montreal Protocol, we set a target to cut chlorofluorocarbons by 50% and we did. And then we ramped it up to include more chemicals and cut to zero. And we did.
Is the climate crisis somehow so different that targets cannot be met? Other countries that adopted targets in Kyoto to cut GHG met their targets. In fact, most of Europe exceeded them.
The EU committed in 1997 at Kyoto to cut 15% below 1990 levels by 2012. Exceeding those targets is why the EU was able this week to further ramp up its targets to aim for 55% below 1990 levels by 2030. The UK went further, committing to 69% below 1990 levels.
And, as mentioned above, Canada is at 17% above 1990 levels.
Targets are on my mind as I was led to believe that Canada was actually going to improve on our 2030 target this week. That, at long last, we would act to meet expectations for the UN Climate Ambition Summit held virtually yesterday. You can watch the speeches and statements here: https://www.
Because Canada committed in Paris to bring forward a stronger target in 2020, I thought we would deliver. With a strong target for 2030, the weak Net Zero Climate Accountability Act (C-12) might be effective. I felt like Charlie Brown – fooled by Lucy again. This time I really thought the Liberals weren’t going to pull the football away- again. I really thought that with the pressure of a major UN event, calling on us to do our part, we would. Fooled again.
On Friday December 11, with great fanfare, Trudeau announced another great list of actions. Money to be spent retrofitting community buildings for energy efficiency. Money for tree planting and for infrastructure for zero emission vehicles. And keeping the carbon tax on track, increasing to $170/tonne by 2030. Starting in 2022, the government will use the Green Party approach of Carbon Fee and Dividend to send repayments of the carbon dividend directly to Canadians. But there is no plan as such and no new target.
Five years ago, this is what I wrote in my blog from Paris:
“What matters now is what we do next. Canada’s climate target remains the one left behind by the previous government. We have no time to waste in re-vamping and improving our target. We should be prepared to improve it again in 2020.”
Five years ago I expected a new target, ditching Harper’s 30% below 2005 levels by 2030, within the year. To be increased again as required in 2020. And here we are- five years later, and Trudeau has kept the Harper target with the repeated assertion that we will exceed it. And the carrot is dangled that we could exceed it by 2-8%. The reality of the IPCC advice is our target needs to be doubled – as the Green Mission Possible plan does.
And unlike our approach, showing measure by measure how much GHGs decline from each action- how many MT reduction from eco-efficiency, how much from decarbonizing our electricity grid, and so on – we have a list of spending commitments. As one of my favourite constituents, Pat Carney, said of the Liberals’ Ocean Protection Plan “a wish list is not a plan.”
We do not have a plan. And the total of new spending for climate – a promised $15 billion – is great – except that the total spend on the TransMountain pipeline is approaching $17 billion. Earlier in the week the Parliamentary Budget Officer announced that if Canada held to climate actions to meet Net Zero by 2050, the TMX pipeline would be an economic disaster. In other words, in claiming we can make money on the pipeline, the government is betting against its climate actions.
I am so angry. It is exhausting to be this angry. We have the same target now that I believed would be replaced within months after the COP21 negotiations.
And media are falling over themselves to pronounce that “Trudeau is all in on climate” (per Paul Wells) or that the big take away from Friday’s announcement is that the carbon tax is going up (per CBC news). There is no accountability for what we promised and no recognition of the IPCC science that should be driving this.
As ever, the truth telling is left to the youth of the world.
Watch this three minute summary from Greta Thunberg.
This is the truth of the great momentum behind Net Zero by 2050. The 2050 deadline is far too late. It is true that the IPCC says that to hold to 1.5 degrees we must be at Net Zero by 2050. But it is not true to say we are guaranteed to be at 1.5 if by 2050 we reach Net Zero. This is hard, but essential, to understand. We could be well above 3 degrees and have Net Zero by 2050 if we leave our actions too late. To hold to 1.5 degrees, the IPCC advice has been clear. In the next few years, we must achieve massive progress toward ending our use of fossil fuels to have any hope of keeping a livable world. The window on 1.5 degrees will close before 2030 without Herculean effort. The cuts before 2030 must be rapid and deep.
I am very proud of the work we are doing as Greens in Canada – our caucus in parliament and our leader in the media. Annamie Paul was interviewed a fair bit following Trudeau’s announcement and able to explain clearly what must be done. And I love working with Global Greens. From over 80 countries around the world, we put together this strong statement from our COP26 Working Group. Global Greens call for action on the fifth Anniversary of Paris Agreement | Global Greens
Parliament has now adjourned for the holidays. I am relieved that the workload will decline a bit. But I know I have to redouble efforts to educate and explain – as Greta tells us we must do.
So I want to share some lovely things to cheer us up in these hard times. My friend Helen Stewart is the subject of this lovely short documentary of her art and her garden. “Drawn into the Garden.” Enjoy! https://www.
I am really looking forward to the on-line premiere of a new version of Handel’s Messiah – including indigenous voices and indigenous languages. It will premiere tonight!
The Against the Grain Theatre and Toronto Symphony Orchestra teamed up for this. Tickets are free, but it is always nice to send them a bit of a donation. What an inspiring treat in this weird season.
As ever, all my love,
Stay safe and well!
Saanich-Gulf Islands Greens