Hill Times: The Liberals’ climate plan? A chocolate cake diet

Elizabeth May
June 7, 2017

Originally published in the Hill Times, here.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: the Trudeau administration is better than the Conservatives under Stephen Harper on environmental policy. But that does not mean they get a free ride, especially when our children’s future is at stake.

The climate promises of the Liberal 2015 platform were thin. For climate action, no target was promised. What was promised was that Trudeau would go to the Paris COP21 negotiations (check), start working with the provinces on a pan-Canadian framework within 90 days of Paris (check), end fossil fuel subsidies (so far, they have refused to give the Auditor General the information to audit the promise), and put in place a national carbon price (check – sort of). They also promised to fix our broken environmental assessment process, and require projects that were approved under this flawed process – like Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline – to proper environmental assessment.

The Trudeau administration led on climate action in the first two months after the 2015 election in Paris, where Canadian leadership mattered. The Paris Agreement calls for all nations on earth to work together to avoid exceeding 1.5 degrees C global average temperature increase, and certainly to hold it below 2 degrees C.

The 1.5 goal makes the difference between having all the low-lying island states under water; it means that African nations can pull through and the North Pole might remain ice-covered year round. At 2 degrees, we run a highly uncomfortable risk of losing the Greenland ice sheet and the Western Antarctic ice sheet. If either of those collapse, it means 8 metre sea level rise. Losing both means a 16-metre sea level rise.

All this to say the Paris long-term target matters. A lot. In Paris, Catherine McKenna called the climate target left behind by Harper “the floor.” The new administration would do better. Yet throughout 2016, things got worse. The Harper target, incompatible with the Paris goal, became the Trudeau target. Carbon pricing was important, but political trade-offs were needed. Rachel Notley needed a pipeline, Christy Clark needed LNG, Justin Trudeau needed carbon pricing consensus.

I still believe the Liberals mean well, but that doesn’t mean they are doing good. It’s the first rule of holes: if you want to get out, stop digging. The oft-repeated talking point, “Environment and Economy go hand in hand,” should mean we can invest in cleantech, renewable energy, energy efficiency and boost the economy while driving down GHG emissions. But that statement no longer applies to the Liberals’ climate plan. You might as well be saying, “A chocolate cake diet will improve your health.”

Cabinet’s approval of Trans Mountain, and the Prime Minister having the gall to claim his approval was based on facts and evidence, does not pass the smell test for British Columbians. Coastal communities understand that diluted bitumen flowing through pipelines, then being pumped into Aframax tankers navigating the busy and tight waters of the Salish Sea, is a disaster is waiting. One need look no further than the Kalamazoo River’s devastation after a Kinder Morgan dilbit spill in 2010 to understand what is at stake. The dearth of science on how dilbit behaves in open water means the Oceans Protection Plan is little more than wishful thinking.

Those attacking the Liberals for too much climate action – Brad Wall and the Wild Rose-Conservatives of Alberta – are matched by those who are prepared to cheer mediocre climate action as though we have all the time in the world.

We are running out of time, and chocolate cake diets do not work.