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Canada Provinces Lead In Climate Action, June INDC Promise

The past week or so has brought some unequivocally good news about Canada’s climate change preparations, instead of the usual indifference-to-bluster coming out of Ottawa. Canada has enormous potential for renewable energy, as shown below, but it persists in a damaging and expensive shorter-term chase after petroleum resources.

The nation to our north operates at a large scale on both sides of the climate issue. Although it was instrumental in negotiating the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, Canada  has historically failed to meet its pledges to cut carbon pollution.

Satellite photo/map of Canada's renewable capacity (biology.mcgill.ca/UNESCO)

In 2011, Canada ducked UN penalties by withdrawing from the protocol completely, and it’s now expected to miss its 2009 Copenhagen carbon-reduction target for 2020 because tar sands development in Alberta. The national ramifications of the province’s action have obliterated any other environmental gains.

As we noted recently, Canada just missed an important United Nations INDC deadline for developed countries. Florida and Wisconsin censorship look like the actions of empire, but as the Toronto Star points out, eight years ago Stephen Harper muzzled Environment Canada scientists in the same way. And the UN secretary-general has now publicly implored Canada’s assistance.

The government has passed the buck back to its provinces, imploring premiers to provide with more information on their state-level climate plans. Some of them, like Quebec and British Columbia, have enacted carbon pricing and lived up to promises made during both the Kyoto and Copenhagen meetings. Others have come nowhere near, especially Alberta, where tar sands drilling in the boreal forest has stymied the decarbonization plans of the entire nation.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a longtime cheerleader for tar sands development, has tried to silence climate activists and government scientists. Last year, Jamie Henn of 350.org called Harper’s administration “just another member of the carbon cartel.” Yet in 2007 Harper accused his nation of “talking the talk but not walking the walk,” adding that “climate change is perhaps the biggest threat to confront the future of humanity today.”

Acting on Climate Change report

Under an initiative from the UNESCO-McGill Chair for Dialogues on Sustainability and the Trottier Institute for Science and Public Policy, Sustainable Canada Dialogues recently asked experts from the sociologists to engineering for science-based, viable solutions to reduce greenhouse gas production.

Scholars consulted for McGill report (biology.mcgill.ca/UNESCO)A consensus of 65 Canadian scholars from every province found that the nation’s huge renewable potential could enable it to reach 100% low-carbon electricity by 2035. Their report details how the country can successfully decarbonize its electric grid to slow climate change.

Members of the team identified ten policy orientations that could be immediately propel Canada’s transition toward a low-carbon economy and a truly sustainable society. They unanimously endorsed carbon pricing as the key strategy. Said Dana Nuccitelli in The Guardian:

Without a carbon fee, the price of electricity on the market doesn’t reflect its true costs to society. This is a market failure that economists call an “externality,” where the costs associated with a product (in this case, damages incurred via climate change) aren’t captured in its market price. Instead they’re paid by taxpayers in what could be considered a massive subsidy to the fossil fuel industry.

Ontario joins Quebec’s cap-and-trade system

As Silvio Marcacci suggested a week ago in CleanTechnica, carbon markets are poised to expand across North America. Ontario has now formally joined Quebec’s cap-and-trade system, which has operated jointly with California’s Western Climate Initiative since 2014. Both the Quebec and California plans enjoy political popularity.

The new agreement between Canada’s two largest provinces is a great step forward in transitioning to a lower-carbon economy within the United Nations framework’s  current timeline. With British Columbia’s successful and popular adoption of a revenue-neutral carbon tax, over half of Canada’s economy has now put a price on carbon, lowered emissions from coal-fired power plants, or otherwise encouraged clean energy use.

Act On Climate and other protest marches

In another recent event, the people of Canada dissented loud and clear from the current pro-petro central Canadian policy. Fully 75% of the population now lives under carbon regs, so this is no surprise. Under the leadership of Nature Québec, a coalition of 80-some environmental, unionist, indigenous, and student organizations, 25,000 citizens from Québec, Ontario, New Brunswick, and Canada provinces all the way to British Columbia in the west trod over April snow in ancient Quebec City to press the nation’s leaders for positive action on climate issues. Banners proclaimed “Oui au climat = Non aux sables bitumineux” (“Yes to climate = no to tar sands”).

As well as the Act On Climate march, demonstrations took place in Halifax, Ontario, Vancouver, and other locations across the country against further pipeline construction and tar sands exploitation. Pipeline projcts under heated discussion include Keystone, Energy East (which will affect almost half of Quebec’s First Nations), Kinder Morgan, and Northern Gateway. Protesters held up red squares to form a giant thermometer as seen from the sky.

2015 Canadian Roundtable on the Green Economy

Scholars, citizens, and nearly 200 decisionmakers from Canada’s business, nonprofit management, and environmental sectors gathered in Québec City on April 13 to accelerate the country’s shift toward a green economy. Participants discussed the necessity of carbon pricing, the key role of cities in transitioning to a greener economy, and strategies for making the most of renewable resources.

One of the Roundtable’s co-chairs, Sophie Brochu, president and CEO of Gaz Métro, posited:

It’s clear that many within civil society and industry across Canada are ready to do their part, and that they see the transition to a green economy as an opportunity to create wealth while also protecting the planet. There’s momentum in favour of accelerating the transition to a green economy, which is clearly seen in the Government of Ontario’s decision to adopt carbon pricing. Canada is ready to take action. Today’s discussions are proof of that.

Canada's renewable/INDC chance for 2050  (biology.mcgill.ca/UNESCO)

Canada’s possible renewable/INDC transition for 2050 (biology.mcgill.ca/UNESCO)

Provincial summit meeting

Canada province leaders held their important summit to discuss nonfederal ways to mediate and adapt to the climate phenomena. With the nation’s glaciers possibly melting by 2040, absences from Alberta and the federal government worried many about the nation’s chances to build a high-performance, lower carbon economy.

They worked with a new report called Crafting an Effective Canadian Energy Strategy that reviews the progress some provinces have made to date. It provides recommendations for making Canada’s energy strategy effective and for ways the provinces can fill the leadership vacuum left by the federal government, including  addressing carbon-intensive megaprojects like Energy East and their consequences. The gap amounts to 68.8 tons per capita in Saskatchewan versus 9.7 tons in Quebec. Furthermore, every $1 million invested in clean energy industries creates 15 jobs, compared with two jobs created by the same investment in oil and gas.

Intended Nationally Determined Contributions

Canada needs to contribute a meaningful national share to the UN’s INDC process well before December’s worldwide conference in Paris. As noted earlier, the nation is already late. However, recent progress includes an announcement by Prime Minister  Harper that Canada will submit its statement before the meeting of Group of Seven leaders in June.

Natural resources head Rickford announces Canada-US regulation talks

Federal natural resources minister Greg Rickford offered the most unexpected news.  While he played up his country as “a secure, reliable and responsible producer and supplier of energy to the world,” a very dubious claim, he also announced that Canada and the United States will begin discussions this month to implement cross-border greenhouse gas emissions regulations in the oil and gas sector. While the proof is yet to come, Rickford also commented “We’ll be there for any discussions to strengthen global targets, particularly for disadvantaged countries that need resources to get there.”

This move also shows that the United States is putting another high-profile decarbonization measure into effect. A related note: Saskatchewan-based Cameco Corp. may resume uranium exports to India, halted for 40 years, as a result of Narendra Modi’s visit to Ottawa.


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Written By

covers environmental, health, renewable and conventional energy, and climate change news. She's currently on the climate beat for Important Media, having attended last year's COP20 in Lima Peru. Sandy has also worked for groundbreaking environmental consultants and a Fortune 100 health care firm. She writes for several weblogs and attributes her modest success to an "indelible habit of poking around to satisfy my own curiosity."

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