Elizabeth May: The Liberals’ climate plan? A chocolate cake diet

Elizabeth May

First, let’s get out of the way any notion that the Trudeau administration is no better than the Conservatives under Stephen Harper. Trudeau and his cabinet are far superior by any sensible measurement. 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 (not yet - and refused to give the Auditor General the information to audit the promise) and put in place a national carbon price (check- sort of ).

The best things the Trudeau administration did on climate were in the first two months after the 2015 election. The leadership in Paris was real. Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna, was the first representative from an industrialized nation to call for the treaty to set the long term goal at holding global average temperature increase to no more than 1.5 degrees C above what it was before the Industrial Revolution. And 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.

Most close observers, including climate heroes Dr. Jim Hansen of NASA and Bill McKibben of 350.org, had predicted that avoiding 2 degrees would be Paris’s goal. And they knew that would mark failure. 1.5 makes the difference between having all the low-lying island states under water. 1.5 degrees means that African nations can pull through and the North Pole might remain ice-covered year round. “1.5 to stay alive!” as the African continent’s delegates chanted as they walked out of the disgraceful climate negotiations of Copenhagen. That half a degrees Celsius global average temperature is the difference between millions of people dying – or not. And 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. Read that again, because I want to be sure you noticed: 8 metre sea level rise. We lose both – 16 meter sea level rise.

So, meeting 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…but that was so 2015.

Throughout 2016, things got worse. The Harper target became the Trudeau target. It is not a “Paris target.” In fact, it is incompatible with the Paris goal. The goal of a carbon price was all important … but it would not on its own deliver even the weak Harper target. No matter, it was a political promise, so political trade-offs were needed. Rachel needs a pipeline. Christy needs LNG. We need Christy to go along with Kinder Morgan so we have to give her projects that increase greenhouse gases, like massive LNG – Woodfibre and Petronas and the massive boondoggle damming of the Peace River called Site C - to be able to get Rachel her pipeline. To get a national carbon price.

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 approvals of projects that increase GHG are the political trade-off for a carbon price. And now we have the details for the backstop carbon price for any province that does not develop its own pricing mechanism by 2018. While consumer energy – gas at the pump and home heating – will have a weak $10/tonne price in 2018, the biggest polluters in the country are off the hook until 2019. And then, it is not a price per tonne. The biggest polluters – the 563 facilities that produce 37% of Canada’s GHG emissions – will be paying on the basis of energy intensity. This concept – invented by the first President George Bush - means that the target is set per unit of production, so as production goes up, even if the amount of carbon per unit drops, GHG emissions can rise while we celebrate a carbon price.

Every time I hear Jim Carr or Cath McKenna or Justin Trudeau say “Environment and Economy go hand in hand,” I know that the statement is true. It means we can invest in clean tech and renewable energy and 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 “Going on a diet and eating chocolate cake go hand in hand.” These are contradictory. They cannot go hand in hand.

Those attacking the Liberals for too much climate action - Brad Wall and the Wild Rose-Conservative – wild 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. A reckoning is coming. And chocolate cake diets do not work.