Four Essential Elements in Climate Plans
What’s needed for a safe climate – and what the parties promise to deliver. The differences are clear.
With wildfires, flooding, hundreds of heat-related deaths, underwater fossil fuel pipeline ruptures and even the sea on fire, this year has brought us a daily feed of extreme weather events that could have been pulled from a climate change disaster movie. But the climate crisis is all too real, prompting more than 230 medical journals to warn that 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming above pre-industrial levels risks “catastrophic harm to human health that will be impossible to reverse” and call on governments to respond with “unprecedented funding.” Also this week an international team of scientists published a study concluding that the economic damage from climate change has been vastly underestimated, with cuts to emissions urgently needed to stave off longer-term effects on economic growth.
Given the deadly consequences of climate change, this is no time for half measures and delays. Canada must move forward with the utmost urgency. According to the most recent polls, climate change ranks as a top concern for voters. Every major federal party has released platforms that promise varying degrees of commitment and urgency on climate action. Here are some key must-haves Canadians should be looking for in each of the climate plans.
A shrinking carbon budget
Canada is the tenth-largest emitter globally and the second-highest emitter per capita among G7 nations. Key to driving down overall emissions are rapidly shrinking carbon budgets. A carbon budget sets out how much carbon pollution Canada can put into the atmosphere for a certain period of time. By virtue of being a budget, the understanding is that Canada stays within its limit. A federal climate plan should include a 2030 target (or “bottom line”) that aligns with a commitment to net-zero emissions by 2050, and a carbon budget set to reflect the maximum allowable emissions for a specified period to keep Canada on track to deliver on targets, with the amount of emissions diminishing rapidly over time. In addition to targets and budgets, rigorous policies are required to get there. Aiming toward “Net-Zero” and “Passive House” are certification labels for ultra-low energy buildings that use very little energy to heat and cool them resulting in carbon reduction.
Plan for global decline in oil and gas demand
Canada’s oil and gas sector produces over 26 per cent of Canada’s GHG emissions, counting only emissions from production, refining and shipping in Canada – not combustion, the source of the vast majority of global emissions from fossil fuels (commonly referred to as Scope 3 emissions). Emissions from this sector have been going up, offsetting reductions elsewhere. At the same time, globally, financial institutions, fossil fuel companies, governments, and authoritative bodies like the International Energy Agency are preparing for a major drop in demand for fossil fuels. As the world moves away from oil and gas and employment and investment decrease, economic diversification strategies are needed to create new jobs and revenue streams. Transition planning and processes should be centred on workers and communities, providing them with a voice on their future, as well as direct support, retraining, and opportunities for historically marginalized communities. Regulations will need to be redesigned to minimize environmental liabilities from the sector, ensuring the cost of clean-up isn’t offloaded onto taxpayers. A federal climate plan should include transition plans for the oil and gas sector based on net-zero pathways and include comprehensive strategies to ensure an equitable and inclusive transition.
Actions to urgently decarbonize transportation
More than a quarter of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation – a percentage that’s been steadily climbing. Not only are emissions from passenger vehicles rising, emissions from freight transport will soon overtake passenger vehicles. Driving these emissions down requires focusing on the movement of both people and goods. Doing so means boosting the production and availability of zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) and charging infrastructure across the country. Canadians also need affordable, accessible, low-carbon public transit options, and active transportation infrastructure. For freight, reducing emissions requires smart strategies and investments to decarbonize both long-haul transportation and urban delivery traffic.
Climate action compatible with reconciliation
To avoid perpetuating existing inequalities, climate mitigation and adaptation policies must be built on the principles of equity and reconciliation. In particular, planning processes must be inclusive of Indigenous Peoples and historically underrepresented and marginalized communities. One insufficient but important step toward reconciliation is legislating the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), though the impact of legislation will depend on how it is implemented. Furthermore, explicit representation and consideration of Indigenous Peoples should be built into climate accountability legislation.
Similarly, the impacts of climate change and climate change policies on low-income and marginalized communities should be assessed and addressed in policy design and decision-making frameworks. A federal climate plan, then, should commit to full implementation of UNDRIP, monitoring, publicly reporting on and mitigating the impacts of climate change and related policy on Indigenous Peoples and on their rights, and monitoring and publicly reporting on and mitigating the gendered, socio-economic and racial impacts of climate change and related policy.