Peter Kent has already done something as Environment Minister that few others who have held the same position over the last 10 years have had the courage to do. He stood up, in front of a group of business leaders no less, and stated that Canada’s current greenhouse gas emissions policies would not be sufficient to meet our targets, and that we needed much broader regulation. He went on to say that, “Climate change is one of the most serious environmental issues facing the world today,” and that, “Canada… is determined to do our part for the planet.” In fact, while President Obama did not say “climate change” once while delivering the State of the Union, Minister Kent uttered the phrase at least 9 times in a luncheon address. Minister Kent then committed to a, “systematic approach of regulating GHG emissions sector by sector,” to meet the goal of 17% below 2005 emissions by 2020. It’s no wonder Peter Kent and his advisers were miffed at the ENGO responses which centered on the fact that today’s policies aren’t enough to meet our goals. In his shoes, I would have been hard-pressed not to scream too.
For years, Canada’s environmental groups have been clamoring for the government to come clean on the disconnect between our policies and our stated goals on climate change and to commit to a plan to meet them. Despite the fact that Minister Kent’s speech sounded like many I have heard from some of our most respected ENGOs over the years, there was barely more than a hint of praise when the government laid bare its progress to date (see image below) and made clear that there is more work to be done.
Perhaps these groups have been at it longer than I, and so are more skeptical of the possibility that something good might be happening in Canada with respect to climate change policy. While a Minister of the Environment making claims to pursue tougher climate policy is nothing new, I saw two important changes come out in Minister Kent’s speech, and I am seeing actions from Environment Canada which I have not seen since the early days of the Harper government and the Turning the Corner plan. While I am no fan of the sector-by-sector approach, I have to give credit where it is due.
The first major change is information provision. Clare Demerse’s Pembina blog does a great job of (perhaps unintentionally) highlighting this. The first graph she shows, re-posted below, is a great example of the old Environment Canada. This graph is a poor attempt to mask the growth in Canada’s emissions since 1990 with a convenient change of scale. Of course, this type of trickery didn’t really fool anyone, but it was indicative of the efforts to present Canada’s lack of action in a more favorable light instead of taking more favorable action.
At the same time, many of us working on climate change policy in Canada got very used to seeing the screen below whenever we tried to access information on Canada’s GHG inventories, policies, etc. If you wanted a document, you had to enter your email and have it sent to you. While waiting for your email to arrive, you might have wondered “what exactly are they hiding and why?”
This all makes what was provided here by Environment Canada particularly refreshing. They provided everyone with a direct look into exactly what the economic modeling group at Environment Canada is telling the Minister and confirmed what environmental groups and the NRTEE have been saying all along – we need tougher policies to have any hope of meeting our goals (see the graphic at the top of the page). Now, Minister Kent cannot hide behind a lack of information – he has clearly been informed of the need for policies which generate at least 3 times more reductions than those they already have in place.
The second amazing thing in Minister Kent’s speech was the removal of any ambiguity about whether Canada’s government was going to re-spin it’s target – an issue that many of us working in the sector have been wondering about for a while. It may sound trivial, but we now know that Canada’s emissions target will be 607 Mt and that number will be measured in the same way as the 731 Mt inventory number for 2005. As far as I can tell, no other document published by Environment Canada stipulates this number. This unambiguous disclosure is in stark contrast to previous statements which confounded regulatory emissions (emissions net of credits granted for early action, contributions to technology funds, etc.) and actual emissions.
Now, Minister Kent is absolutely correct when he says that we should not “let anyone tell (us) that it’s not an ambitious target.” In their recent report the NRTEE found that to meet Canada’s emissions targets, a carbon price of at least $30/ton today increasing to $80/ton by 2020 would be required. By contrast, Point Carbon forecasts that Europe will meet its targets with a price of less that $50cdn (36 euros) in 2020. It is absolutely possible to meet these targets through performance standards and regulations, but they must be at least as stringent and will likely be more costly to the economy. There is no getting around the fact that to have a reasonable chance to meet our targets, performance standards must drive the same emissions reduction decisions that an $80/ton carbon price would. The NRTEE also made it very clear that we need more stringent policies than the US to meet the same target because our economy would otherwise see faster growth in emissions-intensive activities.
I do think Minister Kent will have a tough time getting these policies in place, but at least we all know what information he has, and we are now all in agreement that Canada is not yet on the right track. I, for one, am glad the Minister was willing to stand up and say so in such plain language.