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Here's how the four main federal parties plan to fight climate crisis

An urgent call to action from the International Energy Agency mapped out a path to net-zero emissions by 2050, but Canada has yet to meet an emissions reduction goal
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Climate change will almost certainly be top of mind in the upcoming election after a summer of intense heat waves has left apartment dwellers roasting with no relief and wildfires are sweeping through rural communities in Ontario and B.C.

A recent landmark report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) foresees a grim future with more of the same — and worse — if we don’t act now.

An urgent call to action from the International Energy Agency (IEA) mapped out a path to net-zero emissions by 2050, but Canada has yet to meet an emissions reduction goal, and the Paris Agreement climate targets may soon move out of reach without immediate and massive greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions, according to the IPCC report.

Here is where the Liberals, Conservatives, NDP, and Green Party stand on climate action.

Liberals up the ante on Canada’s climate target

Earlier this year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Canada’s new GHG reduction target will be 40 to 45 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. Whether we will meet this remains unknown, and given the country’s track record, some have doubts.

Canada’s emissions jumped 3.3 per cent from 2016 to 2019, according to a report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the Corporate Mapping Project, the Parkland Institute,, West Coast Environmental Law, and

Trudeau’s new target fails to keep pace with the Biden administration’s commitment to a 50 to 52 per cent reduction by 2030.

Key initiatives

Carbon pricing: Gradually increase the carbon tax to $170/tonne by 2030.

Climate accountability: Passed in June, the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act sets targets for every five years from 2030 to 2050 to guide the country’s transition to net-zero. The act includes stronger, more frequent progress reports, an independent advisory body, and a 2026 emissions objective requiring a plan within six months.

Nuclear energy: Released a small modular reactor (SMR) action plan in December, which lays out intentions to make the next-generation nuclear technology part of Canada’s clean energy transformation. The Liberals have also invested millions of dollars in SMRs, and the party’s climate plan, A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy, touts SMRs as a way to help decarbonize heavy industry.

Just transition: Launched a process to consult with provinces and territories; First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities; labour and non-governmental organizations; and small business owners and industry on how to best make the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Hydrogen: Released a federal hydrogen strategy last year outlining a path to lower emissions and take advantage of the global hydrogen market, which it says could surpass $11 trillion over the next 30 years. $1.5 billion to fund clean fuels was announced in June.

Carbon capture: Budget 2021 earmarked $319 million over seven years for “research, development, and demonstrations” of carbon capture technology.

Reality checks

Environmental groups and the NDP, Green Party, and Bloc Quebecois have objected to the continued use of nuclear power because it produces toxic waste, and the SMR technology won’t be built until 2026 to 2030, which many say is too late to address the climate crisis.

Trudeau still touts the Trans Mountain oil pipeline and expansion project as a way to finance Canada’s climate objectives, despite a report from Canada’s parliamentary budget officer, which found the pipeline will only be profitable if Ottawa doesn’t take further steps to combat climate change.

A recent report from Environmental Defence points out that the government announced various supports totalling almost $18 billion to the oil and gas sector in 2020, meanwhile, its climate plan has earmarked $15 billion for climate initiatives over 10 years.

Blue hydrogen may be worse than burning coal, according to new research. The Green Party warns that unless hydrogen solutions are green, it will hinder the transition away from oil and gas.

500 environmental groups and other organizations from Canada and the U.S. are calling on the feds to stop investing in carbon capture technology because it prolongs the use of oil and gas.

Conservatives catch up on carbon pricing

Earlier this year, a Supreme Court ruling put an end to legal challenges from the governments of Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Ontario that the federal government’s carbon pricing law encroached on provincial autonomy and was unconstitutional. After the release of Erin O’Toole’s climate plan in mid-April, all four major federal parties now support some variation of carbon pricing.

Key initiatives

Carbon pricing: Introduce carbon pricing that would start at $20/tonne and increase to $50/tonne — but no higher. (The Liberal plan calls for pricing of $170/tonne by 2030.)

The CPC’s 160-page election platform calls for the tax to be paid into “personal low-carbon savings accounts” when Canadians buy hydrocarbon-based fuel, and those savings could then be used for energy-efficient retrofits, a transit pass, or other green purchases.

Zero-emission vehicles: The climate plan also includes a zero-emission vehicle plan based on British Columbia’s mandate, which would require 30 per cent of light-duty vehicle sales to be zero-emissions by 2030. However, the IEA’s report on reaching net-zero carbon pollution says ending the sale of new internal combustion engine passenger cars by 2035 is key to achieving net-zero. The Liberals have set a “mandatory target” for all new light-duty cars and passenger truck sales to be zero-emissions by 2035, but the next steps are on hold until the U.S. reveals its plans.

Carbon capture: The Conservative plan says $5 billion will be invested in Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage (CCUS).

Nature-based climate solutions: The Conservatives also promise $3 billion for natural climate solutions, like forest management, and wetland, grassland and forest restoration.

Natural gas: A minimum requirement of 15 per cent renewable content in natural gas by 2030, and suggests doing so by capturing methane from sources like farms and landfills.

Fuel standard: The Conservatives have proposed a “low-carbon fuel standard” that would reduce the carbon intensity of transport fuels, and incentivize environmental protection of agricultural lands and managed forests.

Reality checks

O’Toole’s climate plan does not sit well with some of his party members. Earlier this year at the Conservative Party convention, 54 per cent of voting delegates voted against a motion that would include the phrases, “We recognize that climate change is real, '' and “The Conservative Party is willing to act” in the party’s policy. Despite this failure, O’Toole insists “Canada must not ignore the reality of climate change.”

The Conservative carbon pricing plan is much lower than levels proposed by Liberal and NDP opponents and alienated supporters staunchly against a carbon tax, like the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

NDP aims to enhance carbon pricing and climate accountability

After the Supreme Court ruled the implementation of the Liberals’ carbon tax was constitutional, MP Laurel Collins, the NDP critic for environment and climate change, issued a statement saying, “The Liberals have staked their entire climate plan on the carbon tax,” which “isn’t nearly enough.”

The statement decries the Liberals’ ongoing support of big polluters and calls for immediate investment in transit, energy-efficient homes and buildings, and clean energy.

Key initiatives

Carbon pricing: The NDP’s carbon pricing plan is similar to the Liberals’, but changes how the system works for industrial emitters. Under the Liberal system, companies exceeding 80, 90 or 95 per cent of the average emissions in their industry have to pay, but the NDP wants companies to pay tax on a larger portion of their emissions and said it would set the limit at 70 per cent.
  Emission reduction targets: Target of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, and a 50 per cent reduction below 2005 levels by 2030. The party would also create a “Climate Accountability Office” to provide independent, transparent information to ensure targets are being set and met through 2030 to 2050.

Green jobs: Commitments to invest in clean energy, climate resilience, social infrastructure, transit, and energy efficiency, to create jobs. The job creation plan is to be paired with training, education, and targeted support to help workers, families, and communities make the transition to a “low-carbon future.”

Nuclear energy: Unlike the Conservatives and Liberals, the NDP does not support plans to fund nuclear energy, and instead supports the development of energy storage solutions to roll out renewables like solar and wind on a larger scale.

Reality checks

The NDP opposes the Trans Mountain oil pipeline and expansion project, but leader Jagmeet Singh has expressed support for the Coastal GasLink LNG pipeline despite strong opposition from Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs.

In 2019, Singh told Canada’s National Observer the Trans Mountain project failed on both the environment and consultation with Indigenous people fronts, whereas “with the LNG project, the company and the government have done significant work to obtain the consent and partnership of Indigenous communities,” noting that when it comes to reconciliation, “there’s still more work to be done.”

Green Party pushes for fair share reductions

When Trudeau announced Canada’s new target of 40 to 45 per cent emissions reductions, federal Green Party Leader Annamie Paul told Canada’s National Observer those “unambitious targets” will be impossible to meet if the federal government continues to subsidize the fossil fuel industry and greenlight projects like the three offshore drilling projects recently approved off the coast of St. John’s, N.L.

The Green Party has not yet released its full election platform — this article will be updated during the election campaign to reflect any new commitments as they are made — but based on previous plans and recent comments and news releases, this is where things stand.

Key initiatives

Emission reduction targets: The Green Party’s recovery plan commits Canada to a 60 per cent reduction of GHG below 2005 levels by 2030, an amount it says represents Canada’s fair share of emissions.

Carbon pricing — at home and at the border: After the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the Liberals' carbon pricing system constitutional, Paul warned that “a carbon tax plan is not a plan in and of itself,” and added the Greens have proposed “implementing a carbon border tax, with the potential to create a North American carbon border adjustment” to incentivize GHG reductions.

Fossil fuel projects: The Green Party opposes the Trans Mountain oil pipeline and expansion project and wants to end all oil and gas exploration projects, new pipelines, and fracking activity.

Just transition: To facilitate a just transition for fossil fuel workers, the Green Party says it would work with workers and unions to develop retraining and resettlement programs, job guarantees, and income protection tailored to the needs of each province.

Building retrofits: The recovery plan would launch “a massive program” to retrofit residential, industrial, and commercial buildings to reduce GHG emissions and employ skilled workers.

Renewable energy — but no nuclear: A major ramp-up of renewable electricity and aims for 100 per cent of Canada’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2030, without nuclear energy. It also prioritizes investing in a national electricity corridor.

Reality checks

Despite being “technically feasible,” its plan for 100 per cent of Canada’s electricity to come from renewables by 2030 has been criticized given that electricity generation is a provincial jurisdiction.

- Natasha Bulowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Canada's National Observer

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