Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The New Liberal Government's Climate and Energy Promises

To live up to their campaign promises to do our share to keep temperatures below the 2 degree Celsius upper threshold limit, the Liberals will have to get serious about climate action, particularly as far as Canada's energy infrastructure is concerned. To quickly reduce emissions we will need to see the Liberals put a price on carbon, manage the tar sands, kill pipeline projects and contribute to adaptation finance.

The Liberals have promised to establish a new climate change framework by February 2016 that includes phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies as well as investment in climate resilience, clean technology and low-carbon infrastructure. The party has also promised to put $2 billion into emissions-reducing projects through a new Low Carbon Economy Trust.

The Liberal's election victory will likely put downward pressure on Canada's fossil fuel industry which when added to the already low price of oil, will make some of the country's dirtiest energy projects even less economically viable.

As explained in the Financial Post before the election:

"Anything other than a Conservative majority government emerging from Canada’s October 19 election would likely be seen as a headwind for the country’s energy and conventional power sectors."

Principles for the Provinces

The Liberals have promised that under their leadership Canada will do its part to limit warming within the upper threshold limit of 2 degrees Celsius below preindustrial times. They will do this by setting principles for provinces. Trudeau said the system would work like the medicare model, except it would be focused on addressing carbon pollution. Principles related to climate change action would be set much like the Canada Health Act sets healthcare principles. Those who conform to these principles would benefit from Canadian financial support. As explained by Trudeau, Canada would become a "significant financial partner" for provinces that meet these principles.

Emissions reduction targets

While Trudeau has talked about a pan-Canadian framework to address climate change, he has not put forward a specific emissions targets. Trudeau told the CBC, "we need is an ambitious plan to reduce our emissions in the country." Under the Liberals Canada’s carbon reduction target will be informed by "the best economic and scientific analysis" and recognize the necessity of Canada doing its part to limit average global warming to 2 degrees Celsius.

Carbon pricing

Although the Liberal position is not clear, Trudeau has publicly discussed the necessity of setting a price on carbon. What the minimum price should be has not been disclosed.


Pipelines were the key to the Conservative strategy to expand tar sands productions. However, there is no way we will be able to meet our greenhouse gas emissions reductions pledges if the Keystone XL, Energy East, Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan pipelines are built. The Liberals promised a pipeline review and as explained in the Financial Post by strategist David Doyle and his energy analyst colleagues, a Liberal government will "slow the development of new pipeline projects."

Tar sands

To ensure that Canada does its share we will have to limit exploitation of the tar sands, however, the Liberal's appear to leave this issue to the province of Alberta. Presumably Alberta will reap economic incentives from reducing its exploitation of the tar sands.

COP 21

Trudeau has indicated that he will attend climate negotiations in Paris with all of the premiers and to work with the provinces on emissions reduction plans that are location specific. The Liberals have also promised to work with other countries including the US and Mexico to develop shared clean energy plans. However, Trudeau has indicated that the specific emissions target will only be developed in the 90-day period after the Paris climate summit.

Adaptation finance

The Liberals have criticized the Conservatives for failing to commit to adaptation finance that would help developing countries to manage climate change. However, the Liberals have not provided much detail.

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