Monday, June 5, 2017

Canadian Leadership on World Environment Day (WED)

June 5 is World Environment Day (WED) and this year the host Country is Canada. The theme for 2017 is 'Connecting People to Nature – in the city and on the land, from the poles to the equator'. WED is the United Nation's principal vehicle for encouraging worldwide awareness and action for the protection of our environment. This event began in 1974 with the theme "Only One Earth", and it is now celebrated in 143 countries annually.

WED raises awareness on environmental issues from marine pollution, human overpopulation, and global warming, to sustainable consumption and wildlife crime.

Canadian action and achievements

Compared to the conduct of the current US administration Canada's federal government has been a responsible state actor. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Canada's ruling Liberal government showed leadership at COP21. After reaching an agreement with the provinces in 2016 the federal government finalized a national carbon pricing scheme this year.  The government has also developed a national climate policy including phased regulations to curb methane emissions in the fossil fuel industry.

Canada has a well-regulated banking system that helped it to avoid the worst of the recession of 2008. According to a London Think Tank Canada is also the leader of the free world. In 2015, the Legatum Institute ranked Canada Prosperity Index by measuring performance on eight subindices including a Freedom Indice. In stark contrast to the Trump administration's travel ban, more than 92 percent of survey respondents said they believe Canada is both welcoming to immigrants and "tolerant" of ethnic minorities. In 2016 Canada was ranked second on the Legatum Institute's Freedom Index.

Trump's abdication an opportunity

In response to Trump's dumping the climate agreement, we have seen a tremendous wave of support for Paris. This response is both inside of the US and around the world.

As America's neighbor and largest trading partner Canada is profoundly impacted by what happens south of the border. Trump's abandonment of the Paris agreement, like his efforts to end climate action in the US has consequences both in Canada and around the world. However, Canada has vowed to continue to move forward independent of the anti-science orientation of the current US administration.

"It's unfortunate that the U.S. administration says they're pulling out of the Paris Agreement, but you can't stop progress," Canadian Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said.

Desmog believes the situation may benefit Canada. "The Paris Agreement could grow stronger without Trump at the table, and Trump is walking away from the economic opportunity of delivering clean energy solutions to the world. In the end, we argue, both outcomes may prove positive for Canada," Desmog said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has mirrored what other world leaders are saying when he said:

"We know that this is the way the world is going and if the United States wants to take a step back from it, quite frankly, I think we should look at that as an extraordinary opportunity for Canada and for Canadians."

In a recent iPolitics article, Dan Woynillowicz said, "While many still see only dark clouds from Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement, the silver linings are apparent." He said the opportunity is best summed up by Canadian cleantech investor Tom Rand: "If the U.S. wants to walk away from climate action, then Canada will be more than happy to eat its cleantech lunch."

Canada is well positioned to take advantage of Trump's abdication. According to the 2016 Global Cleantech 100 List, 11 percent of the companies on the list are Canadian. This ranking identifies the companies best positioned to solve tomorrow’s clean technology challenges, spotlighting those with the potential to make the most significant market impact over the next five to 10 years.

Oil and renewables

Low oil prices have helped to wean the Canadian economy away from its oil addiction. While the federal government supports the nation's fossil fuel industry there are signs that the Liberals realize that the glory days of carbon-powered energy are coming to an end. The oil-producing provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan are also being lured by up to $50 billion to be spent on renewable energy projects over the next 13 years.

Alberta and Saskatchewan have set ambitious targets. The former wants to get 30 percent of electricity consumption from renewables by 2030 and the latter has a 50 percent renewable energy target for 2030.

As a whole Canada already gets 80 percent of its energy from renewable sources. According to a June 2016 analysis released by Clean Energy Canada, the country is poised to massively increase renewables. This is due in large part to the federal and provincial governments national climate policy

Although some oil producing jurisdictions in the US appear to be tragically myopic, Alberta's Environment Minister Shannon Phillips provided a clear and astute assessment.

"Continuing to do nothing is a dead end for our economy," said Phillips. "Inaction on climate change will only result in more boom-bust, fewer opportunities for access to markets, and more risk to our resiliency as a province."

Ontario, the country's economic engine is poised to invest $7 billion on a sweeping climate change plan over a four-year term.


Canada also has a healthy environmental movement led by organizations like the David Suzuki Foundation which is pursuing a federal environmental bill of rights. The ultimate goal is to enshrine environmental rights in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

On the broader environmental front, WWF listed 17 positive government actions in 2017. This includes the fact that Canada will protect five percent of its waters. Lancaster Sound will be designated a National Marine Conservation Area and the first-ever assessment of Canada’s watersheds will be completed this year. On the conservation front we can celebrate the recovery of Cod and Salish Sea orcas.  The Liberals are also acting to protect the Arctic. This includes regulations to prevent ships from dumping gray water in the Arctic ocean. The federal government has agreed to fund renewable energy for the Arctic and portions of the Last Ice Area will make Canada’s tentative list for designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. One thousand Canadian companies will be a part of Living Planet @ Work and Barren-ground caribou will be officially designated as "threatened." Perhaps most importantly Canada will take steps toward becoming a clean energy superpower.

Room for improvement

Canada is far from where it needs to be, the country still needs to reduce emissions. There is lots of room for improvement even in the area of renewable energy. This is the conclusion of Christopher Barrington-Leigh, assistant professor in the School of Environment at McGill University. He presented his findings in a Globe and Mail article titled, "Canada well on its way to a renewable-energy future." In addition to more renewable energy, the country must shift to electric transport and highly efficient electric home heating systems (like air and ground source heat pumps).

However, all is not as it appears. The Liberals can be accused of trying to have it both ways and there is a far more sinister political alternative waiting in the wings. The dark horse is a man who is ready to resume former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's assault on the environment. In May of this year the Conservative Party of Canada held a leadership election and with the guidance and support of the fossil fuel industry they chose Andrew Scheer. In a move reminiscent of Trump's pledge to kill Obama's Clean Power Plan, Scheer wants to repeal Canada's carbon pricing. He also wants to move forward with the Energy East and other pipelines.

For a comprehensive Review of both federal and provincial government action in Canada over the last decade click here.

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