Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Canada's Climate Action in the Era of COVID-19

Canada's federal Liberal government has put forth the most progressive climate action plans the country has ever seen, but they also support fossil fuels. The federal government has bought the Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline which was designed to ferry tar sands bitumen some of the dirtiest, most carbon intensive energy in the world.  Tar sands oil is not only a major contributor to climate change it is also a threat to biodiversity. Such policy dualism can best be described as an oxymoron.

Climate change was a key issue in the 2019 federal election and with the exception of the Conservatives, all of Canada's major parties put forward platforms that included climate action. Canadians elected a Liberal minority government which many have suggested may bode well for climate action.  At the end of the year the Liberal throne speech promised climate and environmental action. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

COVID-19 economics

Canada's support for both fossil fuels and climate action represents a flagrant contradiction. It also makes little economic sense given that the fossil fuel industry is dying and this demise is being expedited by the COVID-19 pandemic.  It is clear that this virus is having a massive economic impact. However, this economic collapse that it augurs is also an opportunity to pivot.  The arguments for climate action make economic sense particularly if we factor the co-benefits and the real costs of inaction.  In countries like Canada there are massive economic opportunities associated with things like decarbonization through electrification, carbon capture and carbon pricing.
Provincial governments

Conservative governments in Ontario and Alberta are currently governed by administrations that are eradicating climate action and they are using the COVID-19 pandemic to further roll back environmental protections and oversight. Canadian provinces ruled by conservatives are also opposed to the federal government's carbon pricing scheme which is confounding national climate action. However, Conservative governments in both New Brunswick and Quebec support climate action and environmental protections suggesting that conservatism does not always need be the road to environmental ruin in Canada.

Warming related impacts

Canada is warming faster than the rest of the world and we are seeing record breaking heat in the ArcticHeat in the far north is a warning we cannot afford to ignore.  Arctic heat is driving dangerous feedback loops including firesFires in the Arctic have a particularly potent climate impact.  We need to ask why Fort McMurray burned.  On the other side of the country climate related fires are also an issue but so are floods

Climate action in Canada

The polls indicate that Canadians want climate action and although they like to think that Canada is a progressive climate actor, the evidence indicates otherwise. The nation ranks 55th out of 61nations on climate action according to the 2020 Performance Index.  A recent report confirms that Canada is not doing what it must and it makes recommendations starting with ending fossil fuel subsidies.

Fossil fuel subsidies & influence

To have a shot at keeping temperatures below the upper threshold limit we need to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels, both their use and their extraction. It is widely understood that ending fossil fuel subsidies is a critical first step. The ruling Liberals have repeatedly pledged to stop subsidizing fossil fuels, however, the industry continues to receive billions of dollars in federal subsidies.  Canada's escalating fossil fuel subsidies have been described as an energy paradox.   Some Canadians appear to be obsessed with fossil fuels. This may be due to the fossil fuel industries' powerful lobby that wields tremendous influence and includes academic institutions.


The fossil fuel industry is powerful but Canadians from coast to coast have shown how protest can augur change. A town in B.C. and subsequently the province of B.C. successfully opposed the Northern Gateway pipeline.  Organizations rallied against the Energy East pipeline and Quebecers joined the protest. It took three years but protest eventually succeeded in killing the pipelineDemonstrators in Nova Scotia succeeded in shutting down a toxic mill. Most recently Canadian protestors succeeded in killing the Frontier tar sands mine. Young Canadians are leading protests for climate action. Greta Thunberg's School Strikes have become a global phenomenon and in September 2019 Montreal staged the largest climate march in history

What we need

To keep temperatures from breaching the upper threshold limit we need to replace fossil fuels with clean sources of energy and this may be the right moment in history to commit to a pivot. We are seeing a large number of energy job losses associated with the pandemic but many expect renewable energy to rebound. There is strong evidence to show that the cornavirus is hurting fossil fuels and helping renewable energy.  There are also strong economic arguments including the fact that renewables drive economic growth and create jobsCanada is well positioned as a global leader in renewable energy and there is no reason why Canada can't get all of its energy from emissions free sources.


We need transformational change and although COVID-19 has taken a devastating toll in terms of both life and treasure, it has also been a powerful catalyst for change.  There is an environmental upside to this devastating plague and Canada must decide whether to return to business as usual or learn from the pandemic and transition to a more sustainable way of life.

Protecting our identity

This year is a pivotal turning point for Canada and the world.  We are in the process of defining who we are and this will determine our future. It makes sense on many levels for us to define ourselves in terms of our love for biodiversity and nature.  One of the most surefire ways we can protect the natural world and ourselves is to enshrine environmental rights into the Constitution.

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