OTTAWA — Some environment leaders are applauding Tuesday's pledge by Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau to accelerate Canada's plans to cut greenhouse-gas emissions but many in the youth climate-strike movement say his words mean nothing as long as he intends to pump more oil out of Alberta.
The Liberals are the last major party to unveil a climate platform for this election, having relied until now on their climate policies of the last four years. The Liberals chose this week to start upping their climate game because of the United Nations climate summit in New York Monday, and planned climate strikes in Canada this Friday.
Trudeau's first move was to set new climate targets, promising that under his leadership, by 2050 Canada will absorb greenhouse gases equal to those it produces. On the route to that, he said he will legislate five-year targets, and introduce policies to exceed Canada's current target of cutting emissions to 70 per cent of what they were in 2005 by 2030.
"Canadians need a government that will wake up every morning focused on fighting climate change and committed to a better economic future for everyone," he said.
The 2015 Paris climate-change agreement, settled at a conference just after the Liberals took office in Canada, set emissions targets aiming to keep the planet from warming more than 2 C by the end of this century, with a goal to stay as close to 1.5 C as possible. Last fall, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that to keep to 1.5, the entire world needs to be carbon-neutral by 2050. Aiming for 2 C would require carbon neutrality by 2070.
Trudeau is the second leader of a federal party to set net-zero by 2050 as a specific goal, joining Green Leader Elizabeth May. The NDP thus far is promising to cut emissions in line with whatever scientists say is necessary, but without a specific target. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says his party is the "best chance" for Canada to meet its existing 2030 commitments.
To get to the Greens' climate goals, May intends to end all fossil-fuel-based electricity generation and ban the sales of non-electric vehicles by 2030. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is talking about making public transit free and making electricity production carbon-neutral by 2030. Scheer's climate platform includes tax credits and incentives to encourage clean-tech innovation, as well as a plan to use Canadian fossil fuels to replace oil and gas overseas that he says comes from less environmentally friendly sources.
Trudeau's plan so far doesn't come with many specifics for how he intends to meet the goals. He unveiled a tax cut for companies that produce net-zero technologies Tuesday, with a promise of more new policies to come as this week progresses.
Though he was criticized for releasing few details of how Canada would meet those targets, several climate experts said to be ambitious Canada has to know first where it's going.
"'Net zero' puts us on a clear trajectory," said Catherine Abreu, executive director of the Climate Action Network Canada.
Stewart Elgie, a professor of law and economics at the University of Ottawa's Institute of the Environment, said with the new targets, "the Liberals now have the clearest, most ambitious climate plan of the major parties."
Trudeau's victory in 2015 came in part because of support from young people and environmentalists who voted for the Liberals and their promise to introduce a strong climate plan and a national price on carbon. Trudeau is basing much of his re-election hope on a bet that those same people will come out for him again.
The question, Trudeau said Tuesday, is whether Canadians want to keep moving forward on climate action or want to tear up the progress and turn to the Conservatives as the alternative.
"Our plan isn't perfect but we're making real progress," he said.
Scheer, in turn, accused Trudeau of delivering a "desperate" climate plan that will cost Canadians "billions" in carbon taxes and higher fuel prices that will destroy provincial economies.
Amara Possian, a campaign manager with a climate-action group known as 350 Canada, said Trudeau's announcement Tuesday "is moving the needle on what counts as real climate action."
But trust that the Liberals will follow through is hard to find, she added.
"While we welcome the Liberals ramping up their climate ambition, we haven't forgotten that this party promised us the world on climate change in 2015, then bowed down to big oil once in power," she said.
The organization has endorsed almost 30 candidates in this election but none of them are Liberals.
But GreenPAC, a non-partisan group trying to elect environmental leaders, endorsed 25 candidates, including seven Liberals, seven New Democrats, six Greens, four Conservatives and one Independent.
Trudeau's decision in 2016 to approve an expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline between Alberta and B.C., and his subsequent purchase of the existing pipeline in a bid to get the expansion built, are harming his credibility.
Elgie said not expanding the pipeline is not going to solve Canada's emissions crisis because with or without it, oil and gas are still going to be produced and used around the world for 20 to 30 more years. He said good climate plans find ways to curb demand for fossil fuels by ramping up the production of cleaner alternatives.
It's only when buildings and cars are powered and heated without fossil fuels that the planet will truly be solving the emissions crisis, said Elgie.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 24, 2019.