By Cam Fenton, Canada Team Lead for 350.org
Last week, President Joe Biden signed sweeping executive orders on climate change. As expected, the orders reversed a wide range of Trump-era environmental rollbacks, but they didn’t stop there. In both symbol and substance, Biden’s early climate actions have positioned him to potentially emerge as one of the world’s most ambitious political leaders when it comes to climate change. And, it put Canada in a difficult situation, showing just how wide the gap is between what we need to do and what Justin Trudeau is actually doing.
The good news is that it’s not that hard for Canada to catch up, and most of the steps Justin Trudeau could take have already been proposed, some by Trudeau himself. Here are three ways to make it happen.
1. Pass the Just Transition Act
Back in 2019, Justin Trudeau pledged that Canada would be one of the first countries in the world to pass a Just Transition Act that ensures “as we move Canada forward, we … make sure no one gets left behind”. A few months later, Environment Minister Jonthan Wilkinson said that the bill would be one of his first priorities in office. But, more than a year later, we’ve barely heard a peep about it. Meanwhile, thousands of fossil fuel workers have lost their jobs, hundreds because of the all-too-predictable cancellation of the Keystone pipeline. The industry has been shedding jobs for years now, as oil companies automate roles out of existence and lay off workers to protect their bottom line. Rather than committing to ensure all of these workers are supported as the world accelerates its shift off of fossil fuels, Trudeau’s government seems to be doubling down on a fading industry.
In the US, it’s a different story. Biden has made it clear that he sees the writing on the wall and is tackling climate change not just as an environmental issue, but as a massive job creation programme. And, unlike Trudeau, he’s already moving on his jobs promise in the form of a Civilian Climate Corps, a revamped New Deal Era project to put thousands of people to work on conservation and climate change projects.
Canada has massive potential for good, green jobs. But, we need government action to help get us there. Passing the Just Transition Act will not just help us catch up to Biden’s ambition, but could very well exceed it. More than that, Justin Trudeau could likely overcome many of the objections that his climate policies have faced on both the left and the right by pushing forward with legislation that both acknowledges the end of fossil fuels and delivers good jobs for working people.
2. Put a moratorium on new fossil fuel permits and financing
The rule of holes is simple, when you’re in one, stop digging. Joe Biden recognized this last week when he announced a pause on new oil and gas leasing on federal lands and revealed plans to end government financing of fossil fuels at home and abroad. This is something Justin Trudeau should have done back in 2015, and now it’s even more important. As far as we can tell, even Trudeau doesn’t know how to square his climate plan and his support for the continued expansion of fossil fuels.
Late last year, the Canadian Energy Regulator released a report showing that Trudeau’s promise to meet net-zero emissions by 2050 renders most, if not all, of the currently proposed tar sands expansion pipelines unnecessary. The report, which assumes weaker climate action than Trudeau has promised, expects that tar sands production will peak around 2035 and steadily decline from there on. That means there is no need for further increase pipeline capacity, and that the fossil fuel expansion that Trudeau’s government is approving is in direct opposition to their climate promises.
The simple solution to all of this is to do exactly what Biden did. Put a moratorium on new permits for fossil fuel development everywhere the federal government can and suspend all government financing for fossil fuels. That includes canceling the Trans Mountain expansion and recouping as much of the project’s $12.6+ billion construction cost as possible. Then, while things are paused, Canada could do a comprehensive assessment, using the best available science, and make a plan for a managed decline of the fossil fuel sector. This approach, according to a recent report from economist Jim Stanford could limit involuntary job losses to zero and avoid the “more painful and chaotic changes” that we’ll see without a transition plan.
3. Get more ambitious
It’s common to hear Justin Trudeau and his ministers talk about how Canada needs to “do more” on climate change. Well, now is the time to do just that.
With Bill C-12, Trudeau’s climate change accountability law, in the House of Commons and expected to head to committee in the coming weeks, we have a golden opportunity to increase Canada’s climate ambition. First, we need to increase the pace and scale of our climate action, and that means setting more urgent targets with deeper emissions cuts. Right now, Canada has pledged to cut emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. That number needs to go way up, and we need to be setting targets for at least 2025, if not sooner to put us on the right track.
And, we need to make sure that Canada’s climate plan isn’t undermined by the same fossil fuel CEOs that have stymied climate action for decades. It’s telling that the Biden administration has named a number of notable climate hawks, and few friends of Big Oil, in his climate administration. Canada should take note, and ban fossil fuel CEO’s from serving on government climate advisory bodies.
These three steps are just the tip of iceberg, but represent some of the things that Trudeau can do right now to catch Canada up as the United States starts to sprint ahead on climate. On top of this, Biden’s moves on environmental justice, and the signals coming out about an accelerated shift away from internal combustion engines in the United States are also gauntlets thrown down to Canadian leaders. I simply hope we choose to rise to this challenge, and not revert to the base instincts we’re seeing on display in Alberta, and that defined the Harper years, where our politicians bury their heads in sands and try to ignore the world leaving us behind.