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No matter U.S. backtrack, Canada committed to leading on climate change: McKenna

By Marco Vigliotti      

The Trudeau government remains committed to preparing Canada to 'take advantage' of a $23-trillion clean growth opportunity, says Environment Minister Catherine McKenna.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna says the Liberal government won't reconsider its participation in the Paris climate pact because the U.S. has pulled out, saying momentum on climate action is 'unstoppable.' The Hill Times photograph by Sam Garcia
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The Trudeau government remains steadfast in its commitment to clean energy, regardless of the actions of its southern neighbour, according to Environment Minister Catherine McKenna.

In the wake of U.S. President Donald Trump pulling his country out of the Paris climate accord, Ms. McKenna (Ottawa Centre, Ont.) is unflinching. Canada, she said, won’t back down in its efforts to combat the ever-present challenge of climate change, nor will it miss out on the lucrative opportunities offered by a global economy transitioning to a clean-growth model.

Climate change, she argued, is bigger than one nation, even if that happens to be a powerhouse located next door.

In an email interview this week, Ms. McKenna dismissed criticism that Ottawa isn’t in a position to reach its emission reduction goals, promising that the Liberal government has a plan in place to do so.

This Q&A has been edited for style and length.

Will you change Canada’s planned carbon pricing scheme in response to the Trump administration in the United States, which has vowed not to pursue emissions reduction policies promised by the Obama administration? What’s your response to concerns that Canadian businesses cannot compete with their counterparts in the United States under the pricing schedule proposed by Ottawa? 

“Making polluters pay is an important part of any serious climate plan. It reduces pollution and gives the incentive to companies to innovate and create cleaner solutions. It also provides certainty to businesses that we are moving to a clean growth economy.

“Ninety-seven per cent of Canadians live in provinces that already have a price on carbon pollution or are working towards one. Every province, except one, has indicated they will have a price on carbon pollution to reduce emissions while growing their economy.

“All revenue from pricing carbon pollution goes back to the provinces. It could be used to cut taxes, to invest in clean innovation and infrastructure, or given straight back to Canadian families.

“Carbon pollution pricing is an efficient means–least cost, most flexible–to reduce emissions and transition the economy.

“Taking action on climate change makes Canada more competitive, not less. Having a carbon price in all jurisdictions provides certainty and helps level the playing field across Canada.

“Global momentum is driving a move towards cleaner economic growth. The world is moving to price carbon pollution. Countries from China to the European Union to Chile to Singapore, and states including California–the sixth largest economy in the world–and states on the eastern seaboard of the United States are all pricing carbon pollution. Canadian businesses are also already taking advantage of this opportunity.

“As committed to under the [Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change], we will work with provinces and territories to assess approaches and best practices to address competitiveness.”

What’s the government’s response to President Trump pulling the United States out of the Paris climate agreement?

“Canada remains steadfast in its commitment to the Paris agreement. Canadians see the very real impacts of climate change in our country—floods, droughts, forest fires, and a melting Arctic—and understand the need to take action to ensure a sustainable planet for future generations.

“We will also continue to take advantage of the $23-trillion clean growth opportunity. No one government can stop this momentum. The Paris Agreement, supported now by all but three countries in the world, was a signal to the market.

“Not only are countries around the world acting on climate change, so are businesses. Businesses in Canada, the United States, and around the world are investing in clean innovation, from renewable energy to zero-emission vehicles to energy-saving technologies. They understand that tackling climate change is not only the right thing to do, it is good for business. Provinces, states, cities, and communities are also acting to protect our planet. With or without the United States, the momentum around the Paris agreement and climate action is unstoppable.”

How are you working to lobby the Trump administration to refocus funds and offer renewed support to bi-national initiatives regarding the Great Lakes? 

“Canada remains committed to the implementation of the Canada–U.S. Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and to the delivery on its Great Lakes commitments through national programs and through a suite of targeted Great Lakes specific programs.

“Working alongside U.S. and domestic partners, the government of Canada will continue to promote strong action by all levels of government, industry, nongovernmental organizations, and others on both sides of the border to protect the shared waters of our Great Lakes.”

How will the agreement between the B.C. NDP and B.C. Greens to cooperate in the provincial legislature impact the future of the Trans Mountain pipeline and Site C project, both approved by Ottawa, considering the two provincial parties oppose both?

“We made a promise to work constructively with provincial and territorial governments on the issues that matter to Canadians. That is what we have been doing since we took office and that is what we will continue to do. As the prime minister has said the past, Canada has strong institutions at the federal and provincial level that are able to work through complex situations.”

The federal government has promised to phase out coal by 2030, but three of the four provinces that still rely on coal-powered electricity generation have not made such a pledge. Although you’ve said that carbon capture would be a suitable alternative, reporting by The New York Times last year indicated that the experience in Saskatchewan shows this technology is costly and arguably inefficient. So, how will Ottawa ensure provinces phase out coal?

“In December 2016, Environment Canada published a notice of intent with a proposed approach to accelerate the phase-out of traditional coal-fired electricity generation by 2030 by amending federal greenhouse gas (GHG) regulations for coal-fired electricity generation. Proposed amendments would require traditional coal-fired units to meet an emissions limit of 420 tonnes per gigawatt-hour by no later than Dec. 31, 2029.

“Accelerating the phase-out of traditional coal-fired electricity and using more renewable energy to generate electricity will help meet our emission reduction targets under the Paris agreement, and will mean cleaner air and healthier lives for Canadians.

“The government of Canada is committed to working closely with provinces and territories to identify local solutions. Equivalency agreements may be established under which the federal regulation would stand down and the provincial regimes would apply. This gives provinces flexibility to propose their own plans to phase out coal power and use a mix of electricity generation tailored to their specific electricity system, while still achieving the same emission outcomes as the federal regulations.

“In addition as part of budget 2017, the government plans to invest $21.9-billion in green infrastructure, including initiatives that will support the implementation of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. This will include projects that will help build cleaner, better-connected electricity systems.”

The government has pledged to reduce total emissions by 80 per cent from 2005 levels by 2050. What do you say to those who believe that it’s virtually impossible for Canada to meet this goal? 

“Our plan to meet that target is laid out in the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, which includes carbon pricing, significant investments in infrastructure, the Low Carbon Economy Fund, and clean technology.

“Longer-term measures and strategies are considered in Canada’s Mid-Century Long-Term Low-Greenhouse Gas Development Strategy. The intent of the strategy is to start a conversation on the ways we can reduce emissions for a cleaner, more sustainable future by 2050.

“The strategy describes various pathways for innovative and creative solutions consistent with our international goal of holding the global average ‎temperature rise to well below two degrees, while pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees, as called for in the Paris agreement. This includes an emissions-abatement pathway consistent with net emissions falling by at least 80 per cent in 2050, from 2005 levels.”

It was recently reported that the federal government wants to delay the implementation of new rules to control methane outflows from the oil and gas industry from 2018 to 2020. Why is the government opting to delay implementation? 

“Canada will meet its commitment of reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40-45 per cent below 2012 levels by 2025. Canada’s proposed methane regulations, which will be finalized in 2018, would begin coming into force in 2020 and be fully phased in by 2023, meeting our methane target two years early.

“This approach recognizes current efforts by some provinces to develop emission reduction programs which will encourage earlier action to reduce methane emissions. It will also provide industry with cost recovery opportunities, in advance of regulatory compliance.”

The federal government has earmarked funds in the latest budget towards its goal of ensuring 90 per cent of electricity generation comes from non-emitting sources by 2030. Experts, though, warn that this ambitious goal is highly unlikely without drastic changes to the country’s varied electricity generation picture. Is the 2030 timeline feasible?

“Canada already has a relatively clean electricity grid with over 80 per cent of its power coming from sources that don’t emit GHGs. Working with provinces to phase out coal-fired electricity and accelerating investments in clean energy will put Canada on a path to move from 80 per cent towards 90 per cent non-emitting sources by 2030.

“Provinces are already taking action. Nova Scotia has already taken important steps to reduce emissions from electricity, including caps on GHG emissions and significant investments in renewable energy. Saskatchewan is a world leader in carbon capture and storage technology, having launched the world’s first post-combustion coal-fired carbon capture and storage project in fall 2014. Alberta, which relies on coal more than any province in Canada, has already committed to phasing out coal-fired power plants by 2030.”


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