Canada, a country with a transition deficit


Nearly four years after coming to power, driven by ambitious environmental promises, the Trudeau government is still struggling to launch a real energy transition, despite significant progress in the fight against climate change. And today he faces a conservative sling that risks confining the country to inaction.

The report tabled Monday by Environment Canada at the United Nations was not the subject of any press release. Minister Catherine McKenna, who is usually very active on social media, did not publish anything about it during the day.

The latest available picture of Canada's greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, published on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, is revealing: not only are GHGs not shrinking , but they swelled by 8 million tonnes between 2016 and 2017, reaching 716 million tonnes (Mt).

In addition, the country's oil and gas industry generated 195 Mt of GHGs in 2017, almost half of which comes from the oil sands sector alone, and over 50 Mt from gas, which is increasingly dependent on oil sands. hydraulic fracturing, reads in the 600 pages of climate reports. The National Energy Board anticipates growth on both fronts in the near future, including a potential increase in oil production to six million barrels per day by 2040. The country would then exploit more than two billion barrels per year.

If the parties were sincere when they said that the climate issue is the most crucial issue of our generation, they would propose a national coalition to say, "We will no longer make climate change a partisan issue. . "

However, in the short term, the Canadian political context does not announce anything that could help turn the tide, believes Normand Mousseau, Academic Director of the Trottier Energy Institute, Polytechnique Montreal. On the contrary. The latter fears the future since the Liberals are now on par with the conservatives of Andrew Scheer, "a dinosaur who simply denies the need to act" to reduce GHGs. "And what we're seeing right now is a real mess, after the Alberta election and the political shift in Ontario. Even if the Liberals are re-elected, there will be major obstacles to any climate action. "

On the spot

Indeed, far from curbing the expansionist aims of the industry, Justin Trudeau's government has openly supported three pipeline projects since October 2015. Keystone XL is still blocked, but south of the border. Enbridge's "Line 3" is expected to be commissioned in 2020, according to the company. And Ottawa has promised this week a decision by mid-June for the expansion of Trans Mountain, a project owned by Canadians.

Is this expansion of the fossil fuel sector consistent with the climate emergency? "Yes," says Caroline Thériault, assistant director of communications at Catherine McKenna's office. "We are in transition to a low-carbon economy. We must ensure that Canadians have access to practical, effective and affordable alternatives and choices to make this transition, such as more electric charging stations, public transit, more energy-efficient buildings, to protect the environment while growing the economy ", argues in a written response to Duty.

The minister says she is confident she will reach the 2030 target, a 30% reduction in GHGs from 2005. "With the measures (…) put in place over the past four years, we have already done more than two thirds of the way. The most important actions of our government in the fight against climate change are beginning to take effect. "

For three years now, emissions projections for 2030 indicate that Canada is moving slightly further away from its target each year. Ottawa is currently forecast to reach 592 Mt, exceeding its target of 513 Mt. The gap is equivalent to the GHGs emitted by the oil sands sector in 2017.

Absence of progress

Holder of the Chair of Energy Management at HEC Montréal, Pierre-Olivier Pineau does not share the optimism of Minister McKenna. "In fact, no, Canada has not really made progress in an energy transition or a more sustainable society. GHG emissions are stable, but do not decline. The consumption of fossil fuels does not decrease. "

At the same time, Canadians continue to "favor an unsustainable way of life", notably because of urban sprawl, the prevalence of "larger" homes, and the use of "over-sized vehicles for their needs". and choosing a diet that is "too high in animal protein". "Neither the typical lifestyle, nor the majority of companies, nor governments are resolutely moving towards more sustainable modes of operation," says Pineau.

What's more, the government has failed to deliver on its election pledge to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, even "add to it" with the purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline and "special assistance". $ 1.6 billion to the fossil sector last December. "It is irresponsible to want, on the one hand, to start an energy transition and to subsidize, on the other hand, an industry that we want, eventually, to see the end of its activities because we will no longer need to hydrocarbons, "he says.

Better than conservatives

A point of view shared by the David Suzuki Foundation's Director General for Quebec, Karel Mayrand. "But I'm among those who see the glass half full," he adds. In one term, this government has done more than all previous governments combined. We have a climate plan, even if it has its faults, announced the end of coal-fired power plants and put in place the carbon tax. A first. Investments in public transit have helped to unblock several projects, including the extension of the blue line of the Montreal metro, the REM and the structuring project of Quebec. "

Mr. Mayrand also recalls that the Liberals have brought Canada back into the fold of countries taking part in global climate negotiations, a major change of course after the years of "blockage" orchestrated by the Harper Conservatives.

Long road

The road to go remains important, according to Pierre-Olivier Pineau, who believes that the government should prioritize the development of "transport infrastructure, to allow increased mobility happens to the maximum of individual vehicles." According to him, the rail sector must also "find a priority place in the interurban transport of people and goods. It is a mode of transport that uses 90% less energy than road transport and that electrifies much more easily.

In the current political context, Karel Mayrand wishes that the federal elected officials go beyond the sacrosanct party line to tackle the worst environmental crisis in history. "If these parties were sincere when they said that the climate issue is the most crucial issue of our generation, they would propose a national coalition to say," We will no longer make climate change a partisan issue. We will protect our children. That's not what happens. In the meantime, the Conservative Party is ignoring this issue and may even be winning. "

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