Bearded man, with a mic in his hand, speaking at a public event. The words Mary Ward Centre are behind him.

Canada’s Environment Minister says the federal government will take a ‘long, hard look’ at upping its climate target following IPCC report

By Natasha Bulowski, Canada’s National Observer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

As the world stares down an ongoing and rapidly worsening climate crisis, wealthy countries like Canada must hit the “fast-forward button” and push up their net-zero emissions deadlines to 2040, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres said Monday.

Guterres’ remarks accompanied the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — the last of this decade — which shows the goal of keeping global warming under 1.5 C “is achievable,” he said. “But it will take a quantum leap in climate action.”

This “acceleration agenda” includes phasing out coal, ceasing all licensing or funding of new oil and gas projects, stopping any expansion of existing oil and gas reserves, shifting subsidies from fossil fuels to a just energy transition and establishing a global phasedown of existing oil and gas production in line with the global 2050 net-zero target, said Guterres.

Canada will take a “long, hard look” at the idea of accelerating its emission-reduction targets, federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault told reporters on Monday. “It’s one thing to simply say, ‘Well, you know, we want to reach this goal,’ but we have to give ourselves the means to get there.”

The federal government’s climate plan commits to reducing planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions 40 to 45 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. It includes the Canada Energy Regulator’s projection that crude oil production will increase 19 per cent from 2019 to 2032.

An increase in fossil fuel production is inconsistent with the IPCC’s finding that global greenhouse gas emissions must peak before 2025 — at the latest — if the world is to limit warming to 1.5 C, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May told Canada’s National Observer in an interview.

“If we take our eyes off the ball in the next 48 months, nothing else really matters because this window will have closed on 1.5 C and 2 C before 2025 without massive action faster,” said May. “Are we paying attention to the science? Or are we prepared to continue through fakery to put our children’s future at risk?”

In the 2021 election, the Green Party ran on an emission-reduction goal of 60 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 — which it says is Canada’s fair share of global emissions — and the NDP campaigned on a 50 per cent reduction.

“Climate action cannot be stalled. In fact, we need to increase our ambition,” Guilbeault said in a news release, pointing to the mounting costs to human health and the economy.

Canada’s emissions reduction plan also invests in jobs, affordability and economic growth, his statement reads, and targeted investments in clean technology sectors, like the electric vehicle supply chain, will grow the economy and jobs “while keeping our air clean.”

In an emailed statement to Canada’s National Observer, NDP MP Laurel Collins pointed to the communities devastated by floods, hurricanes and forest fires, and said the final IPCC report is “yet another dire warning that the world is not doing enough.”

Other countries are implementing solutions to fight the climate crisis, said Collins. “U.S. President Biden tabled a budget that eliminates billions of dollars in fossil fuels subsidies and redirects that money into the low-carbon economy.”

In contrast, she said, the Liberals “don’t have the courage to stand up to wealthy oil and gas CEOs.” Instead, they hand the industry billions of dollars for “making the needed investments in clean technology.”

“And in the same vein, (Conservative Leader) Pierre Poilievre wants to keep funding these rich CEOs while tearing down what limited climate policies we have in place,” she said.

The House of Commons is a frustrating place to be when it comes to the climate discussion because the Liberals can easily bat off the few climate questions tossed their way by citing a handful of accomplishments or pointing the finger at Poilievre and the Conservatives, said May.

“That’s not good enough,” she said. “They have to not be pointing across the aisles at each other; they have to point at the science.”

While individual federal NDP MPs are doing good work on the file, May says the party as a whole is not committed to climate action.

“How do they live with themselves with a confidence-and-supply agreement that didn’t demand a single new [climate] program or didn’t demand the Liberals cancel the Trans Mountain pipeline?” said May. “For God’s sake, it’s costing $30.9 billion now.

“I’ve tried over the years to try to get (NDP Leader) Jagmeet Singh to say he’d cancel the Trans Mountain pipeline. He’ll never say it, he doesn’t want to upset (Alberta NDP Leader) Rachel Notley.”

With Budget 2023 right around the corner, the federal government has to “take a moment of sober reflection” and a hard look at projects like Bay du Nord and Trans Mountain that fly in the face of the science, said May.

This report “is literally the last chance to look at the science before the window closes” on our ability to avoid “a cataclysmic future” and collapse of human civilization, she said.

Conservative environment critic Gérard Deltell declined a request for comment. The Bloc Québécois did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.

Top image credit: Steven Guilbeault speaking at the Mary Ward Centre, in England, prior to his election to parliament in 2019 – Photo by michael_swan via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)

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