Canada is spending billions and pushing policy to slash emissions — but is it enough?

Click to play video: 'Trudeau outlines new climate plan, including cuts to oil and gas emissions'
Trudeau outlines new climate plan, including cuts to oil and gas emissions
WATCH: Trudeau outlines new climate plan, including cuts to oil and gas emissions – Mar 29, 2022

Canada is willing to spend more than $9 billion, build tens of thousands of electric vehicle chargers across the country, and power every sector with greener technology to reduce emissions by 40 per cent by 2030.

But while the plan might get us there, critics suggest it lets some sectors off the hook — like oil and gas.

The government tabled its emissions reductions plan in the House of Commons Tuesday morning, laying out its pathway towards meeting its emissions reduction target of 40 to 45 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, and towards achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

“Two truths can coexist at the same time,” said Caroline Brouillette, national policy manager at Climate Action Network Canada.

Story continues below advertisement

“This can be — at the same time — the most transparent and detailed climate plan that Canada has ever seen, and still be insufficient in the face of Canada’s responsibility and capacity to contribute to the global effort to limit warming to 1.5 degrees.”

Here’s what the plan is promising.

What does the emissions plan do?

It has nine main priorities, focused primarily on investing in cleaner technologies for both individuals and industries, as well as pushing for new research, innovation and ideas to lower Canada’s carbon footprint.

Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault says these pillars, when taken together, will empower Canada to reach its climate goals.

It backs up these priorities with $9.1 billion in new funding, $2.2 billion of which is earmarked for expanding the Low Carbon Economy Fund — a reserve that supports and funds environmentally-friendly initiatives from communities, colleges and Indigenous organizations, to name a few.

Story continues below advertisement

But boosting the coffers of the LCEF is just one of the pillars of the plan. The government is also focusing on buildings, with funds allocated to retrofit old buildings and construct new ones that meet zero-carbon standards.

Click to play video: 'Feds working with oil and gas sector on emissions cap: Wilkinson'
Feds working with oil and gas sector on emissions cap: Wilkinson

To accompany that new, greener home, the government is also encouraging Canadians to own an electric vehicle. They plan to invest $400 million in charging spaces for zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs), and to drop $1.7 billion into a program that tries to make it more affordable — and therefore more appealing — to buy a ZEV.

Breaking news from Canada and around the world sent to your email, as it happens.

Canada’s top emitter, however, isn’t transportation. It’s the oil and gas industry, which the government’s plan says will be expected to lower its emissions to 31 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. When pressed on why this is lower than overall emissions reduction goal, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that while the targets have to be “ambitious, they still need to be “realizable.”

Story continues below advertisement

Another pillar of the plan is a pledge to increase Canada’s reliance on renewable electricity. The government is promising to “electrify” more activities, from cars to heating to various industrial processes.

The plan also allocates $850 million to clean electricity programs, boosting the supply of electricity and — eventually — ensuring all electricity generation has net-zero emissions.

Trudeau’s team also says they’ll allocate $780 million towards maintaining nature’s natural carbon capture zones — like wetlands, peatlands and grasslands, which can sequester carbon and mitigate the impact of climate change.

Using tax credits, investments and carbon capture technology, the government says they’ll ensure that various industries develop and adopt clean technology. Asking “all sectors” to be “ambitious” about reducing their emissions is integral to the plan, Trudeau said, and this pillar claims to do just that.

The government says it will also help farmers adopt greener practices with a $470-million investment, as well as encourage them to buy cleaner tools with another $330 million in funds.

Finally, it plans to continue its push for carbon pricing — and take steps to guarantee the tax remains low-risk, through efforts such as making more deals with low-carbon investors to de-risk the price on carbon.

Story continues below advertisement

Will the plan work?

Reaction to the government’s plan to lower emissions has been mixed, but overall, experts are eyeing it with cautious optimism.

“This plan is the most detailed and transparent climate plan that Canada has ever seen,” said Brouillette.

But, she warned, “some players” are “still staying on the bench” — notably, oil and gas, which has a lower emissions reduction target than the country as a whole.

Trudeau defended this goal, stating that Canada “lost 10 years” on the pathway to the 2030 goals because “for 10 years under the Harper Conservatives, nothing got done on fighting climate change.” However, Canada hasn’t hit any of its climate targets since 1992 — including while Trudeau has been prime minister.

Canada’s petroleum producers, meanwhile, say they are “global leaders in emissions-reducing technologies,” including “the advancement of carbon capture.”

Story continues below advertisement

“Canada’s energy sector should be a key contributor to reducing global emissions while meeting the growing demand for affordable, reliable and trusted natural gas and oil,” said Terry Abel, executive vice-president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

Click to play video: 'New report outlines the swift and severe impact of climate change'
New report outlines the swift and severe impact of climate change

It isn’t just the lower target for oil and gas that had some critics balking. There was also no emissions cap laid out for the oil and gas sector, despite past promises.

“I want to see a hard cap on emissions from oil and gas being implemented in Canada,” said Mark Jaccard, a professor of sustainable energy at Simon Fraser University.

“The elected government promised that cap — and in this document that’s come out, they again promised that cap.”

Jaccard said he’s not surprised the cap wasn’t announced in the emissions reduction plan, as it can be a tough thing to legislate. But if the government doesn’t declare the cap in the next six months to a year, he said someone will need to “put their feet to the fire.”

Story continues below advertisement

“We need to keep watching them. We need to be vigilant,” Jaccard said.

Overall, though, Jaccard said he believes the plan has the “elements” that it needs to be successful, like the price on carbon, regulations for electricity plants and a push for more electric vehicles.

“Canada has actually had many plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And we’ve had a terrible record at not meeting the targets that those plans promised to meet,” he said.

“We need to see policies in there that will for sure reduce emissions…this plan has those elements in there.”

Brouillette was less optimistic about the plan’s ability to deliver.

“(We) would have liked to see a table laying out who is responsible for delivering which measure on what timeline with what budgetary allocation — and what are the resulting emissions reductions,” she said.

“The reason Canada has never reached its own targets is not because we were setting objectives that were too high. It’s rather because we didn’t have a proper governance structure that held government accountable to its commitments.”

But the government is standing firm behind its pledge to deliver on the plan’s promises.

Story continues below advertisement

“We’ve committed to cutting Canada’s emissions by 40 to 45 per cent by 2030,” Guilbeault said on Tuesday.

“We’ve laid out a plan to get there, that builds on the hard work that’s already been done — and sets a course for the better to come.”

Sponsored content