Alberta, Ontario slammed for backsliding on climate policy progress in new report

Alberta, Ontario slammed for backsliding on climate policy progress in new report

CALGARY—As Canada heads into another hot, dry summer of wildfires and heat waves, a new report says positive progress on reducing emissions is being outweighed by backsliding in some provinces, notably Alberta and Ontario.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released a report Wednesday evening that calls upon Canada to take a leadership role in the global fight against climate change, highlighting backtracking by the federal government and some provincial governments as well as an increasingly polarized debate about climate policies like carbon pricing.

The report identified two growing threats to Canadian efforts to fight climate change: a narrowing public debate about carbon pricing, and an unwillingness by governments to introduce supply-side energy policies.

“Carbon pricing is not a bad policy, but it can’t really be the only policy,” said Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood, a senior researcher at CCPA and the author of Heating Up, Backing Down: Evaluating recent climate policy progress in Canada.

The report assessed climate change policies across Canada over two years with respect to long-term greenhouse gas emission reductions. Mertins-Kirkwood said that while some provinces, notably Nova Scotia, have made progress, others have either plateaued or are moving backward.

Alberta and Ontario in particular are seeing significant steps backward in their climate change policies after recent changes in government, he said. Alberta, which the report states is the source of 38 per cent of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, is seeing higher emissions, not lower. And Hadrian-Kirkwood said previous progress in Ontario will likely be undone by the new provincial government’s anti-carbon tax stance.

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Until recently, both provinces were making “significant progress,” he said, adding that Ontario has historically been “one of Canada’s best performers on climate policy.”

The report has harsh words for Alberta.

“Overall, the province of Alberta is failing to reckon with the inevitable decline of the fossil fuel sector and is instead doubling down on an industry that is destined to shrink and collapse in the coming decades,” the report states. “Short-term political opportunism is putting the province’s long-term economic and environmental sustainability at serious risk.”

However, it’s not just the provinces that are holding Canada back, said Mertins-Kirkwood. The report points out hypocrisy on behalf of the federal government, highlighting a combination of public rhetoric on climate change and support of large oil and gas projects like the Trans Mountain Pipeline.

While the current federal government under Justin Trudeau has been outspoken on climate change, Mertins-Kirkwood called its actions “more of a mixed bag.”

As one of the biggest global producers and consumers of oil and gas, the report states Canada is still projected to fall short of its 2020 and 2030 targets, even accounting for current proposed actions.

Canada is seeing an increasing polarization in public debate over carbon pricing, said Mertins-Kirkwood, where several provincial governments have opposed carbon pricing as a political move.

“The political emphasis on carbon pricing is problematic, because it’s only one small piece of the picture,” he said.

Mertins-Kirkwood said that while carbon pricing is an efficient (read: cost-effective) way to reduce emissions, it’s not as effective as supply-side policies — or, ideally, a combination of the two.

“If we only focus on consumers, it kind of puts all the burden on … households and businesses,” he said. “It ignores the other half of the equation, which is that someone is producing these fossil fuels.”

Such policies tend to get more public support than policies that target only the consumer, he said. They also encourage investment and innovation in energy alternatives.

The report recommends Canada end all fossil fuel subsidies, and also suggests raising taxes on resource extraction, raising environmental standards and putting a moratorium on all new projects. It also calls for more support of alternative energy projects and research.

“Canada has maybe the greatest capacity in the world to make these changes. We are a very rich country with a lot of smart people who are dedicated to making a … more sustainable future,” said Mertins-Kirkwood. “If we can’t do it as Canadians, then who can?”

Rosa Saba is a reporter/photographer with Star Calgary. Follow her on Twitter: @rosajsaba

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