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Canada’s new $9.1B climate strategy presents political challenges and opportunities.

Canada’s new $9.1B climate strategy presents political challenges and opportunities.

Burnt trees and ash litter the ground under an orange smoke-filled sky.

With the release of Ottawa’s new “2030 Emissions Reduction Plan” this week, Canada has entered a new phase of climate policy. The document, which is 270 pages long, outlines the path that the federal government will follow to meet climate goals. Canada’s Paris Agreement targetTo reduce emissions by 40 to 45 percent below 2005 levels by 2030

The Canadian Net Zero Emissions Accountability Act (Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act) mandates that governments present how they plan to meet emissions targets and provide regular reports on their progress. The plan seeks to launch Canada’s economic transformation en route to net zero in 2050 through a combination of $9.1 billion in public spending and regulatory measures.

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Canada has failed to meet its emissions targets for three decades. So, it’s high time the country started doing what it takes to meet our target. There will be both positive and negative political consequences in this new era for climate policy.

What’s different this time?

This is Canada’s 10th climate plan since 1990, and only the second to offer a plausible strategy to meet a national target. The first eight plans varied greatly in detail — it’s hard to say whether some even qualify as plans — but all either exaggerated How effective would popular policies like subsidies be?Fudged expected Reliance on international creditOr A gap was left for future plans and didn’t even pretend the target would be met.

The federal government released December 2020 a Climate plan strengthened. It offered a credible package of policies, centred around a steadily increasing carbon price, to meet a 30 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, Canada’s initial Paris Agreement target.

Burnt trees and ash litter the ground under an orange smoke-filled sky.
At a property that was destroyed by wildfires near Kamloops (B.C.), thick smoke fills the air. August 2021. Climate change is increasing the likelihood of wildfires being fueled by hot, dry weather. Climate change has made extreme fire weather more common.

The 2021 Constitution made it a law to keep this precedent. Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability ActThis requires the government to update its targets every five years with regular updates. It also requires regular progress and implementation reports.

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The new plan focuses on Canada’s updated 2030 target, setting out specific measures, backed by an implementation schedule and a summary of economic modelling underpinning emissions projections. Headlines highlighted the additional $9.1billion Ottawa will spend on greenhouse gas reductions, including consumer purchases of electric cars, homeowner investments into energy-efficient upgrades such as heat pumps, and expanding Ottawa’s network of vehicle charging station networks.

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These expenditures are helpful and undoubtedly popular, but the heavy lifting in reducing Canada’s emissions will be done by the legally binding measures in the Emissions Reduction Plan: an increasing carbon price, mandates for sale of zero-emission vehicles, a clean electricity standard, methane regulations and a politically contentious cap on emissions from the oil and gas sector.

The plan is only the beginning. All of these promises must be kept. Future budgets must deliver on spending commitments. Regulatory measures must also be developed and enacted.

A new baseline for partisan debate

The good news is that the mandate to produce a credible plan to meet Canada’s target has the potential to set a new baseline for partisan debate. Opposition parties must demand hard questions of government about policies and projections for emissions.

They might begin by asking about the apparent gap in the modelling of a reduction of 36% and the claim of hitting 40 percent, and how the particular cap was chosen.

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They should expect to be held to that standard in future elections as well as government. It’s no longer enough to pretend that some vague alternative approach can magically meet the same target without costs. We want to see your numbers!

Close up of curved pipes with one labelled Bitumen Blend.
Between 1990 and 2019, Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions increased by 24.1 per cent, mainly due to increased emissions from oil and gas extraction.

Industry lobbying looms

Unfortunately, regulatory development is not limited to national elections. All those regulatory measures — from an electric vehicle sales mandate to a clean electricity standard — that form the backbone of the new plan still need to be developed and finalized. That’s typically a multi-step process, starting with a discussion paper, followed by opportunity for public comments, release of a draft regulation, another opportunity for comments and finally adoption of a legally binding standard by cabinet.

Many of the documents are extremely technical. They’re not announced by the prime minister on TV, or covered by broadcast or print media — except the business pages. But there is a lot at play and a legion devils in all those technical aspects. Even though public attention has waned, industries that face regulatory compliance costs are still highly engaged in presenting their case for concessions and delays as well as subsidies.

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We’ll get a first signal on subsidies in the forthcoming federal budget. Canada has already committed to eliminating fossil fuel subsidies by 2023. However, the new climate plan will allow for tax credits for carbon capture or sequestration. This is something that the oil and natural gas industry has been pushing for.

There is always the risk of delay. For some measures, including the emissions cap on the oil and gas sector and new methane regulations, the new climate plan offers a schedule only for the next step — a discussion paper — but no indication when the regulation will be finalized. That’s a big worry: the discussion paper for the clean fuel standardThe publication of, which is expected to be completed this spring, was six years ago.

It’s hard to fathom Canada reducing its emissions by 40 per cent to 45 per cent in just eight years unless the necessary regulations are finalized in the next one to three years without being watered down.

Domestic and international offsets

It is difficult to discuss the proposed oil and gas sector emissions cap. Although the new plan proposes a 31 per cent cut below 2005 levels, it flags the possibility of “time-limited” reliance on domestic and international carbon offsets. Regulated industries welcome offsets because they offer an opportunity to reduce compliance costs by paying for reductions or in unregulated sectors.

However, the track records of domestic offsets are far from reassuring as Nic Rivers and Mark Jaccard have demonstrated. Previously warned. The reference to international offsets suggests a back-door departure from federal ministers’ insistence since 2015 that Canada will meet its Paris Agreement target by domestic measures alone.

The good news is that there’s plenty of detail here and an opportunity for vigorous questions in Parliament. The problem is that we are moving from announcing a plan with great fanfare, to developing a more technical policy.

A lot is resting on the required 2023 and 2025 updates, third-party evaluations by the Net-Zero Advisory Body and the Canadian Climate Institute, and members of Parliament’s willingness to dig into the details.

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