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More hot air from the Liberals on the climate

Brian Champ

April 11, 2022
On March 29, the federal Liberals released a new climate plan which they claim will end subsidies to oil and gas, cut emissions 40-45% from 2005 levels by 2030 and achieve "net-zero" by 2050. They boast of spending $100 billion on climate action since coming to office, but they are the only G7 nation to see their emissions rise in that period. This plan promises urgent action, but throws a lifeline to the fossil fuel industry. The truly remarkable thing is the sophistication of the Trudeau Liberals' ability to obscure the dirty open secret at the centre of plan. 
But before getting into these details, let's look at a few key features of the plan. They promise to "create new, middle class jobs for Canadians by making Canada a world leader in batteries to power the clean economy, helping industries adopt clean technologies to cut pollution, and supporting all workers to ensure no one is left behind.". The newly announced Lithium Ion battery plan in Windsor is a part of this - the Liberals also want to position the Canadian mining industry to "win the race" for critical minerals for the "net-zero" economy. 
But whether or not such production facilities are part of a Just Transition depends on the involvement of Indigenous people and other communities whose land and livelihoods are affected by the mining of raw minerals, as well as the environmental sustainability of the battery plant itself. Maintaining and expanding the availability of green jobs requires the vigilance of workers in the production process to ensure that there is continual improvement in the environmental impact of production. Given the track record of Canadian mining companies for violating Indigenous land rights as well as human rights and leaving a path of destruction these workers will need to be vigilant indeed.
As for "clean technologies", which I've written about elsewhere, I'll just say that they include those that improve fossil fuel combustion efficiency when we should be moving off fossil fuels altogether. Improving the efficiency of combustion will lead to the expansion of emissions as the economy grows. 
A lot of the promises made will not be met until 2030 or 2035, including promises around phasing out internal combustion vehicles, overall emissions targets and the "cap and cut" oil and gas industry targets. Thermal coal will be allowed to flow across Canada's borders until 2030. These timelines are too slow to avoid a harsh future - we need ambitious public programs to lead the way into the future, making fossil fuel companies who have profited from the lack of climate action through denial, obfuscation and deceit pay for the transition instead of giving them tax breaks and incentives to continue their destructive ways.
It includes investments of "$8 billion to accelerate green jobs and Canada’s industrial transformation, with an extra $1.75 billion of targeted support for the aerospace sector to accelerate the transition." Some of this investment may well be going to zero emissions projects, but a great deal of it, like the money for the aerospace industry, is to improve fuel efficiency rather than transition to zero emissions.
There are subsidies for building and home owners to do energy retrofits, as well as community level programs. There is $2 billion for workers and communities in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland to develop their own transition plans, and a promise to launch a Green Jobs Training centre. But all these programs need to be massively expanded.
Disgracefully, the plan almost completely ignores Indigenous communities. No mention in the section on Clean and Healthy Oceans. No mention in the section on Clean Water, despite (or perhaps because of) the failure of the Liberals to deliver clean water to dozens of First Nations reserves. No mention in the section on protecting Canadians from pollution, despite the fact that Vanessa Gray and others from Aamjiwnaang First Nation have chronicled the poisoning of their land and people by chemical valley in Sarnia. In the section on protecting old growth forests, there was mention of Indigenous stewardship but it's unclear how much of the paltry $50 million will go to First Nations. And there was mention of expanding Indigenous Guardian projects and the expansion of Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCA) but no dollar amount was included.
It is not only shameful that it shows the continuing colonialism that characterizes the relationship of Canada with Indigenous peoples, but also because it is Indigenous led blockades of pipelines and hydrocarbon megaprojects that have delayed or stopped the equivalent of 25% of annual US and Canadian carbon emissions. Indigenous communities worldwide make up 5% of the world's population, yet are responsible for protecting 80% of biodiversity. 
But the main theme of the Liberal climate plan, despite Trudeau's protestations to the contrary, is continuing support and subsidies to fossil fuel companies.
Fossil Fuel Subsidies
Subsidies to the fossil fuel industry were $8.6 billion in 2021. According to a report by Environmental Defence entitled Buyer Beware: Fossil Fuels Subsidies and Carbon Capture Fairy Tales in Canada, $5.8 billion in Canadian and provincial government money has flowed to carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) projects since 2000 yet have been ineffective, accounting for a miniscule 0.05% of Canada's total (official) emissions. Recent CCUS tests have shown that the process emits more carbon than it absorbs - any other project would have been shut down. The reality is that the only reason for CCUS to exist is as cover for oil and gas companies to continue operating and generating profits.
Continuing profitability for the fossil fuel sector is looking even brighter since the war in Ukraine has raised the price of oil enough to encourage tar sands and pipeline investments. Despite this, oil companies have not invested in CCUS to any great degree but rather are calling for $50 billion in subsidies for these projects. This climate plan includes support for other dubious climate solutions such as "blue" hydrogen and carbon offsets that allow companies to continue their business as usual. 
It is criminal to continue peddling weak, market based solutions as the answer to the climate crisis while continuing to fund the companies driving the destruction. This is not a problem of the future, it is happening right now. The brunt of the crisis is being borne largely by women, Indigenous communities, racial minorities, LGBTQ+ people, young, older and poorer people. Any solution to the climate crisis needs to address the historic and ongoing inequalities that have been made more stark by pandemic conditions. 
But for the Liberals, it is merely a political position. An example that demonstrates how little they care about climate commitments came in 2020, a year when the drop in demand for fossil fuels was an opportunity to make significant public investments into zero emissions energy production projects. But instead of increasing the roughly $1 billion that is spent on renewables, $18 billion was given to fossil fuels, twice as much as in a normal year.
But haven't they promised to cut public funding of fossil fuels?
There is no doubt that the Liberals feel vulnerable to criticism of their ongoing fossil fuel funding, so they have promised to "Develop a plan to phase-out public financing of the fossil fuel sector, including from Crown corporations, consistent with our commitment to reach net-zero emissions by 2050." 
But more vague promises won't do. And neither will the peddling of false solutions that purport to allow things to "go back to normal". 
These include: centering net-zero instead of emissions reductions; peddling market solutions like carbon taxes and incentives instead of directly investing in zero emissions infrastructure; implementing a cap and trade for the oil industry when we need to phase out fossil fuels; giving billions for carbon capture, utilization and storage to the fossil fuel industry instead of accelerating the development of renewables. The funding for these items in the current plan runs to around $9 billion, which might sound like a lot until you consider the price tag of up to $44 billion for the F-35 jets the Liberals are about to buy. 
Canada's involvement in NATO expansion is driven, in part, by the desire of the Canadian LNG sector to replace Russia as the supplier to Europe. While it is important to call for Russian troops out of Ukraine and to support the right of Ukrainian self-determination, we also need to oppose Canada's role in driving NATO eastward increasing the tensions that could lead to wider global conflict. We also need to support the right to self-determination of the people ot South Yemen who are being bombed into the stone age by Saudi Arabia with equipment partly supplied by Canada. 
Any war releases huge quantities of carbon through the burning of fossil fuels, but a war for control of fossil fuel resources amplifies this effect. If this war is between nuclear powers or on territory with nuclear power facilities there are further catastrophic dangers, not to mention the environmental destruction of "conventional" weapons including napalm, depleted uranium, and chemical and biological agents. 
Every report on the climate crisis paints a more and more dire picture of the future, yet this climate plan has a limited budget and only affects particular programs and policies. The transition required to shift away from fossil fuels will need to affect all programs and policies, ensuring everything is in line with the emissions reductions goals. New fossil fuel projects need to be scrapped and fossil fuel production needs to be phased out as rapidly as possible. This requires ramping up the development of zero emissions energy production. For a just transition, workers who are phased out of their job would need to have access to training and jobs in the green economy. 
But now the NDP has made a deal to support the Liberals, and the climate commitments promised are vague and weak. This is therefore also the NDP plan. This is disappointing yet hardly surprising - the NDPs pro-pipeline and tar sands positions have continually thwarted real climate action in Parliament. But time is running out.
We need climate justice politics to be a force in the mainstream, but this will only happen by building it from the bottom up in the streets, on the picket line and at the blockade. 
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