After the federal government refused to regulate the oil and gas sector, which is responsible for more of Canada’s emissions than is any other sector of the economy, Canada made “virtually no progress [toward its emission reduction target] in .“ As a result—and as everyone with a brain (thereby excluding the federal cabinet) expected—Canada will come up short on its Copenhagen emission reduction goal. What do you do when you fail to achieve a goal? If you’re the Government of Canada, you set another one as a distraction.
Last week, the ruling Conservative Party announced that, despite being unwilling to reduce emissions 17% below 2005 levels by 2020, it would now aim for a 30% reduction against the same benchmark by 2030. After making the announcement, Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq refused to answer questions about how her government would accomplish this new goal.
The “goal as distraction from failure” and the refusal to answer questions were equally sad and predictable. They are part of a Harper-era tradition handed down from one Environment Minister to the next. To put it in perspective, it’s a longer line of transmission than the one you’d see on a time-lapse video of the waiting room in a small town sexual health clinic. Unfortunately, this problem isn’t as easily curable as a garden-variety STD.
As long as Harper rules, we’re more likely to see Senate reform than we are to see climate action and the percentage chance of Senate reform is about as large as the percentage of scientists who disagree that humans are causing global warming. In both cases, we’re talking about a number you can count on one hand.
Why set a bold new goal, (even if, as the weakest commitment among G7 nations, it isn’t really all that bold)? For starters, it looks good. It’s also valuable because the federal government doesn’t really have to do anything about it. Aglukkaq’s language confirms this second point: “Achieving this ambitious goal will require actions from all levels of government and we will continue to work together, cooperatively with the provinces and the territories’ goals while respecting their jurisdictions.” In the Harper era, history shows that climate action falls under provincial jurisdiction.
With that in mind, critics miss the point. The point isn’t that this government won’t show us its plan to achieve a new emissions reduction goal. The point is that, after a decade of wilful inaction, this government is so confident that the provinces will pick up the slack that it is willing to set a goal it has no plan to realistically achieve.
Actually, that’s only partly true. While the federal government won’t regulate the oil and gas sector (it will let Alberta’s new NDP government do that) and won’t put a price on carbon (it will let Ontario and Quebec do that), it does have a role to play. By investing loads of time and energy in turning Canada’s economy into an oil-based one-trick-pony, the federal government has ensured that the Canadian economy will remain stalled as long as the price of oil remains low. That means lower emissions for the foreseeable future. Good job Leona, and good luck Canada!