A while back I surmised that a return to politics by Svend Robinson would mean the NDP carrying a tougher position on climate change into the federal election campaign. Although that still could happen, last week’s campaign-style release of the party’s 22-page Climate Plan “Power to Change, ” put that idea in jeopardy.

In January this year Robinson marked his return to electoral politics with a statement that is simply common sense if this country is serious about living up to its decade-old commitment of reducing its GHG emissions by something in the order of 30 per cent over the next ten years – we’ve got to tackle emissions from the oil and gas industry.

As Robinson put it in an interview with CTV: “This is an industry which we have to recognize is on the way out…We’ve got to leave most of the oil and gas in the ground and we’ve got to move to renewable energy.”

It may not be necessary to leave most of the oil and gas in the ground. Perhaps through some yet-to-be perfected process – likely to soon be fantasized by Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives – we can keep increasing oil and gas production while curbing GHG emissions. But barring such a miracle, meeting the GHG targets we set before the world means reducing, or at least curbing, emissions from the oil and gas production,

SectorGHG emissions (mt) 2005GHG emission (mt) 2017
Oil and Gas158195
Electricity119 74
Heavy Industry 87 73
Buildings 86 85
Agriculture 72 72
Waste and Other 47 42

As the data from Environment Canada show, since 2005 (the federal government’s baseline year for GHG reductions) some sectors have shown reductions but those have been offset by a large increase in emissions from oil and gas production and a smaller jump in emissions from transportation. Absent the aforementioned miracle, pipeline projects, such as the Trans Mountain expansion, will allow for increased production and the emissions that go with that, bringing total GHG emissions from oil and gas to well over 200 million tonnes by 2030. And as reported here oil sands emissions – accounting for 40 per cent of the oil and gas sector’s emissions in 2017 – could be a lot higher than previously estimated.

Plans vague

Despite this looming issue, there is nothing in the NDP climate plan specifically addressing emissions from oil and gas production. The parliamentary caucus’ climate emergency resolution, recently defeated in the House of Commons, called on the government to bring forward a climate action strategy that “does not proceed with the Trans mountain pipeline expansion.” The Climate Plan criticizes the Liberals for spending $4.5 billion on the pipeline, but doesn’t commit to stopping the proposed expansion.

Instead, the NDP plan unveiled a week ago yesterday in Montreal laid out what could be described as a “Liberal-in-a-hurry-with-chequebook” approach. Aside from a $15 billion price tag and some inclusive rhetoric, there was a familiar ring to specifics in the plan. Money for energy efficiency retrofits and public transit, further greening of the electrical grid, help to buy electric vehicles and transitional support for workers are things we’ve been hearing from federal governments going back as much as 20 years. The NDP will keep the most recent federal initiative – the carbon tax – but while promising to modify it to make large industrial emitters pay more, there’s nothing about the widely acknowledged need to keep increasing it once it hits the currently established ceiling of $50 a tonne in 2022.

The NDP climate plan, along with the caucus’ climate emergency resolution, has been reported as the party’s pre-election attempt to outdo the Liberals and keep up with the resurgent Greens on the climate change file. If that political competition is based on ambitious targets, then the Greens are way out in front. Their 20-point plan climate plan released last month calls for a 60 per cent cut from 2005 levels by 2030, double the target set by the Conservatives in 2009, adopted by the Liberals in 2015 and deemed by most to be unattainable under current policies. It’s also more ambitious than the NDP reduction target of under 40 per cent.

But before handing the gold medal to the Greens, it’s worth examining how their 20-point plan deals with the elephant in the room – the oil and gas sector. Like the NDP, the Greens promise to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies[1] and keep the carbon tax, renaming it “carbon fee and dividend.” But there’s no commitment to increase the fee to the $200 a tonne range experts say is necessary to have a significant impact on emissions. The Greens’ promise to ban fracking may lead to reduced emissions from the oil and gas production, but there’s nothing else in the plan directly addressing that issue. Without deep cuts in GHG emissions from that sector, the target of 60 per cent cut in overall emissions by 2030 looks like just more pie in the sky.

The polling firm Abacus Data published an analysis this week showing that while 82 per cent of respondents agreed that “climate change is a crisis and we need to take it more seriously” and 73 per cent want to see the government adopt a stronger environmental agenda, nine out of ten agree that “environmental policies need to be pragmatic about the cost of living and the need for jobs.” Perhaps the lack of comprehensive plans from the NDP and Greens for immediate cuts to GHG emissions from the oil and gas sector is just a reflection of what appears to be public sentiment – tackle climate change but don’t mess with the economy or our lifestyle.

That’s a mission impossible which, so far, no party wants take on. But there’s always hope that could change, with over four months and an uncertain summer of weather to go before the election.


[1] Much targeted over the years, federal subsides have already been reduced significantly, amounting to no more than $1.8 billion at this point.