As discussed a couple of weeks ago, health care, identified in an Ipsos poll as the main issue, was barely raised by the main parties during the election campaign. Climate change, ranked number two in the same poll, came up more often – mainly to highlight absence of a credible climate policy in the Conservative platform.

But since the election, discourse about climate change has joined health care near the bottom of the political agenda. Consider what’s been happening in the two-plus weeks since the election.

Early last week, 27 young people from Our Time made news when they were arrested while attempting a sit-in at the House of Commons. They were trying to bring attention to the need for immediate action – as in during the first 100 days – by the re-elected minority government.

This looked like a good strategy, considering that in the last Parliament Liberal, New Democrat, Green and Bloc members voted for a motion declaring a climate emergency. Following an election during which climate change was a central issue, those four parties control 64 per cent of the seats in the House of Commons (after winning 63.2 per cent of the vote).

Surely the time had come to move from rhetoric and vague plans to talk about aggressive measures for dealing with the climate emergency they all say exists?

Unfortunately, it seems it’s not yet Our Time.

It remains oil’s time

The action by the young demonstrators barely cracked the news cycle. In the two weeks following the election the media focus has been on the leadership of the losing party, the hurt feelings of some of those who supported that party and the future growth and wellbeing of the oil and gas industry.

Among the party leaders, Jagmeet Singh tweeted his support for the Our Time campaigners, but did not put climate action at the top of his party’s wish list for action by the new government. For her part, Elizabeth May sent an odd signal by resigning as leader of the Greens.

As for Justin Trudeau, he seemed to be demonstrating against his own government’s flaccid climate plan when he joined Greta Thunberg and 500,000 others in a mid-campaign climate march in Montreal. Since the election he has mainly stayed out of sight, but recruiting Anne McLellan as a special advisor on “western alienation” showed where his immediate priorities lie.

McLellan was Resources Minister in the Chretien government in the 1990s, responsible for delivering the subsidies and tax breaks that spurred development in the oilsands. Upon McLellan’s re-emergence, the head of the Petroleum Services Association of Canada welcomed her as someone who “really stood up for the oil and gas industry.”

So it has not been an auspicious start for climate action, despite the fact that Canada is on the verge of breaking its second international commitment on carbon emission cuts and has no credible plan to avert a third.

Missed targets

McLellan’s 1990s oil industry nurturing contributed to our first international embarrassment – the 1997 Kyoto commitment. We promised to reduce levels to 565 million tons (mt) by 2012. But with oil sands development and general economic growth we were 150 mt above that target by the time 2012 rolled around.

The Harper government faced reality in 2011 and formally abandoned Kyoto, substituting a new target to be missed – reduction in levels to 606mt by 2020. As of 2017 we were nowhere near that, sitting at 716mt, which was up eight million tons from a year earlier. Once we miss the 2020 target it will be on to the next one – getting down to 513 mt by 2030. Why should anyone believe us now?

Defenders of our poor performance like to point out that Canada’s a small part of the problem and the 1.65 per cent of the world’s emissions we produce is insignificant compared with China’s three-fold increases in carbon emissions since 2005.[1] But whatever validity that excuse had is wearing thin – China’s carbon emissions have been basically flat since 2012. And as the table below shows, other industrialized countries – including the United States – are doing a much better job than Canada in achieving reductions.

CountryEmissions 2005Emissions 2017Percentage Change
United Kingdom695.2 mt474.3 mt-31.8%
European Union5228.44323.2-17.3%
United States7339.06456.7-12.0%

Figures in the table are based on data compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) from the most recent reports submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC).Don’t look for improvement when emissions for 2018 are finalized – according to a report this week from the French energy consultants Capgemini, worldwide greenhouse gas emissions increased by two per cent in 2018.

“The report figures are a wake-up call for the world,” said Philippe Vié, global head of energy and utilities at Capgemini. “With global energy demand rising and mostly being met by fossil fuel consumption, the objectives of the Paris accord are looking more distant than ever.”

(Expect something similar to the world picture when figures for Canada are released, as both oil production and consumption increased significantly in 2018).

This week’s confirmation that GHG emissions continue to rise coincided with yet another warning by scientists, some 11,000 of whom signed a document to state “clearly and unequivocally that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency.” They called for six critical steps, including replacement of fossil fuels by low carbon renewables while leaving remaining stocks of fossil fuels in the ground.

The scientists’ plea attracted even less media and political attention than the efforts of the Our Time crusaders, another ominous sign of the lack of urgency attending the political climate emergency. As for leaving fossil fuels in the ground, it has never been on the Liberal agenda, and as pointed out here, has not been explicitly advocated by the NDP or Greens.

Campaign vague

The election campaign did not wring out further specifics. None of the parties put forward anything resembling a plan with specific actions, targets and time lines. The Liberals ran on a platform with a centerpiece carbon tax that, according to the Parliamentary Budget Office, will need to be more than doubled to have any chance of achieving the 2030 targets. Upon that shaky foundation they added a vague mid-campaign pledge to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.[2]

The parties to the Liberals’ left complained, correctly, that the Liberal 2030 targets were too low, but their platforms provided scant assurance that the more ambitious targets they want can be reached anytime soon.

Of course there was some good news. The Conservatives, with their fervent support for the oil industry and no climate plan, were defeated. But then there’s the bad news: based on the election outcome it seems that even though the climate plan we do have is a dud, Canadians may be stuck with it.


[1] According to the Global Carbon Atlas, China’s carbon emissions increased from 3350mt in 2000 to 9840mt in 2017.

[2] Carbon neutrality means eliminating carbon emissions completely or offsetting your country’s emissions by removing emissions elsewhere.