When the Liberal Party sought re-election a year ago it promised Canada would exceed its 2030 climate goals. Earlier this week, it made the promise again. Reduce, reuse, recycle.

Setting big climate goals is a bipartisan sport in Canada, yet over the years the Liberals and the Conservatives have not delivered on their pledges. That includes the Trudeau government, though it colours itself green at every turn. If anything, Canada has lately moved backwards on climate change.

Under the Paris Agreement, Canada committed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 to 511 megatonnes a year, a 30% reduction from the 2005 level of 730Mt. But before the present recession emissions were still rising. The last official tally was 729Mt in 2018.

The Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, agreed to in late 2016, puts a price on carbon for both consumers and industry. It also gives provinces leeway to meet the national standards by means of their own choosing, or be subjected to the federal backstop of a carbon tax.

Until now Ottawa had been firm but flexible. Last year, it signed off on Alberta’s plan for industrial emissions; the plan was not as stringent as the federal rules, but it was close. That is not the case with industrial emissions plans in Ontario and New Brunswick, yet last Monday Ottawa signed off on them. In retreat, the Liberals said they had to give in while the question of the legality of federal climate policy is before the Supreme Court.

A core question in the case is whether regulation of greenhouse gases is a “national concern”, under Ottawa’s power to make laws for the “peace, order and good government” of the country. As a matter of science, greenhouse gases are clearly a national concern. But as a matter of constitutional law a federal victory at the Supreme Court is far from assured.

Meanwhile, Canada’s emissions are still rising. Or were, until the economy was laid low by a virus. And subpar rules for industry in two provinces are now locked in through to 2022. /Toronto, September 28

The Globe & Mail


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