Citizen Action Monitor

Comparing Canada’s climate change action with Britain’s – No contest, Brits win hands down

Brit’s legislated process for climate policies is a winner; Canada doesn’t have one and we keep failing badly.

No 1979 Posted by fw, June 9, 2017

Barry Saxifrage

“The current Liberal government is working on a plan to get there. But so did previous governments, both Liberal and Conservative. Where Canada keeps failing is in turning good intentions into actual laws in a timely way. Canada is still a very long way from doing it…. [There are] a lot of hurdles and uncertainty between good intentions and getting on track to meet our climate promises. Given our poor track record and our continued lack of any legal requirements for our government to act, it seems foolhardy to count all those chickens until they hatch…. We don’t have one [legal requirement] in Canada. And we keep failing badly. The U.K. created one to ensure they meet their targets. And they keep succeeding.”Barry Saxifrage, National Observer

Saxifrage, who researches, charts and writes about the latest climate change information, routinely backs up his warnings with clear, concise spreadsheet graphs. And in his article, reposted below, graphs again illustrate Barry’s main arguments.

However, his ringing endorsement of the success of the British legislated approach to climate change in this article doesn’t seem to dovetail fully with accounts from other UK sources. Without going into detail, consider these three sources.

1/  UK must focus on carbon removal to meet Paris goals, climate advisers urge, by Damian Carrington, The Guardian, October 13, 2016 — The UK government needs to kickstart technologies to suck carbon dioxide from the air if it is to play its part in meeting the goals of the Paris climate change agreement, according to the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the government’s official advisers. Coincidentally, Saxifrage also cites CCC in his article. The fact that CCC is calling on the UK government to use unproven carbon-sucking technologies to meet its Paris goals, suggests that the legislated approach has not been a complete success.

2/ The urgency of the situation; or why long‐term targets are meaningless, by Dr. Aaron Thierry, University of Sheffield, May 2014 (pp 15-17) — One recent and credible estimate from members of the Tyndall centre suggests that to do its equitable share for a 63% chance of staying under 2°C, the U.K. must begin cutting emissions at a rate of almost 8‐10% per annum. That is a 40% reduction on 1990 emission levels by 2015, a reduction of 70% by 2020‐2025 and 95% reduction by 2030‐2035. The implication of the need for such swift reductions in fossil fuel use is that they can only be achieved (in the short term at least) by reductions on the energy demand side, as there simply is not enough time to build replacement green energy supplies. This report suggests that, despite its use of a legislated approach in setting climate policy, the UK remains under pressure to cut its emissions.

3/ Policymakers won’t support rapid, deep CO2 cuts, but they will bet on risky geoengineering proposals posted on this blog on May 20, 2017 – Two eminent UK climate scientists, Kevin Anderson and Dr. Hugh Hunt, discuss the climate crisis. Contrary to the CCC’s advice to the UK government to use carbon-sucking technologies, Anderson and Hunt agree that geoengineering techniques are currently risky and may not even work. Anderson puts the dilemma facing governments this way: “If you don’t suck the CO2 out of the air, then for 2°C temperature rise, you have to have a reduction rate that people say cannot fit with our current economic framing of society. So, in a sense, economics trumps physics.

Just to be clear, there is no disputing the effectiveness of a legislated approach to climate change, but, according to the above three sources, the legislation itself appears not to have eliminated the need for further immediate and rapid reduction of CO2 emissions.

Below is an abridged repost of Saxifrage’s article, focusing on the section headed “About those promises…” which compares the effectiveness of Canada’s climate change action with Britain’s. To read the complete article on the National Observer’s website, click on the following linked title.


Climate action opposites: Canada vs United Kingdom  Barry Saxifrage, National Observer, June 9, 2017

About those promises…

Let us now compare promises – UK vs Canada

1/ Kyoto Accord commitments

Both the U.K. and Canada have made a series of high-profile climate promises, starting with commitments to the Kyoto Accord 20 years ago. How’s that worked out?

My next chart shows these big international climate commitments as bullseyes — red for Canada and blue for the U.K. It also shows our actual emissions as red and blue lines.

You don’t need to be a policy wonk to appreciate what’s happened…

A graphic shows Canada and U.K. climate pollution and promises since 1990. Chart courtesy of Barry Saxifrage for and National Observer in May 2017

UK climate pollution down 42% below 1990 levels

As you can see, the U.K. has done even better than it promised in the Kyoto and Copenhagen accords. The U.K. climate pollution has fallen 38 per cent since 1990. And estimates by Carbon Brief show U.K. pollution plunged yet again in 2016; it’s now down to 42 per cent below 1990 levels.

And Canada? Well Canada never even tried to meet the Kyoto targets

Canada? Well… the red bullseyes show much weaker promises. And the red line shows Canada never really tried to meet them. Instead our governments have perfected a four-step shuffle:

  1. Abandon targets set by the previous government
  2. Avoid legislating new targets for itself
  3. Toss an aspirational target over the fence for the next government
  4. Repeat

In fact, climate pollution in Canada has increased by 18%

The result of our responsibility-free approach has been an 18-per cent increase in climate pollution in Canada since 1990. After two decades of promising, we aren’t even headed in the right direction yet.

But isn’t Canada getting on track now?


With Canada, good intentions never seem to get translated into effective emission reduction action

The current Liberal government is working on a plan to get there. But so did previous governments, both Liberal and Conservative. Where Canada keeps failing is in turning good intentions into actual laws in a timely way. Canada is still a very long way from doing it.

To illustrate, I’ve updated my last chart. See that dotted red line in the top right rising to 2030? That’s our government’s latest projection for where our existing climate laws are taking us. On track?

What is happening with all the great new climate proposals Team Trudeau is working on? Not much.

What about all the great new climate proposals the government is working on? Well, the next chart shows these as red and grey wedges. The red wedges are hoped-for reductions inside Canada. The grey wedge is hoped-for “offsets” purchased from the USA.

The first thing to note is that even if they all became law, we still won’t be on track.

Hurdles and uncertainty plague efforts to get on track to meet climate promises

And there are several reasons to worry that we won’t even get that far:

  • Vague. As we all know, the devil is in the details with climate policy. And the devilish details for many of those red wedges aren’t decided yet. Maybe they will end up as advertised. Maybe not. With no legislated requirement to act or to hit targets, Canada may continue a tradition of under-delivering.
  • Delayed. Our biggest climate pollution problem in Canada is surging emissions from the oil and gas sector. Our last government repeatedly delayed its own oil and gas climate regulations until it was out of power. Now the current government has delayed the start date for the only climate policy targeting this sector — methane regulations — until after the next election. With no legislated deadlines in Canada, we may continue our tradition of widespread and substantial delays.
  • Fingers crossed. How about that big grey wedge? The plan is to pay the United States to cut their own emissions. In return, we want to count those American cuts on our side of the ledger. Hmmm. Let’s just say the U.S. hasn’t agreed to give them up. And the Paris accord’s accounting rules haven’t agreed to count them if the Americans do hand them over. The chart shows where we end up without these … still above 1990 pollution levels in 2030!

That’s a lot of hurdles and uncertainty between good intentions and getting on track to meet our climate promises. Given our poor track record and our continued lack of any legal requirements for our government to act, it seems foolhardy to count all those chickens until they hatch.

How the British have done things differently

Now let’s switch gears and take a look at how the British do things differently.

“We were right and the doom-mongers wrong”

Three factors enabled Britain to grow economy while reducing carbon emissions

One of the early architects of Britain’s climate efforts was Michael Howard, the former U.K. Environment Secretary who negotiated the original UN climate convention back in 1992. Here’s what he told The Guardian about the keys to the U.K. success so far:

“I would argue that there are three principal factors why Britain tops the G7 league in terms of growing our economy while reducing our carbon emissions. We started earlier than most, we have been consistent, and we have used market forces wherever possible.

“Certainly our decision now looks to have been a prudent investment. British companies in low-carbon goods and services already turn over an estimated £83 billion per year.…”

For Canadians, £83 billion works out to $146 billion — four times the gross revenues of our oil sands industry last year.

Britain has proved that economies can thrive while emissions fall

Howard continued: “…unchecked, climate change presents unacceptable risks for the future. Fortunately, these are not risks that we have to take. Britain has proved the doom-mongers wrong: economies can thrive while emissions fall.”

The nitty gritty of U.K. policy: legislated carbon budgets

To ensure it would continue to reduce emissions and meet international climate commitments, the U.K. legislated a policy approach they called simply “The Carbon Budget”.

Ontario’s environmental commissioner says Ontario should follow U.K. example with 5-year carbon budgets

Here’s an excellent summary of it by Ontario’s environmental commissioner. I’ve added bold to emphasize features that are the opposite of what we do in Canada:

“Ontario should follow the U.K. example…”

“The U.K. sets legally-binding five-year carbon budgets, which limit the U.K.’s total GHG emissions for the five years. Government has to keep total economy-wide GHG emissions within that carbon budget, by whatever means it chooses.

“Critically, each carbon budget must, by law, be approved twelve years in advance, based on a public recommendation from an independent and highly respected Committee on Climate Change. The Committee consults broadly and assesses, by sector, what can be achieved to reduce emissions at least cost, taking account of available technologies and government policy.”

“This program limits political interference in the carbon budget, and gives both the public and private sector enough time and predictability to plan and invest in the necessary facilities and equipment. It also reduces cost, by allowing facility owners to plan now to replace high carbon capital assets as opportunities arise.”

“A program of total carbon budgets also focuses attention on what really matters, cumulative emissions and not simply the emissions in a particular target year.”

“The first five carbon budgets, until 2032, have already been set in law…”

I’ve illustrated the U.K.’s five carbon budgets on my chart, below. There is one blue box for each five-year budget. The width of each shows the years it covers. The height of each shows the level of emissions allowed on average each year. If emissions are too high in one year, then they must be lower in a later budget year to compensate. This requires government to be responsible for all emissions in every year.

  • Carbon Budget #1 ensured they would meet their Kyoto Accord commitment, which they did.
  • Budgets #2 and #3 were set to ensure they hit their Copenhagen Accord target, which they are on track to do.
  • Budgets #4 and #5 are designed to meet their own 2030 promise, which is more aggressive than the European Union’s collective Paris Agreement target of 40 per cent below 1990 levels.
  • And all budgets are collectively designed to keep the U.K. on track to meet its long-term commitment of at least 80 per cent below 1990 climate pollution levels by 2050. Canada, by the way, has the same commitment for 2050.

A legislated process for climate policies can make the difference between climate success and failure

As boring as it may sound, a legislated process like this for climate policies — with details like budgets, deadlines, policy certainty and non-partisan commission — can make the difference between climate success and failure. All governments face pressures to delay and water down climate efforts. Having a legislated process that requires staying on track can tip the balance towards climate success.

Canada has no legislated process and we keep failing badly

We don’t have one in Canada. And we keep failing badly. The U.K. created one to ensure they meet their targets. And they keep succeeding.

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This entry was posted on June 9, 2017 by in climate change red flag warning, evidence based counterpower, political action.
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