Citizen Action Monitor

Jagmeet Singh’s NDP climate plan exposes a shallow grasp of the scale and urgency of the climate crisis

Plan heavy on promises, but fails to detail by how much and by when Canada must reduce its CO2 emissions.

No 1988 Posted by fw, June 20, 2017

In my opinion, NDP leadership candidate Jagmeet Singh’s Green Economy & Climate Agenda promises to be all things to all people. His promises paint a self-delusional view of the gravity of the climate crisis, an existential crisis for the human species. Is it that Mr. Singh won’t tell us the grim truth about climate change, or is it that he doesn’t know the grim truth about climate change?Frank White, Citizen Action Monitor

In April of this year, in a 6:35-minute video, UK climate scientist Kevin Anderson clearly explained why wealthy countries like Canada must be carbon free by 2035 or many people will die. With the aid of graphs, Anderson clarified the relationship at a global level between carbon budgets and CO2 emission pathways, arriving at the shocking conclusion that our chances of avoiding a climate crisis are slim to none.

Here is a key excerpt from his presentation:

“We can work out the carbon budget for that [the poor parts of the world]. We have a carbon budget for 2°C, and we can say what’s left for the wealthy parts of the world – the UK, the US, the EU, Australia, Japan and so forth. Basically, across the board, wealthier people, wealthier nations, around the world would have to reduce their emissions at about 10% every single year. Just think what that means. That means that by 2020 we would have reductions of about 50%, by mid-2020s by about 75%, by 2030 about 90% reduction, and by 2035, at the outside, we’d have to remove all carbon from our energy system. Within 20 years.

“This gives us only then an outside chance of 2°C. So, this is an enormous challenge beyond anything that is currently being countenanced by any country…. No county is doing what’s required at the moment – anywhere near for 2°C. The rhetoric is very loud. We hear this all the time, but the action is very weak.”

That, in a nutshell, is the challenge we face.

Other climate scientists and informed commentators are also sounding the alarm. In comparing Canada’s climate change action with Britain’s, Canadian Barry Saxifrage, who researches and writes about climate change, says the Brits win, hands down. The primary reason for the significant performance difference is, he says, that the UK sets “legally binding” five-year carbon budgets which limit the total economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions within budget. Canada has no such legislated carbon budgets, and we keep failing to meet our emission targets.

Dr. Aaron Thierry of the University of Sheffield holds that long-term climate targets are meaningless because “…the 2°C target is largely out the window.” Thierry also argues that renewables can not be scaled up fast enough to help make the required swift, large cuts to fossil fuel energy demand; that energy demand cuts will require “large-scale social and behavioural changes”; and – here’s the kicker – we already have far more fossil fuels in reserve than we can safely burn. So why is Canada rushing to produce more?

And in a March 2017 address to university students, renowned US climate scientist James Hansen apologized for leaving them a “frigging mess”. He, too, called for a rapid reduction of CO2 emissions. Referring to fossil fuels, Hansen stated “Our very survival depends on a transition from this dirty energy source.” Moreover, Hansen echoes the claim that renewables will not scale up fast enough to replace dirty fossil fuels, pointing out that renewables are “still only a few percent” of total US energy supply. Hansen is a vocal advocate for clean nuclear energy, but public resistance rules out that option.

*****

Turning to Jagmeet Singh’s Green Economy & Climate Agenda , reposted below in full, his opening declaration sets the right tone: “Harmful carbon emissions must be reduced and we know that we can’t afford to wait to take action.”

Unfortunately, Singh fails to make a brief but compelling case to support his two bald assertions – “emissions must be reduced”, and “we can’t afford to wait”. Readers rightly expect to see the evidence underpinning his claims, evidence that clearly relates to a measurable end goal. By how much must harmful carbon emissions be reduced, and towards what end goal? And how soon, and for what reason must this end goal be achieved?

Is Mr. Singh’s end goal to hold global warming to the Paris target of 2°C? If it is, is he aware of recent research findings such as this one: “Two degrees, says Johan Rockström, director of the Stockholm Resilience Center, “contains significant risks for societies everywhere; 1.5 looks much more scientifically justifiable.” But according to Kevin Anderson’s analysis, 1.5°C is out of reach.

Absent clear and concise end goals that communicate the scale and urgency of the climate crisis, the rest of Singh’s climate plan amounts to little more than a catalog of his many “good news” promises, promises that are not grounded in clear, concise measurable end goals. And because they are not grounded, their validity is open to question.

The closest Singh comes to making a case supporting his two assertions — reducing “harmful carbon emissions” and not waiting “to take action” — is in the section of his plan headed Ambitious emission reduction targets:

“Jagmeet Singh’s NDP will work to reduce carbon emissions to 30% of 2005 levels by 2025 rather than 2030, and to subsequently adopt a more ambitious 2030 target. This would put Canada on a firm path to a 90% reduction by 2050, which is in line with Canada’s obligations under the Paris Agreement on climate change.”

Singh’s interim and incomplete statement pales in comparison with Anderson’s clear, concise end goal as stated in the excerpt quoted above: by 2035, at the outside, we’d have to remove all carbon from our energy system, thus staying within our carbon budget, and not exceeding the Paris Accord’s 2°C global warming target.

In contrast, how many readers of Singh’s climate plan will understand the significance of this: “reduce carbon emissions to 30% of 2005 levels by 2025 rather than 2030”? Or this: “put Canada on a firm path to a 90% reduction by 2050”?

Anderson does what Singh fails to do – he frames the relationship between carbon budgets and emission reduction pathways at a global level. The key term “carbon budgets” does not appear in Singh’s plan. There’s no mention of the lifestyle sacrifices wealthy nations will likely have to make to achieve even a 2°C goal. No apparent awareness of the benefits of “legislated carbon budgets” that Saxifrage talks about. Not even a passing reference to the horrific climate change impacts the poor parts of the world are already experiencing. Singh promises “transition to renewables” seemingly unaware that time is not on our side – renewables can not be scaled up fast enough.

Before turning to Singh’s promises, recall Kevin Anderson’s sobering words:

“This gives us only then an outside chance of 2°C. So, this is an enormous challenge beyond anything that is currently being countenanced by any country…. No county is doing what’s required at the moment – anywhere near for 2°C. The rhetoric is very loud. We hear this all the time, but the action is very weak.”

Turning to Singh’s 28 promises –

NDP leadership candidate Singh’s Green Economy & Climate Agenda promises to be all things to all people. His promises paint a self-delusional view of the gravity of the climate crisis, an existential crisis for the human species. Is it that Mr. Singh won’t tell us the grim truth about climate change, or is it that he doesn’t know the grim truth about climate change?

The Promises

  1. to reduce carbon emissions
  2. to better our communities and economy, as well as our environment
  3. ensure every climate action is designed to also create tangible community benefits
  4. climate dollars will mean lower emissions, good green jobs, better housing, reduced poverty, and making life more affordable for people
  5. climate action will become a means to create a prosperous, healthy and equitable Canada
  6. climate actions will be designed and implemented with those who will be affected by them
  7. much more ambitious emission reduction targets
  8. fairness for Indigenous peoples, workers, low and middle-income families
  9. to strengthen government accountability to meet our climate commitments
  10. to be better than Harper’s and Trudeau’s
  11. to adopt a National Public Transit Strategy
  12. to assist provinces with 2030 coal phaseout — transition to renewables and other alternatives
  13. to reduce methane emissions
  14. to implement a Zero Emission Vehicle agenda
  15. to introduce a Green Building Compact
  16. a Green the Tax System — support energy efficiency, renewable energy, and sustainable technologies
  17. to phase-out by 2020 the billions in remaining fossil fuel subsidies
  18. Green Infrastructure Investments
  19. to build a Renewable Energy Supergrid
  20. to create good green jobs
  21. the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), will be respected
  22. to make sure low and middle-income Canadians are not put at risk by our efforts to reduce emissions
  23. to ensure climate change challenge requires a long-term commitment and accountability
  24. to meet our 2030 commitment and even exceeding it with Jagmeet’s more ambitious 2025 target is possible
  25. to create a Climate Change Action Officer (CCAO): an independent officer of parliament mandated to report on interim progress on emission reductions
  26. to empower the Commissioner of Environment and Sustainable Development (CESD):
  27. to create a Climate Change Action Advisory Group composed of regional and topic-specific experts
  28. to require major publicly traded Canadian companies to disclose climate-related risks to their businesses

So, what do you think? Does Kevin Anderson’s admonition — “The rhetoric is very loud. We hear this all the time, but the action is very weak” — apply to Jagmeet Singh?

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Here is a copy of Jagmeet Singh’s climate plan, including 2 links that I have added.

Green Economy & Climate Agenda by Jagmeet Singh, accessed June 20, 2017

“Harmful carbon emissions must be reduced and we know that we can’t afford to wait to take action.”

We all know that harmful carbon emissions must be reduced and that we cannot afford to wait to take action. The kind of journey we take to a low carbon Canada is as important as arriving at our destination.

It’s no secret that there are people who would like to narrow our discussions on climate change to a debate about pipelines alone in an attempt to divide Canadians – to pit workers against environmentalists. Jagmeet knows it doesn’t have to be this way.  We need a leader of the NDP who will take the time to ensure that our climate change plans unify and support Canadians.

It’s also no secret that there are those attempting to use the pipeline issue to drive a wedge between two of the NDP’s most admirable provincial leaders. Both Rachel Notley and John Horgan should be commended by Canadians.  Rachel Notley’s Climate Leadership Plan is one of the most ambitious climate plans of any province in Canada and has been widely praised by environmentalists, industry and First Nations communities. Notley’s Climate Leadership Plan does the hard work to diversify Alberta’s economy, cares for workers, implements an ambitious carbon pricing agenda on greenhouse gases, puts an end to pollution from coal-generated electricity by 2030, caps oil sands emissions, and commits to reducing methane emissions by 45% by 2025.

John Horgan’s Clean Growth Climate Action plan also works to meet climate targets, create jobs, and uses rebate cheques to make carbon taxes more equitable and affordable for low and middle-income people. John Horgan’s commitment to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and protecting BC’s waterways and environment is extremely important.

It’s an unfortunate fact that most of the climate progress accomplished in Canada over the past few decades has occurred because of municipal and provincial action alone.  It is past time the federal government stepped up its level of ambition too.

Jagmeet Singh’s NDP will use his Green Economy & Climate Agenda to reduce carbon emissions to better our communities and economy, as well as our environment. Every climate action will be designed to also create tangible community benefits. Climate dollars will mean lower emissions, good green jobs, better housing, reduced poverty, and making life more affordable for people. Climate action will become a means to create a prosperous, healthy and equitable Canada.

Jagmeet will do this by ensuring actions are designed and implemented with those who will be affected by them. Communities and workers should be partners at the table not waiting on the sidelines while government and the fossil fuel industry dictate climate policy.

Jagmeet’s Green Economy and Climate Agenda focuses on a series of actions to set much more ambitious emission reduction targets, ensuring fairness for Indigenous peoples, workers, communities, and low and middle-income families, and strengthening government accountability to meet our climate commitments.

Ambitious emission reduction targets

We must do better than Stephen Harper’s emission targets, recently adopted by Justin Trudeau.

Jagmeet Singh’s NDP will work to reduce carbon emissions to 30% of 2005 levels by 2025 rather than 2030, and to subsequently adopt a more ambitious 2030 target. This would put Canada on a firm path to a 90% reduction by 2050, which is in line with Canada’s obligations under the Paris Agreement on climate change.

To meet this ambitious target, a Jagmeet Singh-led government will:

Adopt a National Public Transit Strategy: Canada is still the only country in the G8 without a national transit program and people across Canada are looking for more affordable, reliable, and accessible public transit options. Congestion in our urban centres is hurting both our economy and our environment. A Jagmeet Singh-led government will implement a National Public Transit Strategy that will provide the long term and predictable funding for public transit that cities and communities across the country are seeking.

Assist provinces with 2030 coal phaseout: Jagmeet will assist provinces with the 2030 coal phaseout by working with workers, communities and industry to transition to renewables and other alternatives.

Reduce methane emissions: Jagmeet will reverse the Trudeau government’s decision to delay action on methane emission reductions in the oil and gas industry. This will ensure the safety and good repair of our oil and gas infrastructure and create good jobs.

Implement a Zero Emission Vehicle agenda: Vehicle emissions represent a significant share of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada. That is why Jagmeet Singh will work with the Provinces and industry to introduce a Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) agenda for Canada. The goal of the agenda is to increase the affordability and increase the availability of longer range electric vehicles. To do this Jagmeet will introduce a green levy on high emission vehicles and provide tax rebates on ZEV purchases, especially non-luxury models. Jagmeet will also make new investments in electric charging station infrastructure across the country, this will include leveraging existing federal land and buildings.

Introduce a Green Building Compact: Jagmeet will introduce a new green building compact between the federal and provincial governments including a packaged suite of federal energy efficiency policies, a revamp of building codes and standards, and a national building retrofit program and renewable heating program. The compact will result in thousands of new jobs and Jagmeet will ensure that every public dollar, regulation, and standard helps create local economic opportunities and builds support from local communities.

Green the Tax System: Jagmeet will use Canada’s federal tax system to support energy efficiency, renewable energy, and sustainable technologies. This will include a phase-out by 2020 of the billions in remaining fossil fuel subsidies and corporate tax breaks for the fossil fuel industry. Jagmeet will also use sales tax incentives and rebates on goods, services, and investments to help us collectively meet our climate goals.

Green Infrastructure Investments: Jagmeet will revamp conditions for federal infrastructure spending to include standards for greenhouse gas emissions and clear commitments to support good job opportunities.

Build a Renewable Energy Supergrid: Canada is a hydro-electricity superpower and is rapidly increasing other renewable sources. There is immense potential to utilize our low-carbon renewable electricity while simultaneously electrifying other sectors of our economy like transportation, oil and gas exploration, and mining. Jagmeet will sit down with Provinces, Territories and First Nations to explore a bold new project for Canada: connecting the country through a national east-west renewable electricity supergrid that links the country’s vast renewable resources to where they are needed.

Fairness for Indigenous peoples, workers, communities, and families

No climate plan can leave workers and communities behind nor trample the rights of Indigenous communities. Canadians must have opportunity and income security during economic transformations. The key to Canada’s future prosperity lies in the creation of good green jobs while offering as many options as possible so that workers, their families, and communities have a better future.

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), must be respected. Canada must obtain the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them. This is why we must oppose the proposed expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline and the building of the Energy East pipeline. Not only does significantly increasing oil production and international oil exports through these pipeline projects undermine our efforts to reduce our emissions, but it conflicts with UNDRIP. Canada needs to commit to UNDRIP and this means saying no to the Kinder Morgan and Energy East pipeline projects.

We must also make sure low and middle-income Canadians are not put at risk by our efforts to reduce emissions. Carbon pricing, putting a cost on greenhouse gas emissions, is vital. It encourages both people and industry to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and encourages the development of new and renewable energy sources. Jagmeet Singh’s NDP will ensure that carbon pricing is twinned with rebates to make it more affordable and fair for low and middle-income Canadians.

Jagmeet Singh will also make sure we are negotiating with provinces on carbon pricing, because a one-sizes-fits-all approach risks harming the economy and missing opportunities to ensure lower emissions, good green jobs, better housing, reduced poverty, and making life more affordable for people.

Jagmeet Singh’s Green Economy and Climate Agenda will make investments for industries and regions undergoing change to ensure that no worker is left behind. This includes supporting younger workers and worker retraining that leads to decent jobs, providing additional income supports for workers already close to retirement, and targeting government spending in the form of hospitals, universities, and other government work to impacted communities.

Through Jagmeet’s Better Work Agenda and commitment to Community Benefit Agreements, Jagmeet will ensure federally funded infrastructure projects provide employment and career opportunities for those communities impacted by the transition to a low-carbon economy and individuals who face barriers to employment.

Strengthening Climate Change Accountability

Our climate change challenge requires a long-term commitment and accountability. We’ve seen the failure of Conservative and Liberal governments to meet Kyoto and Copenhagen targets with little accountability. We can’t afford to fail on our Paris targets. Jagmeet’s Green Economy and Climate Agenda ensures governments and businesses, now and in the future, remain accountable to our climate commitments.

Trudeau has not put Canada on a path to meet our 2030 climate change commitments. Studies show that meeting our 2030 commitment and even exceeding it with Jagmeet’s more ambitious 2025 target is possible.

In the spirit of Jack Layton’s Climate Accountability Act, a Jagmeet Singh-led government will:

Establish a Climate Change Action Officer (CCAO): Create an independent officer of parliament mandated to report on interim progress on emission reductions including the progressively more ambitious targets required by the Paris Agreement. CCAO reporting will occur annually and the published findings of the CCAO will be answerable by the Environment Minister and Prime Minister.

The explicit mandate of the CCAO will be to provide prescriptive policy to enable government course-correction on climate policy and the ratcheting up of ambition in response to scientific evidence. This would include assessments of the Pan Canadian Climate Framework and any decisions made by the Federal government on major energy infrastructure projects.

Empower the Commissioner of Environment and Sustainable Development (CESD): Task the CESD to the Auditor General with gathering data from each province and territory, using a harmonized inventory framework on progress toward greenhouse gas emissions reductions, and measuring this progress against Federal-Provincial-Territorial targets every two years. This data will inform the reporting of the CCAO.

Create a Climate Change Action Advisory Group: Through a transparent process, Jagmeet will appoint an advisory group composed of regional and topic-specific experts who will support the CCAO in interpreting data presented by the CESD and assessing implications for climate, energy, and economic policies and regulations.  Working with the Advisory Group, the CCAO will then include in their annual report recommendations to federal, provincial and territorial governments for improving policies and regulations to increase the strength and ambition of mitigation efforts.

Protect Canadian pensions, savings and RRSPs: Publicly traded companies in Canada are already required to make public financial filings that include information about the company’s health and material risks. However, those material risks do not currently include climate related risks, which, as the Bank of Canada has acknowledged, have a material impact on Canada’s economy and financial system. Canadians deserve to know how businesses are preparing for the reality of climate change and how it will affect their investments, so they can make informed decisions and help to stop climate change. Currently, only a handful of companies are reporting on climate-related risks and only our government can ensure that all companies provide this information.

In order to give force to the recommendations from the international Carney-Bloomberg Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures and create a level playing field for companies, Jagmeet Singh will require major publicly traded Canadian companies to disclose climate-related risks to their businesses, so Canadians know the effects on their pension holdings and investments.

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