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The Federal Government of Canada Released Their 2020 Climate Action Plan - But Is It Enough?

Positionality Statement: Hello, Bonjour, my name is Rose (she/her), living in Tkaronto as a second-generation settler on the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnarbeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples, now home to a diverse array of Indigenous Peoples. I acknowledge that this land is covered by Treaty 13 with the Mississaugas of the Credit. I do not intend to speak on behalf of BIPOC or any other minoritized groups, as I do not identify as a member of these communities, and I acknowledge the privilege this provides me and how it has shaped my relationship with climate and justice activism. Through my role at SUTE, I hope to use my platform to bring attention to the environmental and social injustices which disproportionately affect historically oppressed communities, and to hold my fellow settlers accountable to the privilege we hold through the sharing of information and resources.

On December 11, 2020, the current Liberal Government of Canada released their new climate action plan titled A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy (1). While noting continued attention to the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic difficulties it has brought Canadians, the government seeks to look towards the future with this climate action plan, to create a healthy, prosperous country achieved through an acceleration of climate action (2). The proposed plan builds upon the 2016 Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, aiming to exceed the current greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions targets for 2030, grow the economy, and build resilience (1, 3).

The Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Environment and Climate Change in Canada, described the plan as follows; “...a plan that will help achieve both Canadians’ environmental goals and our economic hopes: clean air, clean water and long-term secure jobs. It means we will exceed Canada’s 2030 climate target while positioning Canadians to thrive in an increasingly low-carbon economy. It contains 64 strengthened and new federal policies, programs and investments to cut pollution and build a stronger, cleaner, more resilient and inclusive economy” (pg 1, 2020, 4).

Below is a brief summary of the 5 pillars and $15 billion of initial investments proposed by the Federal government to achieve this goal:

1. Making the places Canadians live and gather more affordable by cutting energy waste:

This pillar focuses on energy efficiency in homes and buildings, reducing pollution, making life more affordable, and creating new jobs in the construction, technology, manufacturing and sales industries (1). Investments will be made to create green and inclusive community buildings, with at least $150 million allocated to projects serving First Nations, Inuit, Métis, and métis communities (1). Additional investments will be made to assist and encourage the retrofitting of homes, public housing projects, and commercial/large-scale buildings (1). Legislation and programming of focus will include building upon provincial and territorial low-income retrofit programs, developing models for ‘retrofit’ codes for existing buildings, and conducting Canada’s first national infrastructure assessment (1).

2. Making clean, affordable transportation and power available in every community:

Expanding the supply of clean electricity is the main tenant of this pillar, as renewable energy generation, technology, and cleaner transportation all work to promote clean, healthier communities (1). In order to achieve the formerly listed, investments in clean technology such as zero-emission vehicles, infrastructure, supply chains, and public transportation will need to be made. The plan breaks down investments in renewable energy and grid modernization projects; investing $300 million over 5 years to bring reliable energy to rural, remote, and Indigenous communities, and to work with provinces to ensure Canada’s electricity generation achieves net zero by 2050, among others (1).

3. Continuing to ensure pollution isn’t free and households get more money back:

The government proposes a decarbonization of the economy via an evolution of the carbon tax, proposed as a method of growing the economy and encouraging technological adaptation and modernization (1). The plan commits to a price of pollution that will continue to grow every year until 2030, rising $15 per tonne every year after 2022 - as high as $170 per tonne of carbon in 2030 (1). This trajectory is strategic, to allow businesses and individuals to plan ahead, and aims to make cleaner options more affordable. Rebates will be returned to households on a quarterly basis, up from the current annual rebate received (1).

The carbon price schedule increases are in the context of The Clean Fuel Standard (CFS), covering only liquid fossil fuels such as gasoline, diesel, and oil, mainly used in the transportation sector, a change from the proposed CFS of 2016 which covered liquid, gaseous and solid fuels (1).

4. Building Canada’s clean industrial advantage:

In order to protect heavy industry and grow jobs, Canada will help companies decarbonize their operations with clean sources of electricity, using low-carbon fuels like hydrogen or zero-emission technologies to capture carbon at the source (1). The government will invest $3 billion in a new Net-Zero Accelerator Fund to promote and drive immediate creation of resilient jobs, expedite decarbonization projects with large emitters, and scale up clean technology in all sectors (1). The Net-Zero Accelerator Fund (via the Strategic Innovation Fund) will focus on supporting the development and adoption of clean energy solutions in all industrial sectors, clean energy development in the aerospace and automobile manufacturing sectors, and the development of battery innovation and industrial ecosystem/lifecycle (1).

A Net-Zero Challenge will encourage large industrial emitters to develop and implement plans to transition their facilities to net-zero emissions by 2050, alongside the commitment to cut corporate tax rates in half for companies making zero-emissions products (1).

To support a reduction in methane emissions, the government has set aside $750 million for an Emissions Reduction Fund, which will provide repayable funding to eligible onshore and offshore oil and gas companies to support investments in in reducing GHG emissions, in an effort to contribute to Canada’s goal of reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40-45% by 2025 (1). Proceeds from the carbon pricing system, collected from industry, will support these industrial projects to cut emissions (1).

5. Embracing the power of nature to support healthier families and more resilient communities:

With $3.16 billion over ten years, the government (partnering with the provinces and territories, non-government organizations, Indigenous communities, municipalities, private landowners, and others) plans to plant two billion trees and better conserve and restore natural spaces as a means to creating resilient communities and healthier, natural spaces (1). $631 million will be allocated to the conservation, restoration and enhancement of wetlands, peatlands, grasslands, and agricultural lands to boost carbon sequestration (1). $98.4 million will be used to establish a new Natural Climate Solutions for Agriculture Fund, and partnerships with Indigenous communities will continue to be supported through the establishment of the new Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCA) and Indigenous Guardians programs, despite there not being a clear commitment for new investment outlined in the Plan (1).

The modest levels of GHG emissions from Indigenous, Inuit, and Métis communities, contrasted to other segments of Canadian society, and the disproportionate impacts of climate change on these communities, is acknowledged within the Plan, which identities the need to involve such critical partners in combating climate change at all levels (1):

“To help support Indigenous peoples advance their climate priorities and adapt to the changing climate, the Government of Canada is committed to renewed nation-to-nation, Inuit-to-Crown and government-to-government relationships with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples, based on the recognition of rights, respect, cooperation, and partnership. The Government of Canada also supports without qualification the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, including free, prior and informed consent. Supporting self-determined climate action is critical to advancing Canada’s reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. Canada recognizes that the Government must continue to support co-development, collaboration, and Indigenous self-determination. This includes improving food security, community health, clean energy, resilient infrastructure, and the protection of biodiversity, while building capacity to lead on climate action.” (pg 68, 2020, 1).

Is It Enough?

Canada’s 2030 GHG emission target is a reduction in GHG emissions to 30% below 2005 levels, as ratified in the Paris Agreement (5). As of 2019, Canada was not on track to meet this target – only projecting a reduction of 19% below 2005 levels (6). However, in conjunction with the Pan Canadian Framework, Canada's climate action plan does expect to exceed its 2030 target. While ambitious, the government and reviewers believe this can be feasible (8, 9, 10, 11). This would be the first time ever that Canada has set a climate target and outlined a path to meet it, let alone exceed it (1). If reached, this will be the first target Canada has come close to reaching in three decades (8). With consultation with the provinces and territories, Indigenous partners, and all Canadian sectors, the government believes that Canada can achieve a range of 32-40% below 2005 levels in 2030 (1, Appendix A).

Most attention seems to be on the carbon tax section of the plan, with an initial response seemingly to be overall quite favourable of this strategy (8, 9, 10, 11). 37% of total emissions come from Canada’s industrial sector (including oil and gas production) (1), and it is therefore imperative a strong regulation is put in place to combat these emissions (8). However, while $15 billion is being invested into the climate action plan as a whole, we should note that from 2014-2019, Canada was one of seven G20 countries to increase their fossil fuel support (12). As of Nov 18th, 2020, the Canadian government has provided $18.6 billion to the fossil fuel industry in the form of conditional and unconditional support, and only $14.6 billion to clean energy support (13).

Investments in climate action must be met with a commitment to uphold these values in other actions taken by the federal government; to be sustainable, this investment cannot be undermined. Canada has the not so impressive claim of ranking within the top 10 global polluters for most of the last century, all while having one of the lowest-emitting electricity grids on the planet (14). Having historically contributed to the climate crisis while at the same time having enough wealth to tackle the problem, Canada has a responsibility to lead in emissions reductions and meeting its targets (14).

Within the Plan, the government has committed to the country’s first national climate adaptation plan, something of which the country is severely lacking and urgently in need of developing (11). It does contain new measures to support Indigenous climate leadership (1), a commitment climate justice advocates will be keeping an eye on. A gender-based analysis was used for the creation of the Plan’s policy targets, however, a stronger emphasis on a Just Future and respect for non-colonial environmental management should be seen at the forefront of these policies (15). A greater focus on the inextricable links between environmental racism and the climate crisis would further strengthen the plan. As called for by SUTE’s President Manvi Bhalla to our political representatives, “You should be explicit in mentioning the intersections between racism, COVID-19, and the climate crisis. We cannot ignore that we are experiencing multiple intersecting crises that each impact the other and all disproportionately impact certain populations. You should be aware, and prepared to address, the impact of racism and discrimination on health outcomes.” (16, 2020).

The final pillar of this Plan, focused on the power of nature, is the least expanded. While a section of this final pillar pays respect to the power and knowledge that Indigenous, Inuit, Métis, métis, and BIPOC communities hold in leading climate change mitigation and managing sustainable environments, there is a greater investment in the planting of trees. With $3.16 billion allocated over ten years, new tree planting funding dwarfs the value invested into Indigenous communities, partnerships, and protected areas. In fact, there is no new funding allocated to this purpose within the Plan at all (1). $729 million is allocated to alternate carbon sequestration through the protection and conservation of wetlands, peatlands, grasslands, and agricultural lands (1), however, this is not specifically committed to Indigenous governance. The United Nations released a report in 2019 stating that biodiversity declines at a significantly lower rate on lands governed by Indigenous peoples (17, 18) - this connection should not be forgotten and Indigenous knowledge and experience should not be placed on the back burner.

The commitment to centring communities who have been made vulnerable by the actions of this very government must be taken seriously. Past commitments, such as the promise to ensure clean drinking water for all First Nation communities by March 2021, continues to be monitored as we slowly approach the deadline of this promise (19). If the basic rights to education and clean water are not guaranteed for Indigenous peoples, we must constantly question all calls for collaboration in the future (19). If Indigenous communities are indeed being listened to, the government must acknowledge the call for a climate emergency declaration (19).

Overall, it is a step in the right direction; it is exciting to have a plan that seems to be based in evidence, includes a gender-based analysis (14), and builds upon a strong framework. However, the government needs to continue to be held accountable to ensure that A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy stays on track to exceed Canada’s target for 2030, and uphold our fair share of global climate action to combat a global average warming of 1.5 degrees.

Shake Up The Establishment will continue to amplify the voices of those most impacted by climate change, and monitor and engage the Canadian government to uphold these commitments for a just and sustainable future for all.






















B. Appendix B. The distribution of projected emission reductions by sector (page 63, 1)

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