Ecojustice Blog – Climate change Posted on September 12, 2019 (updated: October 8, 2019)

Election 2019: Comparing the federal parties’ climate change commitments

Julia CroomeLawyer
Polling station

Take action: As Canadians head into the election, concern about climate change is at a fever pitch. Challenge your local candidates to commit to bold action to combat the crisis by sending a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. Click here to help make climate change an issue candidates can’t ignore.

This fall, Canadians will cast their ballots in the country’s 43rd general election.

For many, climate change will be a defining issue (perhaps for the first time in Canadian history) when they vote for their next federal government.

According to polling released in July, climate change is one of the top three issues Canadians say will likely impact how they vote.

It’s not surprising that Canadians are concerned about climate change. We are in a climate emergency and many people living in Canada recognize that the clock is ticking on our ability to address the crisis.

This election, the stakes are high. The incoming government will have a direct hand in putting Canada on track to do its part to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels (the target towards which countries agreed to strive under the Paris Agreement). Or it will leave us on a collision course with climate catastrophe.

How do the different parties intend to tackle the climate emergency? To find out, Ecojustice is keeping track of the major parties’ climate commitments and holding them up to three criteria*:

  1. Strong targets for 2030 and 2050 – Does the party commit to targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions? Do these targets align with what the science says needs to happen to ward off the worst impacts of climate change? And will they be legally binding?
  2. Tools to hold the government accountable – Does the platform include tools that will help Canadians hold government to account for its climate promises? Are there mechanisms to make sure future governments stay on track?
  3. A realistic plan – Does the party commit to detailed and ambitious policy proposals that will set Canada up to actually meet these ramped-up targets?

To set these benchmarks, Ecojustice looked to leading climate laws from around the world, including places such as the U.K., Denmark and New Zealand.

We know tackling climate change will take a range of policies and creative solutions, but, this election, these are three key elements of a climate policy that our lawyers will be looking out for.

Fundamentally, any Canadian party serious about combatting the climate emergency must be willing to put forward a platform that addresses all three criteria.

Anything short of this will jeopardize the health, safety and security, and well-being of all Canadians — and burden young people and future generations with the consequences of doing too little, too late.

How the parties’ climate commitments stack up

This summaries below look at how the parties’ climate promises compare when it comes to Ecojustice’s three criteria: strong targets, a realistic plan, and accountability tools. They’re based solely on commitments made in the lead-up to the election, do not consider parties’ previous track records, and shouldn’t be considered a definitive a of entire platforms.

A closer look:

Bloc Québécois

In a line… The Bloc Québécois commits to making emissions targets legally binding, and periodically looking at how they can strengthen those goals, but it doesn’t specify what those targets will be or lay out policies to get there.

In its Le Québec, c’est nous plan, the Bloc promises to set emissions targets that align with Canada’s Paris commitments. This is heartening, but too vague at a time when we need clear targets and plans.

Importantly, the party says it would make emissions targets legally binding. If that happened, then Canada would be legally required to stick to its targets.

According to the Bloc’s plan, the emissions targets law would also include an accountability tool to keep the government on track and a section that would pressure the government to make its targets even more ambitious as time went on.

The Bloc’s climate plan also outlines other policies, including opposition to pipelines in Quebec, an end to fossil fuel subsidies, to renew and increase the rebate for zero emission vehicles (ZEVs), and more. The platform is short on math, however, as it does not model out how these policies would achieve the intended reductions.

Conservative Party of Canada

In a line… The Conservative platform fails to commit to a strong emissions target and lays out a plan that would put Canada even further behind in reaching its 2030 Paris target.

The Conservatives’ A Real Plan to Protect Our Environment doesn’t adopt or endorse the existing Canadian Paris target of an emissions reduction by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. Nor does it calculate the level of reductions Canadians would see under the plan.

Third-party projections are not promising.

Based on modelling by Clean Prosperity, A Real Plan would increase the current gap between Canada’s projected emissions and its 2030 Paris target by 30 megatonnes. This would mean a total gap of 109 megatonnes. That’s equal to the emissions of driving more than 23 million passenger vehicles for a year.

Green Party of Canada

In a line… The Green Party platform commits to an ambitious 60 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, locking this target in law, and setting interim targets to get there.

Under Mission: Possible – The Green Climate Action Plan, the Green Party promises to pass a Climate Change Act, which would set a target of reducing emissions by 60 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030 and reaching net zero by 2050. The 2030 target is double Canada’s current target and in line with what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says is necessary to keep warming to 1.5 C.

As part of their plan to get there, the Greens now promise to set short-term five-year targets, starting in 2025. Additionally, the party’s 20-point plan includes promises to maintain a price on carbon, ban fracking, ensure all new cars are electric by 2030, and create millions of new jobs.

Another key feature of the Green platform is a promise to form a cross-party cabinet to combat climate change, modelled on war cabinets from WWII.

Liberal Party of Canada

In a line… If elected, the Liberal Party of Canada promises a robust set of climate measures, including a commitment to legislate a target of net-zero emissions by 2050, and a plan to set interim targets to get there.

On Sept. 24, Catherine McKenna said the Liberals will legislate a net-zero carbon by 2050 target, and pass a Just Transition Act.

The Liberals also promise to set legally-binding, five-year targets. If implemented, these short-term targets would be a critical tool to hold the country to its longer-term goals. And, the Liberals promise, they would appoint a group of objective third-party experts — scientists, economists, and others — to oversee this process.

While the party promises these strong climate accountability measures and to legislate the important net-zero by 2050 target, when it comes to 2030, it only says that it will “exceed” Canada’s emissions goal for that year, failing to provide further details.  While modelling has shown that the Liberal’s current plan, the Pan-Canadian Framework, falls short of the current 2030 target, the party has announced some new policies, such as tax breaks for clean tech, a commitment to plant two billion trees in the next decade, and interest free loans for efficiency retrofits.

New Democratic Party

In a line… The NDP’s platform may not give an exact number when it comes to its 2030 and 2050 emissions targets, but it still offers a strong vision for laws that will hold the government to account for its climate promises.

In their climate platform, Power to Change: A new deal for climate action and good jobs, the New Democrats vow to reduce emissions in order to stabilize the global temperature increase at 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels, although they have not committed to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.

In fact, the plan doesn’t give a specific percentage target for Canada, but it does commit to a 450-megatonne reduction by 2030. That works out to a 37 per cent reduction of emissions below 2005 levels.

In terms of a practical roadmap to reach its climate goals, the NDP promises to earmark $15 billion to create 300,000 jobs in industries to drive the low-carbon transition, in addition to supporting a price on carbon, make all new buildings net-zero by 2030 and retrofit all existing housing by 2050, increase the zero emissions vehicles fleet and electrify transit by 2030. The NDP also propose to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies and achieve net carbon-free electricity by 2030.

The NDP also detail plans for how to achieve a just transition, a key component of a successful and equitable plan.

Most notably, Power to Change includes strong measures to hold the government accountable for taking action on climate. It promises to make emissions reductions targets legally-binding, to set interim targets to keep governments on track to meet their 2030 and 2050 goals, and to establish a Climate Accountability Office to report on regular progress.

People’s Party of Canada

In a line… The policies outlined in the People’s Party of Canada’s proposed climate plan do not meet any of the criteria for a strong climate plan and would put Canada on a dangerous path to climate catastrophe.

The People’s Party of Canada would not commit to strong emissions reduction targets, does not propose a realistic plan for reaching targets, and has no intention of creating climate accountability laws.

Instead, the party’s Global Warming and Environment: Rejecting Alarmism and Focusing on Concrete Improvements plan promises to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, get rid of the price on carbon, and end government funding for green technology and helping developing countries reduce their emissions.

A note on how Ecojustice is evaluating climate commitments: In the original version of this blog, we attempted to assign checkmarks for whether or not the parties’ commitments met our pre-determined criteria. On further reflection, we have concluded that climate plans can’t be graded on this “pass/fail” scale because good science-driven policy isn’t easily communicated or assessed through party platforms.

Targets are also hard to compare cleanly in this election.  In late 2019, we would expect the parties to, at minimum, commit to net-zero by 2050 and halving emissions by 2030. Some parties frame their targets in relation to global temperature or the Paris Agreement. This is too vague, although it is better than no target at all. 

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