Here's All You Need to Know About Canada's 'Climate Election'
By Chloe Farand for Climate Home News
Canadians are voting on Monday in an election observers say will define the country's climate future.
Climate policy has played a bigger role than ever before in the lead-up to a federal election. Against a backdrop of mass demonstrations for climate action, all major parties have been keen to reaffirm their commitment to the Paris agreement.
Hit by a racism scandal in which he was exposed for wearing blackface on at least three occasions, prime minister Justin Trudeau has pivoted to environmental issues.
The question in front of voters is how and how fast should their government decarbonize the country's economy?
Canada has committed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 but it is not on track to meet its goal.
At the heart of the debate is Canada's carbon tax. Introduced in 2016 by Trudeau's Liberal government.
During his campaign for re-election, Trudeau has been pressured by the main opposition Conservatives to scrap the tax and accused on the left of failing to have put the country on course to meet its 2030 target. Trudeau has bet his survival on navigating between them.
When is the election?
Monday, 21 October
Conservative Party: Andrew Scheer
Liberal Party: Justin Trudeau (current prime minister)
New Democratic Party: Jagmeet Singh
Green Party: Elizabeth May
Bloc Québécois: Yves-François Blanchet
People's Party of Canada: Maxime Bernier
What's their climate plan?
Trudeau has ramped up his climate ambition for the election, committing to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 and establishing legally-binding five-year targets. To achieve the goal, Trudeau is committed to keeping a price on carbon and hopes to exceed the 2030 target but stopped short of increasing it.
Other measures include planting two billion trees over the next 10 years, interest-free loans to help owners retrofit their homes and improve energy efficiency, expanding incentives for zero-emissions vehicles and halving taxes for businesses developing clean technologies.
Trudeau has been accused of "dissonance" over his climate record for giving the green light to the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline a day after declaring a climate emergency in Canada.
Scheer has accused the carbon tax of hitting families and small businesses hardest while letting big polluters off the hook. Instead, the Conservative candidate said he would "fight climate change with technology, not taxes," financed with green bonds.
The Conservatives have promised to repeal the carbon tax and the clean fuel standard. The existing mechanism by which heavy emitters pay a carbon price for output emissions above their allowance would also be scrapped. Instead, industrial facilities emitting above the allowance will have to fund research and development in green technology.
Scheer also plans to export Canadian technology and liquefied natural gas (LNG) to countries such as China to help them transition away from coal. Analysis has found the Conservative plan would see emissions rising until 2030, reversing the current trend.
New Democratic Party
The left-wing NDP promised to align their policies with limiting global temperatures to 1.5°C by achieving net zero emissions by 2050.
An NDP government would establish a climate accountability office to audit progress towards the country's climate goals, ban all-single use plastics by 2022, end oil and gas subsidies, make all Canada's electricity carbon-free by 2030 and move towards electric and free public transport.
The Green Party's manifesto puts climate action at the heart of its vision for society. It promised to cut emissions by 60 percent by 2030 with interim five-year target, achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, ban all extraction of new hydrocarbon while phasing out existing operations and achieve 100% renewable electricity by 2030. Both the NDP and the Greens would maintain a carbon pricing mechanism and oppose the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline.
The French-language separatist party has a climate plan aligned with Québec's provincial plan. It backs policies in line with the tougher 1.5°C goal of the Paris agreement, including an end to fossil fuel subsidies, a reform of fiscal policy in favor of green finance and a carbon tax.
People's Party of Canada
The newly-created far-right party denies the scientific consensus on climate change and pledged to boost Canada's oil and gas industries.
What do the polls say?
The Conservatives and the Liberals are neck-and-neck with less than a point between them, according to some estimates.
The NDP are trailing with around 17 percent and the Greens hover under the 10 percent mark.
With less than 33 percent of national support, neither the Conservatives nor the Liberals are likely to form a majority government. Instead, one of the two major parties could form a minority government, relying on cross-party support and agreements to pass legislation.
What does that mean for climate action in Canada?
The election is "a deciding factor in the next decade of Canada's climate action," Cat Abreu, executive director at Climate Action Network Canada told Climate Home News.
A majority Conservative government would see "the dismantling of key sections of Canada's climate plan," including the carbon pricing system, said Isabelle Turcotte, director of policy at the clean energy think thank Pembina Institute. But without a majority, a Conservative government would likely have to "soften" its stance to broker deals with other parties, Abreu said.
In the case of a minority Liberal government, propped up by progressive parties, "we might see the potential for some pretty big moves on climate," she added. Turcotte told CHN a minority Liberal government could hold the Trudeau administration accountable for its pledge to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
"It's great that we have been able to talk about climate change in this election but there has been a poor quality of debate. We are not seeing the level of debate that will allow us to see pathways for what a[n energy] transition looks like," Turcotte added.
Ross Mckitrick, professor specialised in environmental economics at the University of Guelph, Ontario, told CHN the election exposed the "contradictions" of Canada's climate policy debate.
"Climate policy is popular enough that every party is on board with it but specific policy measures are very unpopular. It's still the case that people [in Canada] have an aversion to very expensive climate policies," he said.
Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmog UK.
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A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
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