Column: Heavy lifting on climate awaits next government

The party that forms the next government Monday will need to get its act together fast for attendance at the UN Climate Change Conference

The party that forms the next government Monday will need to get its act together fast for attendance at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris in November.

This will be the big one with the objective of achieving a legally binding and universal agreement to limit global warming to 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels.

The conference is especially important for Canada since, as a northern nation, we are more critically impacted by temperature increases than many other nations, especially in our far northern latitudes.

Given our carbon-intensive economy and the fact that we already sit in 10th spot among the world’s worst emitters of greenhouse gases, there’s a lot of catch-up ahead. Canada already has an embarrassing international reputation as a laggard when it comes to responsible mitigation efforts to deal with climate change.

Environment Canada has already said that, once more, we will fall far short of our emissions targets, the current one being to reduce emissions to 17 per cent below 2005 levels. And that target is the least ambitious of any nation.

European leaders agreed a year ago to reduce emissions by at least 40 per cent compared to 1990 levels and the U.S. has a target reduction of 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025.

So what are the leader hopefuls promising to do about climate change?

The NDP will introduce a cap and trade system and crack down on heavy polluters with hefty penalties and fines. They could re-introduce their Climate Change Accountability Act that has had a roller coaster life since first tabled in 2006 by (then) NDP leader Jack Layton. As parliaments dissolved or were prorogued, the Bill went through endless delays until finally defeated in the Senate in 2010 but was re-introduced in 2011. The Bill called for not only a medium (now short) term target to bring greenhouse emissions 25 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 but a long term target to reduce them by 80 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050.

The Green Party platform is to aim for virtual elimination of fossil fuel use in Canada by mid-century. The short term goal is 40 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025 and 80 per cent below 1990 levels by2050. For the Greens, any more expansion of the Alberta oilsands will not be in the cards.

The Liberals will development partnerships with the provinces and territories with targeted federal funding and set emissions-reduction targets. A new Low Carbon Economy Trust will be established to provide funding for projects that materially reduce carbon emissions. According to their website, the Trust will be endowed with $2 billion.

The Conservatives – well, count on more of the same. But that approach will guarantee Canada won’t meet its future targets, short or long term.

Everything in society contributes to GHG emissions including transportation (23 per cent), buildings (12 per cent), agriculture (10 per cent), and waste, oil and gas, oil sands production, and electricity.

The environment is at the heart of our economy. Investment in one broadens the scope of the other. There are huge opportunities in development of small hydro, geothermal, wind, waste energy recovery, solar, ocean, hydrogen and fuel cells. There is technology to capture carbon from the atmosphere to produce ultra-low emissions fuels. Another process in development is to take carbon dioxide and waste heat from oil sands facilities and use an algae process to release bio-oil for jet plane fuel.

But most of all there are creative, dynamic minds driving a wealth of opportunities for new industries, support businesses, and a multitude of jobs.

We need the right government to drive green-based policy and infrastructure forward with them.