Climate change and net zero: Key messages from the Party climate plans

September 18, 2021  |  Charles Lin

Image by MasterTux from Pixabay

Image by MasterTux from Pixabay

The Canadian Liberal government has called a federal election for September 20, 2021. This is the eighth and concluding article in our pre-election series, which focuses on key high-level messages of the climate plans from the five major federal parties: Liberal, Conservative, New Democratic (NDP), Green, and Bloc Québécois (BQ).

For more details, please refer to our pre-election series of articles shown below in the Appendix.

Emission targets

Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, Canada and 195 other countries have committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to limit global warming. This Agreement provides a framework for Canada to set targets for emission reductions. The five parties aim to cut Canada’s emissions from 2005 levels by 2030 by different percentage amounts. They range from a low of 30% (Conservative), to 40-45% (Liberal), and to highs of 50% (NDP) and 60% (Green, BQ). The current Liberal government has committed to a reduction of 40-45% under the Paris Agreement. This means the Conservatives, if elected, will not be meeting the current Paris target.

Carbon pricing

All parties support carbon pricing in some form. Economists agree a price on carbon is the most efficient and least costly way to reduce emissions. The support of carbon pricing across party lines reflects the parties’ consensus on the policy of choice and their recognition of the concerns of Canadians to deal with climate change. The details of the pricing policy differ for the parties. For example, the Liberals propose a carbon tax with 90% of the revenues collected being returned to Canadians via tax rebates under the federal backstop, while the Conservatives would deposit the revenues to personal savings accounts for Canadians to make green purchases.

Transition to low-carbon economy

As we transition to a low-carbon economy away from the use of fossil fuels, demand for low-carbon technologies, such as wind and solar power, carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS), and hydrogen fuel, will grow. Workers will need to transition to these new industries. An important question is whether we rapidly phase out the use of fossil fuels with renewables filling the gap, or continue to use them with technologies such as CCUS to achieve net zero emissions. The position of the five parties differs in this aspect. It appears the Conservatives see an important continuing role for fossil fuels. In a survey conducted by environmental groups in August 2021, the Conservatives were the only party that did not commit to “a rapid phase-out of fossil fuels that supports workers, communities and marginalized groups in the just and fair transition to a sustainable economy”.

Adaptation to climate change

All five parties support adaptation measures for extreme events such as heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods, and coastal erosion. There is recognition the occurrence and impacts of such events have been made worse by climate change. We need adaptation measures, including infrastructure upgrades and disaster response strategies, to deal with these events.

What does all this mean?

The five parties all acknowledge in their climate plans the urgency to act, with varying emission targets and commitments, and different policies to achieve them. The impact of climate change is increasingly felt in Canada and around the world, and the need to act to reduce emissions has never been more urgent. Earlier in the summer at the end of June, a record-smashing heat wave occurred in BC and Alberta, with a temperature record of 49.6oC set on June 29 at Lytton, BC. Over 800 sudden deaths occurred that week in BC, and 70% are deemed to be heat related. Several days before the election was called, the IPCC released a climate science report on August 9 that was termed “a code red for humanity” by the UN Secretary General.

CBC recently reported on some modelling and analysis by experts that evaluate the parties’ plans, to estimate whether the proposed policies would achieve the targets and commitments in the plans, and their costs. An overall message is the policies have a cost on the economy. Such costs, which are inevitable in acting to reduce emissions, have to be considered relative to the high economic and social impacts of inaction. There are also accompanying benefits to these costs, such as new opportunities in green technologies, lower risks to extreme events, and reduced health care costs from improved air quality.

What can Canadians do? We have reported on the parties’ climate plans and policies. The task at hand is to exercise our privilege and duty as informed and concerned citizens to vote on September 20. Our collective votes would help put Canada in the right trajectory towards net zero.

Appendix: Election topics we have covered to date

Charles Lin

Charles is a retired atmospheric scientist based in Toronto. He stays busy as founder and lead of ImpactNetZero, keeping healthy in mind and body, and reading stories to his two grandchildren.

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