Environmental adviser urges Ontario premier to strengthen climate plan
July 14, 2015
By Adrian Morrow
One of Premier Kathleen Wynne’s environmental advisers is urging her to beef up the climate-change commitments significantly in the Canadian Energy Strategy, which Canada’s premiers are set to unveil this week.
Louise Comeau, a member of Ms. Wynne’s climate action group, warned in a letter dated June 30 that the strategy as is would ramp up oil sands production. She argued that it must be rewritten to include a countrywide agreement on absolute cuts to greenhouse-gas emissions, and to give priority to clean energy projects over new oil and gas proposals.
The Globe and Mail revealed this week that a draft of the Canadian Energy Strategy commits the premiers to help get new oil sands pipelines and other energy projects built by speeding up approvals processes. The plan includes few firm commitments on fighting climate change.
The strategy will be finalized and released at a premiers’ conference that starts on Wednesday in St. John’s.
Dr. Comeau, who saw a draft of the plan independently of The Globe, urged Ms. Wynne to “increase the Strategy’s ambition” on climate change. Among other things, she argued, the plan should aim to keep oil sands production at its current level, and not allow it to increase by approving more pipelines.
“The overarching goal of the Strategy should be to undertake a long-term transition away from fossil fuels and towards clean energy solutions,” Dr. Comeau wrote. “It is critical that Canada come to terms with the fact that growing oil sands production through expansion of pipeline capacity is contrary to reaching our climate protection goals, including our domestic greenhouse gas reduction goals, and to participating in the global transition to a clean energy system.”
A long-time environmental advocate who helped British Columbia craft its carbon tax, Dr. Comeau has been advising Ms. Wynne since last winter.
The Canadian Energy Strategy was conceived in 2012 by then Alberta premier Alison Redford to help her province get more oil to market. But Ms. Wynne and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, who are pursuing ambitious climate-change plans in their provinces, have insisted the strategy also contain commitments for all provinces to fight global warming.
The draft of the plan suggests Alberta and other oil-producing provinces have achieved their aims, with an agreement for more oil and gas development, but Ontario and Quebec have come up short.
“Essentially, what Wynne and Couillard have done is facilitated ongoing growth in Alberta emissions,” Dr. Comeau said in an interview. “We’ve got to move to that absolute greenhouse-gas reduction.”
Ms. Wynne’s office on Monday confirmed it received Dr. Comeau’s letter, but declined to respond in detail.
Alberta, meanwhile, could turn out to be a wild card. Since the strategy was drafted, Rachel Notley’s New Democrats have replaced the Progressive Conservatives in government. Ms. Notley has assigned an expert panel to consult with Albertans and craft a more vigorous climate-change plan for the province, due later this year.
Her government was tight-lipped on Monday about whether she would agree to tougher climate-change action in the Canadian Energy Strategy than her PC predecessors did. Alberta government spokespeople turned down interview requests for both Ms. Notley and her Environment Minister, and declined all comment.
One Alberta government source tried to play down the importance of the climate change section of the Canadian Energy Strategy, saying the strategy is not meant to be a comprehensive environmental agreement. The source pointed to the panel as evidence the new government is serious about fighting climate change.
Erin Flanagan of the Pembina Institute, an environmental think-tank, contended it would make no sense for Ms. Notley to craft a strong climate-change strategy for Alberta without agreeing to stringent measures in the Canadian Energy Strategy.
“Notley has a very significant opportunity here to course-correct. Alberta needs to bring in very significant and rigorous climate change strategies, and the government knows that,” she said. “So for them, at the same time as they’re rolling out a consultation process on what Alberta being a leader on climate might look like, to ratify an energy strategy that’s focused on hydrocarbon exports - that’s speaking out of both sides of your mouth.”