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EDITORIAL: Mixed signals

Climate change. - Stock
A new package of environmental initiatives was signed at Dec. 3-14th summit in Katowice, Poland. — 123RF Stock Photo

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has long championed the Liberal party position that fossil fuel development and environmental concerns are not mutually exclusive — they can successfully co-exist.

Whether the federal government’s position remains intact or is dealt a setback following the latest climate change summit in Poland remains to be seen.

Canada joined almost 200 other countries in ratifying a complex environmental package that will enact general objectives set out in Paris three years ago. Following the Paris accord, Trudeau launched an ambitious plan to fulfil this country’s commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The deal struck in Katowice, Poland fills in many of the blanks and sets out how countries report their emissions and efforts to reduce them. Canada has less wiggle room now, even as it struggles to implement general promises from Paris.

A UN report says global emissions from fossil fuels must be cut in half by 2030 — or else.

And Trudeau is facing setbacks. His carbon pricing plan is facing court challenges by four provinces, and three pipeline projects to get Alberta oil to market have been scuttled. What are the solutions to this crisis for Rachel Notley, the Alberta premier who faces an election early next year? She’s talking about building a major refinery in the province to boost prices, but that will add dramatically to carbon emissions. She is also floating the idea of using thousands of railway cars to transport Alberta oil — a more dangerous threat to the environment than any pipeline.

A recent UN report that climate change is happening faster than was first believed and that global temperatures are rising far more quickly than first anticipated raised the urgency level in Poland. It’s estimated that within 12 years, Earth will pass the point of no return without immediate action to curtail greenhouse gases. A UN report says global emissions from fossil fuels must be cut in half by 2030 — or else.

The United States helped scuttle a Katowice declaration that the world must wean itself from fossil fuels. The U.S. is sending mixed signals, pushing for more transparency in reporting emission cuts while declaring it favours increased “clean coal” development. The U.S. signed the Katowice agreement, even as it intends to withdraw from the Paris Accord.

So how will Trudeau maintain his support for fossil fuel development and fulfil commitments to Paris and Katowice? He knows most Canadians support efforts to curb climate change. He also knows that offshore oil revenues are forecast to help turn around the struggling Newfoundland and Labrador economy next year, and that the oil sands remain a major economic generator. Oil revenues provide federal cash for transfer and equalization payments. What will replace them?

Some key climate change decisions were delayed in Poland by at least a year, which could buy the PM enough time to get through an election next October; and before the “thousand little steps forward” in Katowice are jeopardized by truculent Canadian premiers intent on reversing progressive carbon pricing advances.

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