Is failing to lower fossil fuel emissions a harbinger of Canada’s unsuccessful climate policies?

By Lianne Ohayon, News & Campus Life Staff Writer 

An Oil Well on the Saskatchewan Prairies.
Image Source: PxHere

Amidst COP28’s promises of slowing global warming and weaning off of fossil fuels, the Canadian oil and gas industry has reported that almost 500 more wells will be drilled in 2024, bringing the total number of projects to over 6,200. This 8% increase results from the desire of producers to take advantage of the more cost-efficient and rapid distribution of crude oil via the new developments of the Trans Mountain pipeline. 

Even a seemingly marginal increase like 8% is unfortunate; Canada’s goal to reduce its carbon emissions by 40% from 2005 to 2030 is becoming increasingly elusive. In fact, Canada’s prospective increase in oil production by 2030 ranks it fourth in the world after Brazil, the United States, and Saudi Arabia. Out of all the countries in the G7, it has performed the worst when it comes to promoting and sustaining significant reductions in greenhouse gases. 

Does this 8% increase signify a larger trend within the Canadian climate agenda? How has a supposed champion of slowing global warming fallen from its position as a pioneer in climate action? And, have Canadian climate policies been adapted and enforced in tandem with global climate agreements Canada has signed?

The Canadian government’s recent actions to tackle climate change reflects a hypothetical desire to achieve a more environmentally-conscious society. 

The Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, the centerpiece of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s plan for lowering greenhouse gas emissions and protecting natural reserves, was adopted by the First Premiers of most Canadian provinces/territories in 2016. In this framework, the Canadian government establishes the goal of lowering greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the 742 megatonne trajectory in 2016 to 523 megatonnes by 2030. 

To do so, the Framework proposes the following policies: pricing carbon pollution, supporting the growth of the Canadian renewable energy sector, promoting climate resilience, and investing in clean technology and innovation. Through the consistent reporting on emissions and the proper implementation of the outlined climate policy, a gradual shift to a low-carbon government was said to occur. 

Canada also signed the Paris Agreement, whereby the country has committed to “reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030.” Finally, fostering partnerships with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis leaders to push forward initiatives to slow climate change has been an important facet of Canadian climate policy.

However, in reality, Canada is not on track to fulfill its obligation as outlined by the Paris Agreement. Though these climate policies appear stringent on paper and on par with international GHG regulations, the Framework falls through when reviewing the specific legislations, especially in the case of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. 

This pipeline currently spans 1,150 kilometers, carrying crude oil from Edmonton to various destinations along the West Coast, even reaching Washington, U.S.A. The Trans Mountain pipeline, as it stands, is already an environmental disaster, with 84 spills occurring from 1961 to 2019; more recent leaks substantially affected water cleanliness for First Nations groups. 

Despite these incidents, in 2012, Kinder Morgan Inc., then-owner of the Trans Mountain pipeline, proposed a thousand kilometer expansion to substantially increase the capacity of the pipeline. The expansion would also dramatically alter the environment, put endangered wildlife (like the spotted owl) at risk, and increase the chances of oil leakages. 

Contrary to the aim for sustainability, Prime Minister Trudeau fervently supported the expansion project, saying that a “choice between pipelines and wind turbines” would be counterproductive regarding Canada’s ambitions as a global power. 

In 2018, the Canadian government purchased the Trans Mountain Corporation for C$4.5 billion; it has since invested C$35 billion into the project — one riddled with delays and mismanagement of funds. 

As such, a challenging dilemma arises: Canada’s ambitious climate policies, juxtaposed with the continued expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline and the digging of oil wells, casts doubt over the future of sustainability in Canada. 

If the guidelines established in the Paris Agreement are to be met, there must be a serious reflection of conduct towards companies and organizations that endorse the production of GHG emissions. 

If Canada wants to maintain its reputation as a supposed leader in the fight against climate change, lessons could be learned by gazing inward and preventing government-endorsed environmental destruction before establishing broader goals (i.e., Canada’s plan to cut methane emissions by 75%) that the country has already had trouble meeting. 

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