Despite some intense disagreements Canadian premiers and territorial leaders managed to reach a unanimous deal. The agreement strives to strike a balance between a national energy strategy that includes fossil fuels and climate change mitigation efforts. At the recent meeting of Canadian provincial and territorial leaders, the premiers of both Quebec and Ontario managed to put environmental concerns at the top of the agenda. The 2015 summer meeting of Canada’s premiers in St. John’s Newfoundland took place on July 15 – 17. The same old polemics emerged pitting the economy against the environment. However, Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne warned those present not to fall victim to this false choice. She stressed the importance of managing the tension between tar sands pipelines and climate change.
The meeting was expected to focus on transporting energy, specifically the pipeline agenda, however the new central Canadian alliance of Ontario and Quebec succeeded in shifting the focus to include climate change and clean energy. Quebec premier Phillipe Couillard said the new alliance signaled the two provinces are “back as a very important bloc of influence in the country.” Couillard even made his support for the deal contingent on the inclusion of climate change and clean energy.
Former Alberta premier Alison Redford had emphasized transporting fossil fuels through pipelines while the new Alberta premier Rachel Notley, has demonstrated that she is not as single minded as her predecessor.
The premiers meeting in Halifax two years ago was marred by disagreement over the Northern Gateway pipeline between British Columbia premier Christy Clark and then Alberta premiere Redford. At that time Quebec’s separatist premier Pauline Marois refused to agree to a deal. The electoral trouncing of both Redford and Marois have cleared the way for a new atmosphere and new possibilities.
The outcome document of the meeting focuses on the economy, jobs, and energy transportation. However it also emphasizes the need for, “highest degree of environmental safeguards and protection, including by addressing climate change, climate resilience and reducing greenhouse gas emissions globally.”
Last week the premiers of Quebec and Ontario came together for a meeting in Quebec City in which they outlined a national energy strategy with a climate change focus. However, this strategy clearly stressed the significance of the tar sands for the Canadian economy. Wynne conceded that tar sands make it hard for Canada to meet its emissions pledges. She added that the tar sands will put even more pressure on other industries and other provinces to meet national targets.
A response from Environmental Defense describes the agreement as a, “big step backwards.” It went on to say, “By lending support to pipelines, the strategy will put Canada further out of step with the rest of the world where climate change is being treated as a serious matter. We in Canada need to come to grips with the fact that it’s practically impossible to grow the tar sands and reduce carbon pollution.”
The response cautions against putting all of our eggs into the tar sands basket. It sites declining oil prices and the recent major oil spill in Alberta as economic and environmental risks associated with fossil fuels in Canada. It also talks about how wildfires, drought and other forms of extreme weather underscores the need for a national energy strategy that addresses carbon pollution.
Environmental Defense offers a few suggestions including reducing carbon emissions through legislation that includes putting a price on carbon, more renewable energy and an increased emphasis on energy efficiency.
The deal tries to strike a balance between fossil fuels and the environment, pipelines and a climate change strategy, however, such a balance may prove to be an oxymoron.
These issues are sure to be revisited next spring when Canadian premiers will attend a climate-change summit hosted by Quebec.