The extent of the challenge the federal government faces in implementing its expansive new climate agenda was laid bare on Friday.
Immediately, Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault announced the launch of consultations on a range of pivotal areas the Liberals campaigned on this fall. These include a cap on emissions from the oil and gas sector, a sales quota for electric vehicles, a net zero electricity grid by 2035 and a plan to reduce methane emissions from the fossil fuel sector and across the board. the economy.
Any one of these, on its own, could occupy a large part of the government’s climate capacity. So it was no surprise when Mr. Guilbeault also announced on Friday that Ottawa is giving itself a three-month extension to produce a plan, required by the climate responsibility law passed earlier this year, in order to achieve l Canada’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.
Even with this plan now due to be tabled in March rather than this month, Guilbeault said in an interview that consultations around some of its key elements – not to mention actual policy design – will not be over. by then.
This means, as Mr. Guilbeault conceded, that the government will have to make âsome assumptionsâ about the emissions reduction impact of policies that it has not yet fully developed. âI’m sure some people will say they would like to see more details,â he said, âand I think that will be a fair comment.â
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But at this point, the realistic question is not whether the Liberals can produce implementation details before next spring, which would require superhuman speed by government standards.
Rather, the question is whether they can put all of these policies in place firmly during their current term, which, in a minority parliament, could last less than two years. And, just as important, if they can meaningfully engage with affected industries during the talks that begin now, without weakening commitments in such a way as to put the 2030 target out of reach.
Some measures promise to be easier on both fronts than others.
The electric vehicle quota, known as the zero emission vehicle mandate, may be the simplest. The Liberals have already signaled the target: half of all new motor vehicle sales by 2030, and all by 2035. And Ottawa can model its system on the ZEV mandates in place provincially in Colombia. -British and in Quebec, the latter of which Mr. Guilbeault was involved in the craft industry before entering federal politics.
Nonetheless, there will be a lot of back-and-forth with the auto industry and other stakeholders, including around interim sales targets by 2030, and how much the government is spending on charging infrastructure, incentives on purchase and other additional measures. In addition, the Liberals promise to simultaneously develop regulations to reduce emissions from heavy vehicles, for which electrification is not so advanced.
Tightening methane regulations, which by 2030 are expected to reduce the leakage of very potent greenhouse gases from the oil and gas industry by 75% from 2012 levels, is not a highly controversial goal. . In principle, everyone agrees that these emissions must decrease sharply.
However, meeting this commitment requires very complex regulatory work to ensure that leaks are detected and avoided. With the Liberals also pledging to cut economy-wide methane emissions by 30%, they must also find a way to cut emissions from other sectors, especially agriculture, where they are more difficult. to measure and to avoid. And they will have to deal with the provinces, including Alberta, which currently have equivalency agreements allowing them to establish their own methane regulations.
Federal-provincial relations will be more central to the net zero electricity commitment. Ottawa has some ability to regulate polluting energy sources, which it has already used to try to shut down coal-fired power plants by 2030. But electricity policy is almost entirely a provincial responsibility, and some provinces (notably Nova Scotia) are unable to do so. meet coal needs. Now the Liberals will also try to force the provinces to reduce their consumption of other fossil fuels, which could be even trickier.
But it is the oil and gas emission caps that loom as the biggest test.
This pledge, to freeze sectoral carbon emissions at their current level and then lower those caps at five-year intervals, is where Ottawa can expect to meet the strongest resistance, led by the Government of the United States. ‘Alberta. This is also where the actual plans are most ambiguous.
Not only have the Liberals not yet indicated what the future emission reduction targets might be; they are also far from determining what kind of model they will use to define and apply them. It is not clear, for example, whether the caps will be set for the whole industry or will be company specific; likewise, if it will involve establishing some kind of emissions pricing or credit trading market. And there will be pressure, as with most of these policies, to heavily subsidize investments in clean technologies that would help meet the goals.
It has the makings of the kind of policy that could be in the works for a very long time. But that is not a luxury the Liberals have.
“I think we can no longer afford to take four or five years to develop new regulations,” said Mr. Guilbeault, acknowledging the pace at which government has sometimes evolved before.
He sees it as his responsibility, he said, to ensure that the oil and gas caps (as well as other measures) “are operational when our government could be re-elected.”
This is further than the 2030 plan is expected. But looking at the work ahead, it doesn’t seem like a very long time at all.
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