Letter to Justin Trudeau and Catherine McKenna

from concerned citizens of Saskatchewan, convened by Climate Justice Saskatoon
c/o 615 Main St, Saskatoon, SK, S7H 0J8
climateactionsk@gmail.com

2016:Oct:01

Rt Hon Justin Trudeau and Hon Catherine McKenna
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON
K1A 0A6

Dear Mr Trudeau and Ms McKenna

We write as citizens of Saskatchewan, concerned that government needs: to take decisive action consistent with the latest science to mitigate the global climate crisis; to facilitate job creation in the new clean green economy; and to recognize with genuine respect the original custodians of this land and their rights. To that end we call upon you to:

(1) Improve our national emissions targets. We owe it to the world to increase the ambition of our emissions reduction targets – the so-called Intended Nationally Determined Contribution referred to in the Paris agreement. The current Canadian targets, set by the Harper government, are amongst the least ambitious in the industrialised world. Canada’s target amounts to a mere 15% reduction compared to 1990. Because of Canada’s arbitrary choice of a 2005 baseline, the pro rata target for Saskatchewan would actually amount to an 8% increase from 1990. By contrast, the European Union’s INDC is a 40% reduction by 2030 from its 1990 emissions – itself probably an inadequate target given the urgency of the crisis. Taken as a whole, current INDCs take the world’s 2030 emissions to about 33% higher than is needed to keep us below 2°C of warming.(ref 1)  Canada has a particular responsibility as a historic laggard to raise its game. Your failure to do so is deeply regrettable, and totally inconsistent with your support for the Paris 1.5°C goal.

However, targets are meaningless without a programme to achieve them. Hence:

(2) End fossil subsidies and introduce fair, transparent, comprehensive and serious carbon pricing. A useful starting point for a credible emissions reduction programme would be the rapid elimination of all the subsidies given by the federal government to the fossil fuel industry. The latest figures for those total more than USD1.5 billion a year.(ref 2)  But eliminating that piece of corporate welfare is not enough. It does not account for the hidden subsidies in the form of increased medical expenses, increased infrastructure expenses, increased climate impact expenses and so on. When those are included, the figure comes to USD46 billion a year.(ref 3)  That is the first reason why we need carbon pricing. The second reason is that it is a very effective tool for shifting the economy from waste to efficiency and from carbon polluters to clean energy. But it must be open and transparent, it must involve minimal extra bureaucracy, it must be comprehensive, it must be able to weather sudden changes in the economy, and it should be constructed so as put more burdens on those able to pay and give more opportunities to those who cannot currently afford them. It is difficult to see how a cap and trade system could meet most of those criteria. But there are at least two options which can. Fee and dividend involves charging a fee at the point where fossil fuels enter the economy, and giving it back to the people in equal cash payments. Or a more complex system could return a fraction of the funds to people on low income and use the rest to fund green initiatives.

(3) Say no to new pipelines. But fiscal measures alone won’t deal with the crisis, for a couple of reasons. Some of the shifts we need cannot be achieved by market manipulation. New infrastructure is also needed to enable people to choose efficient and clean. At the same time, some old infrastructure needs to be retired or rejected. A recent, meticulously researched report found, using industry data, that, in order to satisfy the Paris agreement’s temperature commitments, no new fossil fuel extraction or transportation infrastructure should be build, and some of the existing infrastructure needs to be closed down.(ref 4)  That is why you must say no to all existing or new bitumen pipeline proposals – NO to Kinder Morgan’s TransMountain pipeline, and NO to Energy East. But it is also unanswerable grounds for saying NO to the Lelu Island liquefied natural gas plant, NO to the pipeline to transport the gas, NO to the expansion of fracking in northeast BC to supply the gas, and NO to the site C hydro dam which would power the fracking operation. Your recent approval of two of these elements is deeply regrettable – and indeed puts at risk Canada’s ability even to meet the inadequate Harper emission targets.(ref 5)

(4) Exit from coal. It also means an exit from coal before 2030. The Alberta government has already made that commitment. Detailed calculations for Green Energy Project Saskatchewan lead us to believe that, with the political will, Saskatchewan could easily replace all of its coal-fired power stations with clean renewable energy facilities by 2025.(ref 6)

(5) Cut methane leaks, venting and flaring. And it means a dramatic reduction in what are called “fugitive emissions” – the leakage of methane especially from fracking operations, and the unnecessary venting and flaring of methane at a variety of oil and gas installations. Sometimes this practice is necessary for safety reasons, but most of the time it isn’t – it merely exemplifies a culture of waste.

(6) Build the green economy. But we don’t just need to stop doing harm. We need to build a new energy economy and new green infrastructure. A shift to renewables for electric power could be achieved very quickly given the political will provincially, backed up by both sticks and carrots from Ottawa. We just need to look to Denmark, Scotland, Costa Rica, and Uruguay, just to name a few, to see how it can be done. SaskPower’s renewables target for 2030 is an improvement on past policy, but it is still far far too modest. We know that we can build buildings to vastly better standards of energy performance than is currently the norm – Saskatoon’s first house which complies with the tough international Passivhaus standard is nearing completion. The shift to clean electricity should go hand in hand with a shift to electric vehicles. Norway, the Netherlands and India are already constructing plans for an end to new petroleum-fuelled vehicles before 2030. We could join them, but to do so in our climate and with our long distances between population centres we need funding for a stronger network of electric fuelling stations and for accelerated research for better batteries.

(7) Implement a holistic transport strategy. Electric vehicles aren’t the only way to clean up our transport, though. Let’s have generous federal funding to expand our municipal public transit – and our intercity public transit – and make them attractive and convenient. Most developed countries have managed to do this. Is it really too difficult for Canada?

(8) Roll out an ambitious green jobs strategy. And this shift to a green economy involves creating jobs. If planned correctly, it can create them in very large numbers. According to one recent report, if government invested in green energy to the same extent as it has subsidised the oil industry, it would create between 6 and 9 times as many jobs.(ref 7) They will be clean jobs, many more of them will be
available within peoples’ own communities, and there can be real possibilities for local ownership of the businesses which a green transition would create.

(9) Equip workers to enter the new economy, and ensure they are properly supported in the transition. But it can take time for workers to transition from the old economy to the new. So your government must ensure adequate EI protection and retraining for all energy workers affected by a transition to renewables. And let’s start now. People are losing their jobs in the oil industry because of the drop in the international oil price. There is no reason to expect that price to rise much for several years to come. Let’s enable those workers to become the vanguard of the new clean economy.

(10) Give Indigenous people the respect they deserve – including a proper recognition of their inherent land rights. There would be no Canada were it not for First Peoples’ traditional knowledge in how to live in this land. There will be no Canada – at least not the country that we recognise – if we do not learn from that traditional wisdom to live in harmony with the land and with all the other species which it supports. When Indigenous people say NO to pipelines, or to mines, or to oil installations, it is not because they are perverse, nor is it because they are angling for more money. It is because they are protecting the land, because they understand what it means to be in right relationship with the land. And although it was the support and the proper care of First Peoples that made Canada possible, Canada has treated them with one injustice after another – it is not necessary to rehearse them here. The clean green economy which we want to create needs their participation, it needs their leadership, and it must be created in a way that does right by them. Every element of it needs their free, prior and informed consent. So, as a first step – and this is only a first step – towards building a just relationship, we are calling on both federal and provincial governments to adopt and implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, and to adopt a natural interpretation of Article 19, which calls for free, prior and informed consent.

At present we are all forced into an addiction to fossil fuels which threatens to destroy some of our basic life-support systems. Federal government has the power to change that. Just as you don’t help an alcoholic by giving him a drink, you don’t help fossil addicts by giving them an LNG terminal or a pipeline. And just as you don’t help an alcoholic by letting him persuade you that just a few more drinks won’t hurt, you don’t help a fossil addict by letting him block real climate action at first ministers’ meetings.

Mr Trudeau, you need to act to protect our climate, to protect the most vulnerable, to protect our children, indeed to protect your own children. You need to act comprehensively. And you need to act now.

Yours respectfully,

[signed by 60 Saskatchewan-resident citizens]

 

References:

(1) Sir Robert Watson, Dr Carlo Carraro, Dr Pablo Canziani, Prof Dr Nebojsa Nakicenovic, Dr James M McCarthy, Dr Jose Goldemberg, Liliana Hisas (2016), The Truth about Climate Change, FEU-US.
See also: Joeri Rogelj, Michel den Elzen, Niklas Höhne, Taryn Fransen, Hanna Fekete, Harald Winkler, Roberto Schaeffer, Fu Sha, Keywan Riahi & Malte Meinshausen (2016:Jun:30), Paris Agreement climate proposals need a boost to keep warming well below 2°C, Nature, vol 534 pp 631-639

(2) Yanick Touchette (2015:Nov), G20 subsidies to oil, gas and coal production: Canada, Overseas Development Institute / Oil Change International / International Institute for Sustainable Development

(3) David Coady, Ian Parry, Louis Sears & Baoping Shang (2015:May), How large are global energy subsidies?, IMF working paper, Fiscal Affairs Department, International Monetary Fund

(4) Greg Muttitt (2016:Sep), The Sky’s Limit: why the Paris climate goals require a managed decline of fossil fuel production, Oil Change International

(5) J David Hughes (2016:Jun), Can Canada expand oil and gas production, build pipelines and keep its climate change commitments?, CCPA / Parkland Institute / Corporate Mapping Project.

(6) Mark Bigland-Pritchard (2015:Mar), Can Saskatchewan make the shift to a renewables-only electricity grid by mid-century?: a technical modelling exercise (interim report), Saskatchewan Eco-Network / Green Energy Project Saskatchewan. Available from the author on request.

(7) Blue Green Canada (2012), More Bang for our Buck

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