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Canada’s political parties cannot ‘greenwash’ their way through another election –

The governing Liberals have positioned themselves as climate champions, but their record paints another picture altogether, writes Lori Lee Oates in this column for CBC Opinion. She argues that politicians need to align themselves with scientists — and many voters.

lori lee oates

Opinion columnist Lori Lee Oates argues Canadian voters have a responsibility to make sure politicians stand up to large oil companies. (Nicholas Hillier Photography/Submitted by Lori Lee Oates)

This column is an opinion by Lori Lee Oates, who has worked in the senior levels of the provincial and federal governments.

On Aug. 9, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its Sixth Assessment Report, which the secretary-general of the United Nations said “must sound the death knell for fossil fuels.”

Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan responded that oil and gas is “the biggest part of our national economy.”

However, Statistics Canada puts oil and gas at an average of five per cent of gross domestic product nationally, and 21 per cent in Alberta. The industry’s national share of jobs is 0.4 per cent and 2.9 per cent in Alberta.

The Greening with Jobs report from the International Labour Organization in 2018 predicted that 24 million green energy jobs will be created to keep global warming to an increase of 2 C. This, they predict, will offset six million job losses elsewhere.

Climate disasters cost money and have real economic consequences.

Renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar are now the most cost-effective form of energy.

Of course, oil has provided royalties to provincial treasuries. However, the high level of subsidies needed to keep the industry going since the COVID-19 oil shock has largely eliminated that advantage.

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Canada’s lack of response to climate change is not about jobs or the economy.

This raises the question of why political parties have been so defensive of the oil industry. Well, it is probably because the industry has achieved what’s been described as “regulatory capture” of the government of Canada.

This means that rather than working for the interests of Canadians, the government sees itself as working for the industry.

Call it greenwashing

Greenwashing is the act of pretending you are doing things to address climate change while not actually reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

It is well established that oil companies have been doing this for decades. However, it is becoming increasingly obvious that governments are doing it too — and the governing Liberal Party of Canada has been the worst offender.

justin trudeau paris agreement

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau signed the Paris Agreement on climate change at a ceremony at the United Nations headquarters on April 22, 2016. (CBC)

Canada has been the only G7 nation to increase its emissions since Justin Trudeau signed the Paris Agreement in April 2016.

In 2020, after the COVID-19 oil shock started, 230 financial experts across the globe warned against recovering fossil fuels if nations wanted to meet their Paris Agreement commitments. Since that time, the Liberal government has supported fossil fuels at 10 times the G20 average.

The Conservative Party of Canada maintains they will meet Paris Agreement 2030 goals without a carbon tax. However, they do propose a personal low carbon savings account, which is a carbon tax by another name. They also call for more natural gas, a low carbon fuel standard and carbon capture.

All these approaches have been questioned or abandoned by scientists and climate policy experts. Many of these groups are also critical of carbon pricing, which has been the signature Liberal government climate policy.

The NDP have gone on the offensive since the release of the Sixth Assessment Report, noting that the governing Liberals have spent more than $20 billion on pipelines and more than $18 billion in oil subsidies last year.

They note that Trudeau’s response to climate change has been worse than Stephen Harper’s. Le Devoir has shown that subsidies for oil have been higher under Trudeau than they were under Harper.

The NDP has historically not been vocal in standing up to big oil for fear of losing the votes of trade unions. However, public opinion on climate change is shifting quickly and this newly emboldened approach may well put them in a position to gain votes from soft Liberals and push the Liberal Party to the left on these issues.

The Green Party recommends cancelling pipeline projects, an end to all oil subsidies, an immediate just transition for workers and a national renewable energy corridor.

Addressing climate change is good politics

The fact that our entire civilization is in danger from climate change is not exactly news. This recent IPCC report was not that different than the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C that was released in 2018. In 2019, global media announced that 11,000 scientists had declared a “climate emergency” in Bioscience journal. Climate emergency was the Oxford English Dictionary word of the year.

The Liberal government’s response to the Sixth Assessment Report was, sadly, predictable. They trotted out the familiar “we need a pipeline to fight climate change” argument.

WATCH | See coverage of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report:

climate warning un report bernstein 090821.jpg?crop=1

‘Code red’: Dire warnings from UN climate change report

A report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change offered dire warnings for the future and a stark look at the present, showing global warming could hit 1.5 C by the 2030s and extreme weather events will become more common. 2:12

Climate policy research has shown that depending on fossil fuels to pay for a green transition is a terrible plan. Oil revenue simply disappears too fast.

Poll after poll has shown that most Canadians want climate change addressed and they want a just transition now.

The parties cannot be allowed to greenwash their way through another election. Liberals certainly cannot be allowed to continue the current path while claiming to be climate champions.

The only question now is this: are the political parties willing to stand up to big oil and save what they still can? It is our responsibility to make sure they do.

The planet will survive. We might not.

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