Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley accuse B.C. Premier John Horgan of sabotaging Canada’s climate plan, making him responsible for our continued planet-threatening greenhouse-gas emissions. But what exactly is Mr. Horgan’s climate crime? He is resisting the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, a GHG-increasing fossil-fuel project. George Orwell would have fun unpacking this black-is-white logic.
First, Orwell would note how three previous Canadian prime ministers made dishonest GHG promises. In 1988, Brian Mulroney made a promise for 2000. In 1997, Jean Chrétien made a promise for 2010. And in 2007, Stephen Harper made a promise for 2020. But all three failed to immediately implement the regulations and carbon prices necessary to achieve their promises. Independent experts, myself included, noted a decade before each deadline that the promise would not be kept. In 2002, I cowrote The Cost of Climate Policy,3 detailing why Mr. Chrétien would fail his Kyoto commitment. But he knew this from his own staff.
Orwell would not need energy expertise to know that emission increases from major industries cannot occur if a prime minister is to keep his promise. Yet all three, and now Mr. Trudeau, have countenanced Alberta’s oil sands expansion, the single biggest reason for missing targets. With oil output growing from one million barrels per day in 2005 to 2.5 million barrels in 2015, Alberta’s contribution to Canada’s emissions increased from 230 to 270 megatonnes of carbon dioxide. And Alberta’s emissions will reach 290 megatonnes by 2030 if projects like Trans Mountain are completed. National studies by independent researchers (including my university-based group) consistently show that Mr. Trudeau’s 2015 Paris promise of a 30 per cent reduction by 2030 is unachievable with oil sands expansion. His staff know this, so he knows it too.
Second, Orwell would note that constitutional experts agree that the Canadian government has the authority to achieve its GHG promises. If Mr. Trudeau fails, he cannot blame uncooperative provinces for his failure. He admitted as much when he told Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall that federal climate policies will apply to every province. Thus, the Prime Minister does not need a deal with Alberta for more oil pipelines in order to meet his Paris commitment. He simply needs to quickly apply his federal authority to regulate or price emissions from electricity generation, oil sands, other industries, transportation and buildings. When he does, oil sands output will not grow, and pipeline expansion will not be needed.
Third, if Orwell consulted experts at any of the internationally renowned institutions assessing how humanity keeps the temperature increase below 2 degrees Celsius, he would note their unanimous conclusion that oil sands expansion must not occur. Global oil demand must fall from today’s 95 million barrels a day to about 65 million by 2050. As a high-cost, high-emission resource, oil sands will not expand as oil prices fall in a declining oil market.
Mr. Trudeau and his advisers know that it makes no sense, indeed is economically and socially irresponsible, to build a pipeline today for expanded production that should not occur if we are to prevent devastating climate change. Fostering increased oil sands jobs in Alberta is inconsistent with global climate goals.
Which leads to Ms. Notley’s accusation that Mr. Horgan is attacking current Albertan jobs. Oil sands production facilities are long-lived investments that, once built, are viable for decades. The halt to oil sands expansion that is essential to achieve national and global climate goals does not eliminate current oil sands jobs in Alberta.
To say that Mr. Horgan’s resistance to fossil-fuel expansion is an attack on Albertan jobs is the biggest whopper of them all. But Ms. Notley has only a year before an election she will probably lose. Her political survival depends on her finding an issue that draws Albertans to her. As Orwell witnessed in the 1930s in Europe, politicians benefit if they are seen to be protecting their citizens from external threats, even if these threats are fictional.
Orwell once suggested that politicians be required to publicly admit their untruths – at the moment they utter them. When it comes to Canada’s climate-versus-pipeline battle, this would be a great idea.