Just months after surprising withdrawal of Teck’s tar sands mine application, government wastes best chance to reconcile project decisions with commitment to become net-zero by 2050

Ottawa, Ont. – Today, the government missed the opportunity to implement a critical tool to achieving our climate targets: a climate test on new infrastructure. Public policy experts had hoped that with the introduction of the new Impact Assessment Act (Bill C-69), which requires that project reviews consider whether the impacts help or hinder Canada in achieving its climate commitments, Canada could get on track to doing its part to ensure a climate-safe future. The policy announced today falls short of ensuring this will happen.

“The government has just made it harder for Canada to get on the right pathway to reach our target of becoming net-neutral by 2050,” said Julia Levin, Climate and Energy Program Manager at Environmental Defence. “It is inconsistent to commit to a green recovery and serious climate action while simultaneously failing to put into place a mechanism to ensure that only projects that are consistent with those goals are built. When it comes to addressing the climate emergency – especially when we’re not on track to meet our targets – we need to be using every tool in the toolbox.”

Environmental assessments in Canada have long failed to ensure that project approvals are consistent with a climate-safe future. Global fossil fuel companies are planning to produce about 120% more fossil fuels by 2030 than would be consistent with keeping warming to less than 1.5 degree Celsius – and 85% of that expansion is slated to come from the United States and Canada. The announced policy, known formally as the Strategic Assessment on Climate Change, won’t curtail this emissions growth.

“The point of conducting thorough environmental assessments is to ensure we have the best information available to make decisions that are good for people in Canada,” said Levin. “Instead, the government has created a policy full of loopholes that polluters can exploit. How can we make responsible decisions as a country if we’re not even willing to ensure we have all the right information?”

As advanced by Environmental Defence and allies, a strong climate test would:

  • ensure that Canada’s new infrastructure be compatible with a low carbon future;
  • discourage investment in projects that would become stranded assets as world markets increasingly move away from oil and gas;
  • provide a clear and accountable set of climate guidelines for companies, communities, review panels and the public;
  • account for the significant downstream emissions from oil, natural gas and coal that is mined in Canada but exported to other countries, thereby recognizing the global nature of climate change and Canada’s contribution to it. Research shows that the total amount of greenhouse emissions from Canada’s exports of fossil fuels is greater than all emissions that occur within Canada

Though an improvement from the draft version of the policy – now project proponents will need to submit net-zero emission plans for projects that go beyond 2050 – the policy released today does not ensure any of the above goals. It punts requirements for emissions reductions well into the future rather than ensuring Canada is on the right path to do its fair share over the next decade to avoid catastrophic climate change.

As a result, Canadians should not expect that future assessments will do a better job of ensuring new projects are consistent with international climate commitments. Projects currently being considered include a proposed LNG pipeline in Quebec (Gazoduq) – which in conjunction with the Énergie Saguenay LNG plant would produce 7.8 million tons of greenhouse gas annually – and the huge expansion of a tar sands mine by Suncor Energy which would produce another 3 million tons of carbon pollution each year.

“Just a few months ago, Teck Resources made the surprising decision to withdraw their own application for a new tar sands mine. Their reason? A lack of a framework that reconciles oil and gas development decisions with climate action,” added Levin. “And yet the government seems not to have learned its lesson and has declined to show bold leadership. Canadians needed this policy to guide industry towards projects that are compatible with a safe and healthy future. Instead, communities will be forced to continue fighting to ensure that life cycle greenhouse gas emissions are adequately included in the impact reviews of new projects.”

Canada continues to lag behind on real climate leadership. The plan unveiled in the United States by the Biden-Bernie Sanders Unity Task Force includes a commitment to implementing a climate test.

For more information: https://environmentaldefence.ca/report/draftsacc2019/

About ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE (www.environmentaldefence.ca): Environmental Defence is a leading Canadian advocacy organization that works with government, industry and individuals to defend clean water, a safe climate and healthy communities.

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact: Barbara Hayes, Communications Manager, bhayes@environmentaldefence.ca