When she tabled the federal budget, the Minister of Finance declared that Canada should be a world leader in the global shift to a green economy. Despite a clearly “green” vocabulary, the half-measures taken still do not reflect the gravity of the situation.
Surveys show that a majority of Canadians want Canada to lead the fight against climate change, but they are also under the false impression that we already do. In fact, our emissions have grown the most of all G7 countries over the last three decades, primarily concentrated in fossil fuel production, whose emissions have risen by 87% since 1990.
Defenders of the fossil fuel industry brag about their socio-economic contribution to Canada, but data recently compiled by an academic show that, over the past 20 years, while fossil fuel production and emissions were reaching all-time highs, the industry was laying off employees to cut costs and public revenues from taxes and royalties were declining significantly. Well before the pandemic, benefits and jobs provided by this industry were dropping while estimates of local and climate-related damages continued to rise. Despite this fact, we provide the most public funding to the fossil fuel industry per capita in the G20.
Studies on the geopolitical changes needed to curb the climate crisis show that success depends on the degree to which the powerful fossil fuel lobby can resist change. This is especially relevant in Canada, where the industry has applied constant pressure by holding upwards of 1,000 meetings with the federal government every year over the last decade.
Under the green veneer, the federal budget allocates $17.6 billion to “clean economy” initiatives, accounting for 17% of the total recovery budget and less than 3% of the overall budget. This pales in comparison to the U.S. President Joe Biden’s plan to spend the equivalent of 38% of the country’s post-COVID recovery budget, the European Union’s commitment to dedicate 30% of its recovery money to climate issues and Spain’s allocation of 53% of its budget to a green recovery.
According to a recent report on the lack of transparency and environmental conditionality in federal measures, the federal government’s “green” initiatives are equal to slightly less than the support granted to the fossil fuel industry in the last year alone. Of the $17.6 billion, polluting industries will receive $5 billion in funds to promote carbon neutrality on top of the $3 billion previously committed.
We should be worried — and vocal — about the fossil fuel industry claiming a large portion of these funds. In fact, one third of Natural Resources Canada’s investments in research and development for energy innovations for a green economy over the last decade was allotted to the fossil fuel production chain.
These measures could be helping make hydrogen out of gas instead of from a renewable energy source that produces 10 times less greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Innovation in the renewable energy sector and energy efficiency hold greater transformation potential, perform better socially and environmentally and should be the only areas receiving public funding.
Just because Canada is a fossil fuel producer, does not mean this is the only possible outcome. The United Kingdom, a true leader in reducing GHGs among the G7, is regularly exceeding its objectives, having made two thirds of its reductions since 2008, when it became the first to pass a climate accountability law. This success is largely attributable to the U.K.’s committee of experts — two thirds of whom are academics and researchers — who provide independent advice to the government. The province of Quebec also recently set up a committee of independent experts, three quarters of whom are scientists, and France has one that is 85% scientists. The federal government is proposing a law similar to that of the U.K., but has instead opted to create a committee of 14 members that includes only one scientist, despite the government’s rhetoric that it makes its decisions based on science.
The fossil fuel industry is causing the cancer attacking our planet’s atmosphere, the lungs of the earth. It has no place at the table where solutions are negotiated, just as the tobacco industry does not get a say in the fight against smoking. This is a necessary change to make room for solutions and innovations that truly protect our collective future.
Senator Rosa Galvez represents the Bedford region of Quebec.
This article was published in the May 11, 2021 edition of Le Devoir (in French only).