The Two Climate Faces of Canada

by Rolly Montpellier
(Ottawa, Canada)

Canada has two climate faces. There's the Paris face where Canada became a re-born climate leader and then there's the domestic face where Trudeau's Liberals are showing early signs of perpetuating the status quo.

I applaud Canada's re-emergence as a climate leader under the new government of Justin Trudeau.

In eight short weeks, he has been able to put Canada back on the climate action map after a decade of distasteful performance by Stephen Harper, perhaps the world's worst climate villain. And it's partly because of this decade of inaction that we have fallen to the bottom of the heap on climate change action.

The Paris Face

"Canada is back, my good friends," Trudeau told the delegates at the recent Paris talks. "We're here to help, to build an agreement that will do our children and grand-children proud."

During his speech to the conference participants, Trudeau enunciated five principles that would guide Canada as it does its part in tackling climate change:
  • relying on scientific evidence and advice
  • implementing policies to develop a low-carbon economy, including carbon pricing
  • working with provincial and territorial leaders, city mayors and indigenous leaders to coordinate efforts
  • helping developing nations adapt to climate change challenges
  • approaching climate change as an opportunity to build a sustainable green economy, rather than just a challenge.
But Canada has miles to go to attain respectability in the global climate community. Canadians face a troubling climate conundrum.

We have to decide between economic growth premised on the continued expansion of the Tar Sands or follow the rest of the world into a clean energy future. We can't do both.

The Domestic Face

In her recent DeSmog blog post, Carol Linnitt outlines Canada' world standing on global emissions:

A new index of global emissions released at the Paris climate talks finds Canada among the worst performing nations when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions and climate policy.

Canada Has Miles To Go on Emissions

Canada ranked sixth from the bottom above Korea, Japan, Australia, Kazakhstan and Saudi Arabia in the 2016 Climate Change Performance Index. This represents a slight improvement from last year, when Canada was last out of 58 nations profiled in a 2014-2015 report.

In 2016, the index report notes a “slight positive trend can be seen in Canada, which improved its performance by two places.”

But the report, produced every year for the last 11 years by Climate Action Network Europe and Germanwatch, attributes the majority of Canada’s improvement to the work of the provinces and acknowledges that no visible efforts to improve Canada’s climate standing have been made at the federal level in recent years.

The report analyzes emission levels, future projections, energy intensity, deployment of renewable energy as well as climate policy for each of the countries.


Like Cam Fenton of 350.Org, I'm in a quandary over Canada's emerging climate strategy - the iffiness and inconclusiveness at home and the ambitious goal-oriented announcements in Paris. "I am really confused by my government right now, because when it comes to climate action, it feels like I have two different governments," says Cam.

One government is in Paris, and their words on climate sound like the kind of ambition we need. The other one is in Ottawa, and its actions are looking more and more like the Harper government's on climate change.

On the one hand, Canada's Environment and Climate Change Minister, Catherine McKenna, announced that this government would support a push for a global climate agreement to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius rather than the two degrees Celsius agreed to in Copenhagen.

On the other hand, before she boarded a flight to Paris, McKenna spoke to media in Ottawa and confirmed that under this government, the National Energy Board reviews of the Energy East and Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain pipelines would continue, despite the NEB being a broken process that now Prime Minister Justin Trudeau railed against on the campaign trail.

They followed this up by hiring a notorious pro-Tar Sands lobbyist to a high-level position in the Minister of Natural Resources' office. Before becoming chief of staff to Minister Jim Carr, Janet Annesley worked for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers at the exact time that CAPP was lobbying to cut environmental regulations.

The changes to Canada's regulatory regime that Annesley pushed for were the building blocks for the broken environmental review processes that the prime minister pledged to fix on the campaign trail and again last week in his throne speech.

Time to Face Reality

So it's time for Canadians and their government to face climate reality. It's easy to talk about climate and to tell Canadians what they want to hear, but it's quite another to walk the talk.

You can't be a climate leader in Paris and then support Tar Sands expansion and pipeline construction at home. You can't be a climate leader and allow the flawed National Energy Board hearings to continue. And you certainly cannot profess to be a climate leader and then appoint a former Big Oil lobbyist as a high-ranking bureaucrat in the key Ministry of Natural Resources.

"If what we're seeing is just the struggle of a new government finding its legs and the bold climate action is coming, I'm looking forward to it," says Cam Fenton. "If, on the other hand, Canada's ambitious words in Paris are only words, they're in for a rude awakening when they get home. If they won't take bold action, you can be sure that the people will."

Action must follow words. Sound climate policy must follow rhetoric. Expectations and hopes are high.

Rolly Montpellier

Rolly Montpellier is the Founder and Managing Editor of Below2C.Org. He’s a Climate Reality leader, a Blogger and a Climate Activist. He’s a member of Climate Reality Canada, Citizens’ Climate Lobby (Ottawa) and 350.Org (Ottawa), the Ethical Team (as an influencer) and Global Population Speakout.

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