Feeling ignored by government, Canadian academics offer their own climate policy

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Feeling ignored by government, Canadian academics offer their own climate policy

Under the conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Canada has become a tough and frustrating political environment for researchers trying to advance evidence-based policies to reduce emissions. The country has withdrawn from international climate pacts, muzzled government climate researchers, and put new regulatory efforts on the back burner. Now, one group of prominent Canadian academics is trying to change the dynamic by releasing its own set of climate policy recommendations for the nation.

“We believe that putting options on the table is long overdue in Canada,” write the 71 authors of the Sustainable Canada Dialogues report, released today. The authors, whose expertise ranges broadly across scientific, sociological, and political disciplines, were organized by Catherine Potvin, a climate and policy researcher at McGill University in Montreal. One goal, she says, is to encourage Canadians—and ultimately their government—to support “ambitious and thoughtful commitments to emission reductions” at a global negotiating conference set for Paris in December. The group is trying “to do whatever can be done to raise the level of ambition of Canada prior to the Paris conference,” Potvin tells ScienceInsider.

“Climate change is the most serious ‘symptom’ of non-sustainable development,” concludes the report, which offers a detailed policy road map for Canada to achieve 100% reliance on low-carbon electricity by 2035. It calls for Canada to reduce greenhouse emissions by 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2025 and eliminate at least 80% of emissions by midcentury. Ten major recommendations include calls to impose a price on carbon emissions through a tax or pollution permit trading system, add more solar and wind power to Canada’s bountiful hydropower supplies, and eliminate subsidies for fossil fuels.

It’s “a specifically Canadian proposal,” aimed at moving away from a “doom and gloom attitude,” Potvin says. “There is no miracle cure that will fix the problem. It’s about taking small steps toward a longer goal.”

Under Harper, who took office in 2006, Canada has generally backed away from climate issues. It withdrew in 2011 from the Kyoto agreement to curb emissions, and in 2012 eliminated the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, a group tasked with reporting to the government on Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions. Although the federal government has enacted policies to reduce emissions in some sectors, including transportation and coal-fired power plants, it has yet to develop a plan for curbing emissions from its biggest contributor: the oil and gas industry. The Harper government has also drawn criticism for limiting the ability of government scientists to speak to the press and public (see coverage here, here, and here). Harper is expected to stand for election to his fourth term later this year.

A request to Environment Canada for a comment on the new study had not been answered as this item went to press.

Tom Pederson, executive director of the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions and an outside reviewer of the report, says "my hope would be that the federal government of Canada would recognize a real opportunity here for Canada to move forward on facing the challenge of climate change. … Will that hope be dashed on the rocks? I don’t know."

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