Methane Climate Strategy

US Canada
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama pose for a photo with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Sophie Grégoire Trudeau at the North Portico of the White House in Washington, Thursday, March 10, 2016, as they arrive for a state dinner. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)


I like to see Canada and the US getting along so beautifully.

And, apparently, it is good for the environment. On Thursday March 10, 2016 President Obama and Prime Minister Trudeau announced a new US-Canada climate strategy on methane. Trudeau pledge-matched an earlier US commitment to reduce oil and gas methane emissions from 40 to 45 per cent below 2012 levels by 2025. This is significant because methane is a dirty greenhouse gas. We tend to focus on CO2 missions… while ignoring the other greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, methane is the second most prevalent GHG emitted in the US and it has 25 times greater an impact than CO2 over a 100 year period. Where does it come from? Well, natural gas leaks would be one – such as the Aliso Canyon gas leak in California that is occurring right now.  That is an extreme example (and one of the worst environmental disasters occurring in North America). Methane is produced in natural gas production, such as fracking, as well as in livestock production, namely beef. The first one is a bit ironic since “natural gas” is often touted as “clean energy.” It isn’t.

Are Trudeau and Obama promising more than they can deliver? Federalism is a problem. What we need is provinces and states to announce methane reduction plans. Thus far, only British Columbia and Alberta have such a strategy in Canada (which is a good start because that is where a lot of natural gas and beef is produced). In the US, California, Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming have methane reduction plans (or will have soon). So out of 63 possible sub-national jurisdictions (50 states and 13 provinces), 7 have a plan. At least this time around, there is significant leadership on the issue – and agreement between the US and Canada.

Also of note – and material for future posts – Obama and Trudeau also agreed to take action heavy vehicle emissions and maine areas in the Arctic.


First Minister’s Meeting on Climate Change

The long-awaited First Minister’s meeting on climate change happened yesterday, March 3 2016. It was somewhat anti-climatic given that Trudeau made this meeting part of his fall campaign pledge. Essentially, he has been talking about this  meeting since last summer. And then it just… passed us all by.


The 13 premiers met with Trudeau and McKenna is Vancouver. (I imagined it was rainy). Prior to the meeting, Trudeau announced an aspirational goal of a set minimum price on carbon ($15 dollars a tonne is the number he threw out). Brad Wall of Saskatchewan immediately said no (see prior post).

What did happen yesterday? The CBC offers a gloomy recap here.  There was no agreement on a carbon price. Instead what emerged was yet another set of promises and goals. We call these “frameworks” or “strategies.” Officially, it is titled the Vancouver Declaration on Clean Growth and Climate Change (perhaps such a grandiose name makes it seem more important). The list of goals includes:

  • developing “regional” plans for clean electricity
    • this includes Indigenous and remote Northern communities
  • doubling investments in clean energy research over the next five years
    • this includes electric cars
  • more investments in green infrastructure (like public transit)
    • this includes working together to leverage the federal Low Carbon Economy Fund

That is really it. There was also an agreement to meet again in October.

The premiers did agree on the “need” for “some form” of carbon pricing – but there was no agreement on what approach to use (Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia are hindrances to creating a national price). This will be a focus for the next meeting. The Premiers are supposed to go home and figure out a carbon pricing mechanism that works for their province (so a tax or cap & trade or any pricing mechanism).  In addition to that task, they are also supposed to focus on clean technology, unique (province specific) opportunities to reduce emissions, and adaptation measures for their province.

Where does that leave Canada? Remember that our UN Paris Pledge is 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. That is what we promised the international community. Essentially, as a nation we need to bring our annual emissions down to 534 mega tonnes. Current trends suggest we will be somewhere around 750. Thus, the provinces must act.

Trudeau was not able to secure a carbon price from the provinces. This is disappointing, but not surprising. What we have is more promises but little action. Ontario and Alberta have announced new climate strategies. BC, MB, and QU already have strategies in place (albeit it might be time for BC to update its carbon tax). But that leaves us with 5 provinces out of 13 – that won’t be enough. Of particular concern is Saskatchewan, which has the highest GHG emissions per capita and Wall refuses to entertain any strategies other than “off-setting” the status quo through carbon sequestering.

In the next six months the provinces have a lot of homework. In October, Trudeau better circle the provincial wagons and get everyone facing the same direction. We don’t need new declarations – we need leadership and action.

Cap & Trade in Ontario

Yes the Wynne Government announced the Ontario 2016 budget. This should have been a big day for climate policy in the province – however, news about free college tuition for students whose parents make less than $50 thousand a year stole the media spotlight. That is big news in its own right.

But what happened with climate policy?

The Ontario government announced details related to its new cap and trade policy. The program will begin January 1, 2017. The province will set a cap on emissions (yet to be determined) and create emission allowances (permits) based on that cap. Each year, the cap will shrink by 4.17% and thereby bring down emissions each year. The goal is to reduce emissions 15% below 1990 levels by 2020.

Who will be impacted? Everyone. Gas prices will go up as a 4.3 cents a liter tax will be levied at the pump. Heating costs will also increase – somewhere in the range of $5 to $10 dollars a month for each household.

The cap and trade policy will mainly impact any company producing more than 25, 000 tonnes of GHG per year. They will all need to buy allowances to emit GHG. They will then be able to sell and trade allowances as needed (if a company buys enough permits to emit 80, 000 tonnes of GHG but only actually emits 70, 000 tonnes, then that company can sell the extra 10,000 permits to a dirtier company. However, there will never be more than a certain # of permits available each year – the cap).

The sting – and the media attention – is that some industries appear to be getting a break. Steel, cement, and auto manufacturers will be granted “free emission allowances” in the first years of the program. There is no actual list about which industries will qualify for the freebie – that is yet to be determined as well. Allowances will be otherwise “sold” as permits to polluters. For the sake of simplicity, let’s say that a cap is set a 100 tonnes of CO2 emissions. The province would create 100 allowances (permits) and sell them to anyone who needs to emit CO2. If your company plans to emit 4 tonnes, then you need 4 permits. So, in the case of steel, cement, and auto industries – they will not have to purchase the permits. The province will hand them over for free. Why? To ease the transition and help these industries adjust to a new low carbon economy. Essentially, these industries contribute jobs and resources to the Ontario economy and, therefore, the province cannot have those industries suffering (and cutting jobs) and moving to the US or other countries where profit margins might be higher.

The cap and trade policy (including the tax on gas and increased heating costs) should generate about $1.9 billion in revenue for the province. That money is earmarked for spending on further cutting GHG emissions – through public transportation and clean energy technology. This means some money should go back to the public in the form of decreased electricity costs (as technology becomes more efficient). All the money generated through cap and trade must go toward this green fund. The government will issue an annual report and account for all spending of this money. (Thus, it is not revenue neutral like BCs carbon price – which goes directly back to the consumer in the form of tax cuts – and it is not a revenue generator like Quebec – where money goes into the general government coffers. Instead, Ontario’s plan is to use the revenue from this program for further GHG emissions programs). 

Want to know more? The CBC has a good piece here. The Globe has good coverage here

SK in climate spotlight : (

Prime Minister Trudeau and Hon. Catherine McKenna are set to meet with Canada’s premier’s on March 3rd to discuss a national climate strategy. The Liberal government has announced a goal of setting a national minimum price on carbon – at least $15 dollars a tonne. All provinces would be expected to meet the minimum and could, of course, exceed that minimum. Some provinces, like Quebec and BC, are already doing a lot to reduce GHG emissions in Canada (see chapter 8).

The premier of Saskatchewan, Brad Wall, has already announced that he rejects the national plan. For him, any price on carbon is a tax and a new tax is not part of his re-election campaign. Yes, there is an election in SK in April. This is bad political timing for Trudeau. Brad Wall can dig his heels in here and stand up to big government as a campaign ploy. This isn’t about climate change. This is about an election. And that is too bad.

A national climate strategy makes sense. The federal government cannot regulate GHG emissions or create natural resource policy. The Constitution gives those powers to the provinces. But the federal government can lead – and demonstrate leadership. Setting a national target and helping provinces meet that target is well within the purview of the federal government’s ability, jurisdiction, and, arguably, obligation.

Moreover, streamlining policy is better for the economy across the board. It means that provinces will not compete against each other for industry. For example, when BC implemented its carbon tax in 2008 the price of cement went through the roof. The result? Companies in BC bought cement produced outside BC because it was chapter. Good news for Alberta cement. If every province has at least some price on carbon, then it will even out the “burden” placed on producers and industry. Cement will cost more in every province so it will still be cheapest to buy it locally and not transport it as far (thereby reducing emissions).

Lastly, a national strategy is also important for our Paris Pledge and our international reputation. Canada – as a whole – will be actively addressing climate change for the first time in our nation’s history. What better way to celebrate our 150th birthday?

Brad Wall’s rejection of a national strategy is disappointing to say the least. Sure, SK is a small province representing only 3% of the country’s population. But here is the bigger story on SK:



The province is a HUGE emitter of GHG emissions. On a per capita basis the province is second only to Alberta (who does have a carbon price already). Saskatchewan does need to bring down emissions. Wall is only interested in climate policy that involves off-setting. Essentially, he wants SK to keep emitting GHG emissions and then “off set” those emissions through carbon sequestering (see Chapter 8). SK will store its carbon in the ground and let future generations worry about that problem.



US Coal & the Supreme Court

In the summer of 2015 the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a new plan of action for climate change in the US. While it would be ideal for the US Congress (the House of Representatives and the Senate) to legislate climate change and create laws to address GHG emissions, Congress has not been able to pass regulation in its two chambers. This left President Obama, a leader committed to mitigating climate change, with little choice but to use the Executive branch (the bureaucracy – which he heads). The EPA, under the guidance of Obama, planned to cut GHG pollution from power plants – 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. The US has around 600 coal-fired power plants.



30%? That is a lot! But it did not mean that power plants would have to immediately close-up shop. The EPA gave states a whole slate of policy options to reduce pollution from electricity generation. States could increase alternative energy (wind and solar are obvious choices) or states could join a national cap-and-trade program (as explained in the book in Chapter 8). And the EPA gave a generous timeline. Emissions reductions are due September 2022.

Last night, February 9th, 2016, the Supreme Court blocked the EPA’s coal regulations. This is a setback for Obama and for climate change. Read the New York Times piece.  The decision was a 5-4 split, which is not too surprising given the court has  4 “liberal” judges. However, the decision overall is surprising. To be clear – the Court did not decide the regulation is unconstitutional (and thereby “strike it down”) but instead issued a “stay” – or essentially, are halting the regulation until further analysis.

The question remains: Can the EPA circumvent Congress and regulate climate change? The Supreme Court hasn’t made a final decision – but it looks like it is willing to pause for consideration. Obama assumed this was totally within his repertoire of powers. And 18 states supported the EPA regulations (yeah, there are still 50 states – so far fewer than half).

The next step is for the Supreme Court to conduct a judicial review of the plan – and make a decision about its constitutionality. There is still hope for these regulations. But this set-back is echoing across the country and globally. Not a great start to 2016 and the American plan to meet its Paris Protocol commitments.

Pipeline Politics: Updates

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland (January 20 – 23), Canadians saw their Prime Minister in a new light. Trudeau with a world celebrity filter. He was taking selfies with Bono and Kevin Spacey, and making headlines while discussing feminism.


He also made the point that “Canada is open for business.” And this is where he started making a cake and eating it too. He told the Economic Forum that Canada is more than just natural resources – “My predecessor wanted you to know Canada for its resources. I want you to know Canadians for our resourcefulness.”

During his time in Davos he – domestically – announced his support for the Energy East pipeline. Which one is that one, again?  Let the National Energy Board remind us:


Right. The pipeline that will extend the existing Energy East pipeline on both ends – into Alberta and, more controversially, through Quebec and all the way to the coast of New Brunswick.

And this is where Canadian politics can get ugly. Alberta’s economy is struggling (to say the least). Canadians in Alberta are losing their livelihoods and their homes. The NDP Premier, Rachel Notely, introduced new climate legislation (see older post) but she has emphasized the importance of oil and pipelines for the Alberta economy. She still believes we can have oil without climate change. Extending an Olive branch to Alberta, Trudeau is getting on board with this pipeline – or so it seemed a few weeks ago. He is now saying that the NEB should proceed slowly and cautiously. See CBC here.

Some Canadians in Quebec do not want a pipeline traipsing through their province. There are lots of political reasons for this that I will not get into now, but one environmental reason put forward is that the pipeline would cross 828 bodies of water in the province. See CBC here. Remember when Nebraska protested Keystone XL on the basis that it would cut through aquifers? They won that fight. Quebec might too.

Canadians further out East could use a life line. I mean, a pipeline. If you think the economy in Alberta is bad, look at New Brunswick. See CBC here. They have the worst economy in Canada. But the Energy East pipeline could create jobs and a real oil economy through tank and marine terminals. Essentially, we would move Alberta’s oil across the second largest country in the world to a marine port where tankers would ship the oil to the biggest country in the world (China). Can you imagine the carbon emissions? Can we have oil without climate change? If so, this doesn’t sound like the pathway forward.

So why is the Prime Minister supporting this? Politics. Why is he rejecting the Northern Gateway Pipeline? Politics. What is going on with the Trans Mountain Kinder Morgan Pipeline? Politics. (Don’t get me started on that one today!) This isn’t about the environment. This is why we need to think about the environment in a political context.

I am not against pipelines. Indeed, if we can going to ship oil – pipelines are the best choice. Here I think Kinder Morgan got it right:



Pipelines are less emissions. Pipelines are safer.

I am not against pipelines – I am against oil. While not entirely. But I think Trudeau is seeing our resources and not our resourcefulness. We cannot continue to build infrastructure to support an oil economy. We don’t need new oil terminals. We need a new energy system. It cannot be built over night, of course. But long term investment and planning in pipelines and oil infrastructure is sending mixed signals about Canada to the world.

More to come on this issue as we all gear up for the First Ministers meeting on climate change in March!

EC has a new name & new webpage!

When Justin Trudeau became Canada’s Prime Minister and head of the executive branch he renamed some of Canada’s institutions. Environment Canada is now Environment and Climate Change Canada. That name change is meant to signify how serious Trudeau is taking the issue of climate change. And it is also supposed to signal the central mission of Environment Canada in the coming decade.

Environment and Climate Change Canada now has a new website – and it is one worth visiting.


As you can see, there are up-to-date news stories (headlines) as well as tweets and real information about different issues and priorities. There is also – smack on the front page – a tab for public consultations. This is a very different webpage than Environment Canada under Harper. That old Environment Canada had a stale page with mostly dead links. It is was frustrating and disappointing.

I encourage all students and scholars of environmental policy to peruse the website. There is a lot of good information in there. For example, today I found some frank data about our climate targets. Here is the graph from the website:


What you see is that Canada is no where near on track for meeting our 2030 Paris Protocol commitment. That is the little orange dot in the bottom right hand corner beside 534 megatonnes of CO2 emissions. Umm. Instead, we are track to be somewhere between 765 and 876 megatonnes. In the book, I present a similar table on page 276. This is an update. On that graph the government didn’t suggest where we might be in 2030 – it was left to the reader to connect the dots in an upward fashion.

We have a new Environment and Climate Change Canada, but we face the same problems. How Minister McKenna is going to get from reality to promise is yet to be determined. Stay tuned for updates on the First Ministers meeting for climate change!

Media & Fracking

Excited to see this article come out on-line:

fracking olive

There is surprisingly little written about hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in Canada. In The Canadian Environmental in Political Context the topic is given only a few pages of description and discussion in Chapter 8. There is scant mention after that! In part, because there is so little information out there in the peer-reviewed world.

As is now common knowledge, fracking involves drilling a pipe size hole thousands of feet down into the earth and blasting water, chemicals, and sand into it to “shake” out the oil or gas trapped in the shale rocks. The oil and gas is then collected and pumped to the surface for industrial use.

This article “What is the fracking story in Canada?” examines newspaper coverage of fracking in 5 Canada newspapers: Globe and Mail, National Post, Regina Leaderpost, Winnipeg Free Press, and the Halifax Chronicle Herald. I had two outstanding political science undergraduate students from the University of Toronto Mississauga work on this project. They found all articles in these papers that mention hydraulic fracturing between 2010 and 2014. It was 758 articles total. The students read each article and coded it for different “frames” like “water pollution” or “energy independence.” There were 21 frames we coded for in all articles.

In the end, I can conclude that looking at the five papers over those five years, the fracking story in Canada is really about water pollution, economic benefits, uncertain risks, moratoriums, and energy independence. The story is not about Aboriginal politics, wildlife, water usage, or climate change. Indeed, in Canada it matters a great deal what newspaper you read in terms of the information you are provided.

Canadians need more information about the social, environmental, and economic risks (benefits and costs) related to hydraulic fracturing! You cannot believe you read in the  newspaper.

Citizens, Accountability, & Government

Throughout The Canadian Environment in Political Context I try to focus on what citizens can do to improve the environment. Specifically, what role do citizens have in the political sphere that can influence environmental policy? There are many examples – from the obvious, like voting, to the more time consuming, shopping green. There are virtually hundreds of ways an individual can involve him/herself in the dirty work of politics – even without ever running for office.

I have recently come across the website This is a website intended to hold the Trudeau government responsible for promises made during the 2015 election. It is run by four men in Alberta who are self described data-junkies. But anyone can participate in the tracking of promises made or broken. The idea is not be partisan – it is just for citizens to check and see if the government is really doing what it promised to do.



 The authors/information trackers/founders.


In total there are 214 promises divided into 7 issue areas: culture, economy, environment, government, immigration, indigenous peoples, and security. You can click any tab and see a list of relevant promises. Each promise is tracked by “not started,” “in progress,” “achieved,” or “broken.” As of today, there are 25 promises in progress, 12 achieved, and 3 broken.


If we look just at the environment section there are 28 promises in 4 subcategories: clean tech, climate change, national parks, and water. Thus far there have been no broken promises. Are broken promises always a bad thing? Not necessarily – it depends on where you stand on the issue! It might be a bad thing that the government promised to do something and didn’t, but there may be good reason (like new information, new technology, or a different economic context). You can decide for yourself how you want to use the information provided. Ultimately, it is you who will stand alone in a ballot box in 5 years and help decide which party to elect. It may matter to you a great deal that promises were broken (could be a sign of no integrity) or you may be happy that he broke the promises he did. Or you maybe willing to overlook broken promises because other issues, ones more important to you, were addressed during Trudeau’s tenure in office.

This website is an excellent example of the “watch dog” function that citizens can play. In 5 years when people go back to the polls, it is important to have data like this to reflect upon and evaluate the government (as discussed in Chapter 12). The website is free and open to all. As long as they are careful to fact-check the information, it will be a reliable source of information for citizens to use to hold their government accountable. I know I will continue to check-in with the website and measure the progress of the Trudeau government.

Alberta’s new Climate Strategy

At the end of November 2015, the province of Alberta announced a new climate change strategy. The province is under the leadership of Rachel Notley and the NDP party. The plan was revealed a week in advance of COP21 in Paris. The book Canadian Environmental in Political Context discusses provincial climate and energy plans in Chapter 8. At the time of writing, Alberta had a weak and often criticized policy (a non-substantial price on carbon).



The new plan can be found on the Government of Alberta’s website. Essentially, there are 4 key areas: (1) phasing out coal (2) implementing a new price on carbon (3) placing a regulatory limit on oil sands emissions and (4) implementing a new methane emission reduction plan. What does this mean in detail?

Coal generated electricity will be phased out by 2030. You may be thinking that Ontario already did this in 2015 – what is taking Alberta so long? Keep in mind that Ontario is rich in nuclear and hydro-electricity. Alberta is going phase coal while increasing investment in renewable energy like solar and wind. This will take some time.

The new price on carbon will not be fully implemented immediately. But starting January 1, 2017 there will be a $20 per tonne carbon price applied to all sectors (not just oil sands or coal, for example). On Jan 1, 2018 that price will increase to $30 per tonne. The price is supposed to increase each year thereafter. What will the province do with all this new found wealth? It will be invested in measures to reduce pollution, namely alternative energy (see above). Thus, it is not revenue neutral like BC’s carbon tax as discussed in the book. Instead, the revenue will be used for new spending – but only in the area of pollution reduction.

In the oil sands there will be an emissions limit of 100Mt a year. This is insignificant right now because the price of oil is so low that Alberta is not producing anywhere near this amount. In 2014 emissions where 55 Mt. Thus the province is still allowing for substantial growth in the oil sands – but not unlimited growth.

Methane emissions are going to be reduced by 45% by 2025. This will mainly be accomplished through ensuring that new facilities are designed differently such that venting and fugitive emissions decrease.

So this is good news, right? Yes. From a province like Alberta this is big news. No one expected anything – so this something is better than the nothing! Go Alberta!