Trudeau Hits Back Against Criticism of Canada as Climate Laggard

Justin Trudeau defended Canada’s climate record against criticism its emissions targets aren’t ambitious enough, arguing his government’s carbon tax represents a more concrete plan.

In an interview with Bloomberg News, the prime minister vowed the country will be able to reach its new goal of reducing emissions by between 40% and 45% of 2005 levels by 2030 -- despite missing previous targets.

Trudeau has been facing increased scrutiny since the release of data two weeks ago showing Canada is the only country in the Group of Seven to see its harmful emissions actually rise between 2015 and 2019.

Trudeau Hits Back Against Criticism of Canada as Climate Laggard

Canada’s new target, announced at Joe Biden’s climate summit last week, falls short of both the 50% target set by the U.S. president and Boris Johnson’s goal of cutting U.K. emissions 78% from 1990 levels by 2035.

“We don’t just want to talk about a great target,” Trudeau said in an interview that aired Tuesday during the Bloomberg Green Summit. “We need to have a concrete plan to that’s going to bring us to that target.”

Central to that plan is the carbon tax, which got a major boost last month when it was upheld by 6-3 majority at the Supreme Court of Canada, effectively settling years of political debate about its legality.

Top-Court Victory

The policy, Trudeau’s most ambitious environmental move since his Liberals took power in 2015, would see the baseline price on carbon rise to C$170 ($137) per metric ton by 2030. In its budget last week, his government proposed billions in new funding to help green the economy, develop clean technology and slash industrial emissions.

However, Canada is home to the world’s third-largest oil reserves and the energy sector accounts for about 10% of its total economic output.

“The fact that we have one of the realest prices on pollution of all our peer countries and that we are at the same time an exporter of energy and a producer of energy -- that is a challenge that not all other countries have,” the prime minister said.

Trudeau blamed his country’s record on emissions to date on the previous Conservative government, which in 2011 withdrew from the Kyoto protocol, a precursor to the 2015 Paris agreement. The prime minister added that four years of climate skepticism in the U.S. under Donald Trump also effectively held Canada back.

Trudeau said Biden’s arrival at the White House means the U.S. and Canada are now more aligned on climate policy, even if friction remains over specific projects like TC Energy Corp.’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline and Enbridge Inc.’s existing Line 5 conduit under the Great Lakes.

A cross-border plan that cuts across all sectors of the economy is critical for both countries to achieve their emissions-reduction targets, the prime minister said.

Trudeau also argued that Canada can’t be blamed for helping meet global demand for fossil fuels, even as it attempts to curb domestic consumption habits through its carbon tax.

“It’s not just about the oil sands themselves. It’s also about consumption,” Trudeau said. “As long as the world is still dependent on oil, there will be a business case for continuing to look for more reliable sources.”

Carney Nod

The prime minister’s efforts won an endorsement from former central bank chief and United Nations climate envoy Mark Carney.

“The issue is getting the gaps between those commitments and the underlying policies closed,” he said in a separate interview at the Bloomberg Green Summit, when asked whether he’d hold the Trudeau government to account.

Carney, who led the Bank of England after his stint at the helm of the Bank of Canada and is still an adviser to Johnson’s government, has been a sounding board for Trudeau on fiscal policy throughout the pandemic. His address at the Liberal Party’s recent policy convention was viewed as potential prelude to an eventual electoral run.

“We’ve just increased our target,” Carney said. “That means more policies consistent with that. We have more work to do in aligning our financial institutions with net zero as well.”

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