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Pandemic to push back new climate targets, plastics ban, Wilkinson says

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Canada’s national environment agenda is the latest thing to be upended by the COVID-19 pandemic, as plans for both beefing up national climate targets and banning some plastics are likely to be delayed.

Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson told The Canadian Press this week that the government remains firmly committed to its environmental promises, which were a key part of the Liberal 2019 re-election campaign. However he acknowledged that the efforts to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus in Canada will also slow the government’s ability to move on some of its environment goals.

“We’ve continued to work on a number of elements but there are some where we’ve had to delay,” Wilkinson said.

The clean fuel standard to require fuels like gasoline and diesel to burn more cleanly is being pushed back at least several months because of COVID-19. Last month the government moved the implementation date for new standards on liquid fuels like gasoline from Jan. 1, 2022, to just sometime in 2022. The proposed regulations that were to be published this spring, are not coming now until the fall.

The standard is expected to contribute about 15% of the more than 200 million tonnes of greenhouse gases Canada committed to eliminate by 2030 under the Paris climate change agreement.

But during the election Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised Canada would go further than that and Wilkinson told the world in December that Canada’s new climate plan would be ready in time for the fall 2020 United Nations climate meetings in Scotland. That meeting, which was to be held in November, has also been a casualty of COVID-19, postponed into 2021.

Under the Paris agreement, all countries were supposed to upgrade their emissions targets this year, to bring the world more in line with what scientists say must be done to slow climate change. Thus far only seven countries have done so and Wilkinson is no longer certain Canada will produce one by the fall.

“My intention is to bring forward the updated climate plan as soon as it is reasonable to do that,” he said. “Right now we need to be focused on fighting the virus but certainly our intention and our commitment to the climate file remains very firm.”

He said the same commitment exists when it comes to single use plastics, but the virus is also intruding on that plan. In January, Environment Canada issued a draft scientific assessment confirming plastics are harmful to the environment, which was the first step towards the goal to begin banning some products. At that time, Wilkinson said the ban would absolutely begin in 2021.

But the government extended the required comment period on the scientific report by 30 days last month. It closed May 1 instead of April 1.

Wilkinson said the intention to move on a plastics ban remains but said he can’t say when.

“That is another one that has been a little bit affected by the pandemic,” said Wilkinson.

“It’s very difficult to know exactly how this is all going to sort itself out given the uncertainty of the times but we do intend to move forward on the plastics ban.”

Sarah King, head of the oceans and plastics campaign for Greenpeace Canada, said she is hopeful any delay will be minimal.

“We have been waiting for a long time to see the words and the election promises turn to action,” said King. “Obviously, a delay is problematic because every day that goes by, every week that goes by, every month that goes by, billions of pieces of plastic are entering our market. This is something that we need to urgently deal with.”


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Feds won’t explain claim pipeline expansion will raise $500M in tax revenue

The federal government says the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion will bring another $500 million a year in corporate tax revenue to be spent on fighting climate change, but the Liberals won’t say where they got that number.

The figure was cited by the government when it approved the project a second time last June and was also included in the Liberals’ campaign platform.

In 2018, the government stepped in to buy the existing pipeline between Alberta and the B.C. coast from Kinder Morgan Canada for $4.5 billion. The company and its investors got cold feet about proceeding as political opposition to the pipeline threatened unending delays, so Ottawa bought it. The government intends to see through the expansion and then sell it back to the private sector.

Under heavy criticism from environmentalists for pushing a major pipeline project at the same time as they’ve insisted on the need to slash greenhouse-gas emissions, the Liberals promised any new revenue from the expansion project, including corporate taxes, will be spent only on climate-change mitigation. That includes natural solutions like tree planting and clean technology projects.

Matthew Barnes, a spokesperson for Finance Minister Bill Morneau, said in an email Monday the $500-million figure was a “Finance Canada estimate based on the additional corporate tax revenue that the federal government could receive from the successful completion and operation of TMX.”

British Columbia-based economist Robyn Allan, who is skeptical about the benefits of the expansion project, said she has not been able to get the government to explain the figure for months and is accusing the government of obstructing the information because the analysis won’t hold up to scrutiny.

“If they can’t tell you how it was derived it really begs the question if there is any substance to it at all,” she said.

She is also demanding the government tell Canadians what the expansion is going to cost to build. The last estimate was $7.4 billion but that figure is now several years old and hasn’t been updated since the federal government bought the pipeline.

The existing Trans Mountain pipeline carries about 300,000 barrels a day of crude oil and related products from Edmonton to a terminal in Burnaby, B.C. The expansion project is to build a second, roughly parallel, pipeline to nearly triple the system’s total capacity. The expanded pipeline is primarily to carry diluted bitumen to be loaded on oil tankers for export.

The government’s hope is if Canada can get more oil to coastal ports, new buyers in Asia will step in, reducing Canada’s reliance on the United States as an oil customer and increasing the price Canadian producers can get.

It is the linchpin in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s attempt to continue to benefit from Canadian natural resources while fighting climate change. Alberta is angry the pipeline hasn’t yet been built, and blames Trudeau’s regulations and climate policies for the delays on Trans Mountain and the lack of other new pipelines as well.

Climate activists argue the pipeline works against Canada’s promised reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions.

 


Vancouver votes to demand fossil fuel companies pay for climate change

Vancouver city council has voted in favour of a motion that demands global fossil fuel companies pay their share of costs arising from climate change.

The motion, which passed 7-4, points to a B.C. government report that projects the City of Vancouver will have to spend $1 billion this century to mitigate rising sea levels.

The motion says the city will send letters to 20 of the world’s largest oil, gas and coal companies with its demand.

The city also says it will ask the B.C. and Canadian governments to enact laws to confirm the responsibility of fossil fuel companies to pay their share of costs.

Vancouver says it is the 24th community in British Columbia to pass such a motion since 2017.

The city says those municipal governments represent about one-third of all B.C. residents.