Trudeau’s real legacy

Canada talks green while financing climate disaster

The grim reality of Canada’s fossil fuel finance
Photo: European Council President

The G7 came and left, and when the dust had settled from Donald Trump’s temper tantrums, we were still no closer to the energy transition our species depends on to ride out the climate storm.

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There were fireworks and fury, no doubt. There were tweets, memes and photos too of course, some surely quite historic. But as the G6’s hair-pulling and the world’s temporary rank-closing around Justin Trudeau fades into history, what will be left for us to tell today’s and tomorrow’s children?

We could say that the world’s richest countries, minus the United States, issued a great communiqué.

In it, they “reaffirm their strong commitment to implement the Paris Agreement,” which means “ensuring a just transition, including increasing efforts to mobilize climate finance from a wide variety of sources.”

And they reaffirm the Paris Agreement’s crucial goal of reaching “a global carbon-neutral economy over the course of the second half of the century.”

How wonderful. And how curious, our progeny might remark, that according to research released a week before the Charlevoix summit, the G7 countries continued to pour at least $100 billion of taxpayer-funded subsidies into fossil fuels annually.

How curious, to say the least. And how plainly unconscionable.

The G7’s actions fly in the face of the bloc’s repeated pledges to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies. And in an era when politicians’ words are valued less than the cost of the paper they’re printed on, they pump a fresh dose of cynicism through the veins of citizens already filled to the brim.

The true scale of Canada’s fossil fuel support

Even amid so sorry a field, it requires a special kind of cynicism not to blink at the latest display of cognitive dissonance from the Canadian government.

Few distracted by the high-flying rhetoric of the Trudeau Liberals on climate change would guess that even prior to the $4.5-billion government bailout of the Trans Mountain pipeline, Canada’s $6 billion in annual subsidies to oil and gas companies in 2015 and 2016 placed us first in the G7 for public support of fossil fuels once adjusted to the size of our economy.

In a world where money moves mountains, there is nothing little about Canada. We are one of the wealthiest countries on Earth, and our financial tentacles reach far and wide.

Fewer still would imagine that the Canadian state, through the financial colossus that is Export Development Canada, continues to finance oil and gas projects around the globe to the tune of $10 billion on average each year. EDC is a notoriously opaque Crown corporation with a trail of unsavoury clients blotching its resume, many of whom have been tied to serious human (often Indigenous) rights violations. It is the second- or third-largest export development bank in the world, boasting more than $100 billion in global investments in 2017, much of them in mining, oil and gas.

Even in absolute numbers, Canada ranked sixth in the G20 for annual public finance of fossil fuels from 2013 to 2015, according to a separate report released in 2017. And EDC’s own figures show that its ironclad support for oil and gas has not faltered a bit since the Liberals rose to office. On the contrary, the Trudeau government has conscripted the EDC to help finance the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline, which independent analysts have estimated could cost another $10 billion or more.

The Canada we never knew we were

Canadians like to think of our country as “little Canada” and use the diminutive scale of our population to shrug off the fact that on a per capita basis we’re among the most wasteful and carbon-intensive people on the planet.

Even if we were to put the ethical sloth of this argument to the side, the hard numbers ought to shake us from our complacency — and our complicity. In a world where money moves mountains, there is nothing little about Canada. We are one of the wealthiest countries on Earth, and our financial tentacles reach far and wide.

Under the Paris Agreement, all countries have committed to “making finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.” Yet Canada is presently wielding its imposing financial might to aggravate rather than mitigate the climate crisis.

By shifting the billions in subsidies and public finance to bring them in line with our climate commitments, the government could flip this impact on its head and restitch the lost threads between words and reality. There is a window of opportunity approaching, as the legislation governing EDC will undergo a once-in-a-decade parliamentary review this year. The Liberals could seize the chance to drag the agency into the 21st century and refound it as an engine of the global energy transition.

The alternative is to plow forward in defiance of all science, decency and common sense, pursuing a place in history as a government that pumped billions of dollars into expanding the Alberta oil sands, smiled on the financing of fossil fuel projects around the world, and exhausted its remaining energies on managing its image.

If only a communiqué could save the world.

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