Climate change has now become the political issue. Decades of inaction has allowed a challenging problem to become a threat to civilization. With young people rightfully indignant about the lack of concern for their future and business concerned that fossil fuels might become stranded assets sinking the present fragile global economy, politicians of all stripes globally are at last beginning to debate policies that might hopefully lead to effective climate mitigation
In the U.S., the Democratic presidential primary has been dominated by climate policy plans. The Green New Deal, first proposed last year by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Edward Markey, has inspired the Democrats. The primary contenders' adaptations of this previously heretical "Big Government Plan" are competing to form the basis for the Democrats' 2020 election platform and maybe, hopefully, the policy framework for real climate action from the next American government.
How has climate figured in the prequel to the upcoming Canadian federal election?
Well, there is a Canadian-configured GND in one party's platform. Overall, however, denial and predatory delay rule:
The parties most likely to form government have climate platforms in line with the previous five Canadian governments. There has been very little meaningful policy innovation in spite of new recognition that climate is an existential emergency. Both the Liberals and Conservatives share the same outdated Harper-era emission reduction targets. Both have climate policies that will not achieve even these too-weak-by-half targets and both will do whatever they can to continue to expand fossil fuel production.
The Conservatives' climate policy platform promises to achieve even less than the Liberals. The Trudeau government pretended to be climate leaders at the Paris UN climate summit right after they were elected in 2015, but then they kept the Harper-era targets, failed miserably to introduce effective policies to reduce emissions to reach these targets (while polarizing the whole climate mitigation issue instead of showing the necessary leadership to get all parties on side). And the Liberals under Trudeau have continued to push for expanded fossil fuel production, including buying a pipeline.
The prime minister should have been forced to resign for incompetence on this his supposedly most important policy issue, and for playing cynical politics instead of showing the climate leadership he promised on the world stage. Instead the Trudeau Liberals are actually running again as the climate change champions.
The standout policy innovation presented by Canadian parties so far has been the Green Party's Mission Possible. The Greens have promised to try and get all of the parties to form a wartime-style coalition climate cabinet. This is an absolutely essential policy approach to achieve necessary bi-partisan commitment to real climate action. There will be no effective climate mitigation until there is an emergency coalition government with a primary mandate to do Canada's part in reducing emissions, both in Canada and around the world.
The NDP platform includes policies to set emission reduction targets in line with the best climate science, a GND-like program to greatly increase renewable capacity, and an end to fossil fuel subsidies.
If concern about climate ratchets up as expected during the election campaign, the NDP and Greens could become competitive in a large number of ridings, but both start from very weak minority status with relatively little money or organizational support.
Raising the bar
There is a major international climate conference in New York at the end of September. As well as helping to galvanize activism, this Climate Change Summit looks to raise the media profile of climate dangers and mitigation policies with an expected call for nations like Canada to significantly raise their emission reduction ambitions.
In the U.S., the Democratic primary contenders have started to articulate once forbidden supply-side mitigation policies. Bernie Sanders, for example, has pledged to immediately end all new and existing extraction of fossil fuels from public lands, all import and export of fossil fuels. Sanders has also called for an end to fracking, mountain-top removal coal mining, and offshore drilling, and he is not the only candidate targeting fossil fuel corporations as the climate enemy.
Aside from present measures regulating thermal coal, there has been no mention in any of the Canadian election platforms of a regulated managed decline of fossil fuel production. Canada is the world’s fourth largest producer of fossil fuels. If the world's nations are to ratchet up the ambition necessary to even stay under a 2 degree global rise in temperature, Canada must lead in implementing effective supply-side policies to keep fossil fuels in the ground.
The climate crisis is now an urgent existential emergency because of three decades of failed mitigation almost entirely based on ineffectual demand-side policies. Neoliberal ideologues would have us remain within these failed mitigation policies and be informed consumers, smart shoppers, self-interested voters. The electorate is being sold climate policies as consisting of good jobs and a better economic future. What is really needed is for Canadians to be responsible citizens and effectively wind down the fossil fuel production that imperils the most vulnerable people around the world, future generations, and ultimately all we know and love.
On election day, will the climate crisis and effective policies to address it really be front and centre, or will the false platitudes and symbolic politics such as carbon taxes continue to rule? Will Canadians vote as consumers, or as citizens? Right now Canadians can't vote in favour of policies to wind down fossil fuel production. Could this change during the election campaign?
The writ has been dropped. This could be an important election. Climate change is an emergency requiring an urgent increase in political ambition. We need climate policies that can really lead to effective mitigation.