There’s nothing strategic about voting for a plan to lose on climate

If the climate crisis was a hockey game, Justin Trudeau would be the coach planning to lose by a couple fewer goals
Photo: Micheal J (Flickr CC)
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Over the last few weeks, a lot of ink has been spilled arguing about which Canadian political party has the best climate plan in this election. But, unless you’re really in the weeds of climate policy, all the talk about targets and pathways to meet them can be a bit much. And, unless you really understand how to parse the analysis of these plans, you might come away thinking that the Liberal Party and Justin Trudeau actually have the best plan, but that it’s a little more complicated than that.

The truth is that Justin Trudeau has a plan. It’s not the worst plan that someone could put forward, but it is a plan to lose the climate fight. According to a new report from Climate Action Tracker, it is “highly insufficient” and puts us on track to 4ºC+ of warming.

One easy way to explain why the Liberal plan falls well short of what is needed is to imagine that the climate fight is actually a hockey game.

Bear with me here. For most of the last 30 years, Canada has done a pretty bad job when it comes to tackling the climate crisis. Think of this as the first two periods of the game. We spent most of these two periods back on our heels and quickly fell behind two goals to zero. Now, we have a limited amount of time to turn this around — there’s only one period left. In this metaphor, that’s the ten years that, in 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — think of them as the refs — said the world has to get on the right track when it comes to climate change.

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So we have one period left to win this, and we’re in the second intermission. Trudeau, our coach, is speaking to the media. He’s talking about how the team is ready to turn things around, and how he has a plan to score one goal in the game’s final twenty minutes. Now, scoring one goal is better than scoring none. And it’s way better than letting the other team run up the score, which is what would happen if the Conservatives were in power. But, we need two goals just for the tie, and three to win. Think about this as Canada’s climate targets. We need to reach 60 per cent reductions by 2030 to do our global fair share of meeting 1.5ºC, but right now the Liberals are promising 40 per cent cuts and the Conservatives are only promising 30 per cent.

That means, in the strictest terms, both parties have plans to lose the climate fight. Not only that, their plans aren’t as credible as some would have you believe. Both the Liberals and the Conservatives plans are based on a somewhat vague “net zero” by 2050 commitment. They both want to get there using carbon capture and storage, an extremely expensive and unproven technology. In our hockey metaphor, this is sort of like relying on a trick play. And, as anyone who grew up watching the Mighty Ducks movies will tell you, the Flying V may look cool on the screen, but it never actually works in real life.

On top of all this, the two biggest parties don’t have a real plan to stop the other team’s top scorer. In our case, that’s Big Oil, with Canada’s oil and gas expansion being one of the main reasons that Canada has the worst climate record in the G7. The Conservatives have no intention of slowing this down. The Liberals have pledged to regulate oil and gas emissions, but offered no details on what that actually means. And, just last week, they talked about how they plan to be operating the Trans Mountain pipeline until 2060, well after the world needs to be off of fossil fuels.

Unfortunately, the other parties playing in this election game aren’t exactly all stars. The NDP is aiming for at least 50 per cent cuts, which feels a lot like a plan to tie and not quite a plan to win. The Greens are there on the 60 per cent target, but without a clear sense of how they plan to force other parties to adopt that target while expected to hold three seats or less in the House of Commons.

You’d be forgiven for feeling a little depressed after reading all that, but we can change this. To do that, we need to draft our own all-star team of climate champions to head to the House of Commons. That means recognizing that while no party has an actual plan to win this fight, there are candidates running in this election who are clear eyed about what needs to be done. These folks are willing to “leave it all on the ice” when it comes to pushing for bold climate action. And, if we can elect enough of them, we can break through Canada’s climate status quo where parties seem more interested in losing by fewer goals than actually winning.

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