The National Observer of Canada asked the Federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson on critical issues in the upcoming elections, ad how your party would respond to the climate crisis.
(This interview has been edited for brevity).
What is the number one most pressing problem facing Canadians this next term?
I would say that in the short term, it is about overcoming the rest of COVID. But I think the biggest challenge we face in the next four years is the climate challenge. It is, without a doubt, an existential threat. Taking bold action – and that means not just coming up with ideas and talking about goals, it means putting detailed steps into practice that will help us move toward science-informed goals – is perhaps the most critical thing we face as a society.
What other issues are the most important to you?
Related to the climate issue, it is thinking about how we are going to build an economy that truly creates jobs and economic opportunity for us as we go through a very significant economic transition in the coming decades. So, thinking very seriously and creatively about how we really build an economy that will prosper, an economy that will work in all regions of the country, understanding that the economic drivers in different areas are quite different, I think that would be the next one. The third is an issue of particular importance to young people, which revolves around housing and ensures that we can create opportunities for young people to rent and for many, eventually, to be able to buy houses.
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When it comes to climate, where should we focus our efforts?
You have to start by asking: Where are the main sources of emissions? Because those are the areas where you need to make the fastest progress. In Canada, those would be transportation, oil and gas, industrial emissions, and buildings. As I have said before, those (plans) need to be detailed; they cannot simply be aspirational at this time. For example, in transportation, it’s about building a refueling infrastructure for zero-emission vehicles, providing subsidies for people to purchase zero-emission vehicles, and using regulatory tools. We have said that by 2035, we will not have internal combustion engine vehicles sold in this country, and 50 percent of the cars sold by 2030 must be zero-emission vehicles. It is a very specific plan to reduce emissions, and we have done it in all sectors; that’s what you should do if you really hope to see progress.
What do you think of the Paris target? How can we get there?
In December, the Prime Minister and I announced Canada’s enhanced climate plan to demonstrate to Canadians that a detailed climate plan could be developed that would show how to not only meet but exceed the existing Paris target. In the past, criticism of governments has been that they had goals, but had no plans and never achieved them. Now, we have one of the most detailed climate plans out there anywhere in the world.
The Paris targets are one thing, but what is Canada’s path to net zero emissions??
[email protected] affirms @Liberal_Party’s promise to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies by 2023, saying this will not apply to subsidies with environmental benefits, such as repairing orphan wells. #cdnpoli # elxn44
The first step is to have a goal for 2030 that allows us to say that there is a path to 2050. It has to be aggressive enough to make significant progress between now and 2030, which we have achieved through the strengthened climate plan, plus some work additional. We have also appointed a net zero advisory body to help us map the pathways, sector by sector, to net zero by 2050, and we will work with them on that overall plan. The Canadian Net Zero Emissions Accountability Act, now incorporated into the law, requires governments to submit a new plan every five years that demonstrates how they will achieve increasingly ambitious goals as it moves down that path.
You party platform commits to eliminating fossil fuel subsidies by 2023 instead of 2025. What prompted the promise to end subsidies earlier, and what does this commitment entail?
We are all of the opinion that the world needs to go faster to address climate change, and part of that is eliminating fossil fuel subsidies. We had committed to phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies alongside other G20 countries by 2025, and some have already been phased out or reduced. We are about to go through a peer review process with Argentina in which we evaluate what they are doing, they evaluate what we are doing and we identify the areas in which more work is needed. The platform accelerates commitments, so we will be in a position to say that we have eliminated all of them by 2023.
But there is an important point to make here, which is that there are often discussions about what a fossil fuel subsidy is. I think this is a point where the NDP and we violently disagree. (Jagmeet) Singh, in his announcement, pointed to things like cleaning wells for orphans and the wage subsidy that was provided during the COVID pandemic as fossil fuel subsidies. Those are not fossil fuel subsidies. Orphan wells are an environmental responsibility. We are absolutely committed to eliminating fossil fuel subsidies that incentivize oil and gas production and exploration, but it does not include things that are good for the environment, such as remediating orphan wells or programs focused on reducing emissions.
Over what period of time can Canadians expect public funding for the fossil fuel sector to be phased out?
Without a doubt, that is work that has been done with Export Development Canada and the Business Development Bank of Canada. All are committed to aligning their portfolios to net zero by 2050 and making significant reductions in the amount of support given to fossil fuels. Obviously, we need to speed that up.
For the Liberal Party, not green hydrogen produced from gas makes sense as a climate solution?
I think the discussion on hydrogen should revolve around the carbon intensity of the hydrogen that is produced, and we see ways to use natural gas to produce hydrogen in a way that is very low or zero CO2. Some of the new technologies that have been developed will capture up to 95 percent of (CO2).
This means Carbon capture Is technology something we really need in our toolbox?
I think the IEA has said that it is a critical part of getting to net zero by 2050. There are some industries that will be very difficult to decarbonize, like cement, and as we work towards solutions that will ultimately be zero carbon. , there will be a need through this transition for carbon capture and storage. But you don’t want to overstate that. This is not a miracle solution in terms of climate change, it is one tool among many that can be part of leading us to the net zero future that we want.
What will be the role of nuclear energy be moving forward?
It’s an important part of the power mix in this country right now, and the discussion in Canada has focused primarily on small modular reactors. We are interested in all non-emitting technologies. We are in a climate emergency; It would be irresponsible not to consider all non-emitting technologies, which is why the exploration of small modular reactors is important. But when they become commercial products, which they are not today, they will have to compete in the market for other non-emitting technologies. If you can compete, you will have a role. And if you can’t compete, you won’t.
What is the most important and urgent step that you think Canada should take to address climate change?
Helping Industries Decarbonize. Moving very aggressively in transportation is also critical because it takes time to achieve 100% zero-emission vehicle sales. The last thing I would say is about adaptation. We urgently need to adapt to some of the impacts of climate change that we have seen even this summer. Climate change is with us now, it will be with us tomorrow, and next year and next year, and we must really be prepared for some of the impacts to come, even if we drastically reduce emissions in the next 10 years. .
How will your party ensure a timely just transition for Canadians, especially those working in the energy sector?
The government of Canada must ensure that it works on behalf of citizens in all regions of this country. The regions that will go through the most significant transition are those where hydrocarbons are currently produced. That’s Alberta, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador, and to some extent parts of British Columbia. A just transition is all about economic diversification, training and skills development to ensure that people can move to the jobs to come in the context of the greening of the economy. In Budget 2021, we included significant funding for skills training, and on the platform, we committed to a $ 2 billion futures fund to enable workers and communities to work on economic diversification and create good jobs that will be sustainable in the context of a decline. -Carbon future.
What makes your party in the best position to tackle the immense challenge of climate change?
We have recognized that to advance in this area, it is necessary to develop a very detailed and comprehensive plan. We spent a lot of time doing that to make sure we really understood all the different mechanisms needed to reduce emissions at a rate that is consistent with our goals and net zero by 2050. But it’s also because we understand economic opportunity and we want to be. at the forefront to ensure that Canada takes advantage of those benefits.
On the one hand, there’s Mr. O’Toole, who’s going to roll back the climate goal to the Harper era goal, and to be honest with you, he’s running a party that doesn’t even believe climate change is real. . On the other hand, the New Democrats, I think, are very well intentioned and certainly committed to tackling the climate issue, but fundamentally they don’t understand economics. We are in the best position because we understand both sides of that equation and develop a solid plan. We are in a position to make the kind of progress that I believe Canadians hope their government will make.
This is the third in a weekly series of questions and answers with the major federal parties in the run-up to the September 20 elections. You can read the first installment here and the second here.
Natasha Bulowski / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada National Observer