Analysis | Climate: Ottawa and Quebec budgets do little to address the root of the problem

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Analysis | Climate: Ottawa and Quebec budgets do little to address the root of the problem

What do the budgets proposed by the Trudeau and Legault governments reveal in the context of the climate crisis?

The Syncrude extraction site in Fort McMurray. (File photo)

Faced with the climate challenge, the famous ostrich syndrome is very common: although the issue is of great concern to citizens and our politicians, there is sometimes a step difficult to overcome when the time comes to take the necessary, often unpleasant and complex actions.

We hide, then, a bit with our heads in the sand, so as not to see the real problems.

Or we look a little elsewhere.

It would be very dishonest to say that Quebec and Ottawa are still playing in the ostrich on the climate issue. Never has there been so much talk of decarbonizing the economy in the budgets that the two governments have just presented to citizens.

The question, however, is whether their measures get to the root of the problem. And it is clear that this is not always the case, both in Quebec and in Ottawa.

The budgets that have been presented to us in recent years are of particular importance. They are part of a very rare historical context, even unique, which only occurs once or twice a century: that of the need for a profound restructuring of the architecture of our economy.

The columns that support it were built with the help of fossil fuels. Report after report, scientists keep telling us this: if we want the planet to be livable in the near enough future, we must destroy these columns and erect new ones, with clean energies. All this without the house collapsing…

In its rigorous summary report presented on March 20, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reminds us of two fundamental facts: on the one hand, at the rate of current greenhouse gas emissions ( GHG), we are heading for a warming of about 3 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. A threshold that greatly threatens the climatic balance of the planet.

On the other hand, this alarming situation stems from our dependence on fossil fuels.

To avoid catastrophe, experts tell us, emissions must be reduced by 43% by 2030 on a global scale.

IPCC scientists, like those from the International Energy Agency, the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund, are adamant that it will cost less to invest now to fight climate change than to wait. to fix more broken pots later.

It is in the light of this very specific data that we must analyze the budgets proposed by the federal and Quebec governments.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland. (File photo)

We cannot blame the federal government for not making efforts to decarbonize its economy. If only for purely economic reasons, he has no real choice, at the risk of seeing the train pass under his nose: the United States and the European Union (and even China) are investing hundreds billions of dollars to propel greener industries and energies.

To encourage companies to develop their carbon-free projects in Canada, Ottawa is therefore promising to make available 82.7 billion by 2034, mainly in the form of tax credits.

This is a welcome project, as reducing the carbon footprint of our economy will require generating hundreds of billions of dollars in private capital to stimulate the necessary investment.

< p class="e-p">However, this budget does not sufficiently address the heart of Canada's GHG emissions problem: the extraction and production of fossil fuels.

More than half of the country's GHG emissions come from two sectors: the oil and gas industry (27% of emissions) and transportation (24%).

Emissions from the oil and gas sector alone have increased by 59% between 2005 and 2020. It's no coincidence: oil sands production has increased by 190% over the same period.

Yet, in this budget, there is no draconian measure to reduce the production of fossil fuels in the country.

Admittedly, the budget in some way perpetuates the principle of carbon pricing, by forcing future governments to generously compensate companies if the pricing is ever abandoned. It also provides important – and necessary – financial leverage for the development of current and future decarbonization technologies.

But it still somehow supports the development of the oil industry and gas.

For example, more than half a billion dollars will go to the development of carbon capture and storage projects, a technology whose large-scale benefits have yet to be proven.

The problem is not so much to invest in technology that may one day be beneficial. But above all, that's the message it sends: we're not discouraging oil and gas production, rather we're offering parallel aid that could, in the fairly distant future, mitigate the effects of pollution.

The same can be said for the funds provided in the budget for the future development of offshore oil and gas in the Arctic.

Instead, the federal government could have been bold and imposed a gradual cap on oil production in the country, with a clear timetable. This is not easy to do, because the federal government does not have all the constitutional levers necessary to impose its rules on this issue. There are also thousands of jobs at stake, hence the need to support workers in polluting industries in this transition by offering them training so that they can access the companies of tomorrow.

The federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Steven Guilbeault, has already promised to impose a cap on emissions from oil companies. Such a measure has not yet seen the light of day, but it is nevertheless essential: it would send a clear message to the industry and would be more consistent with scientific findings.


Quebec Finance Minister Eric Girard with Premier François Legault. (File photo)

The Quebec budget also deserves attention to fully understand its strengths and weaknesses.

Of course, the Legault government took advantage of this budget to improve its Plan for a green economy (ENP), and that is good news. It is injecting an additional $1.4 billion over five years, bringing the EPI budget to nine billion. The money comes mainly from revenues from the carbon market. It is unclear, however, what this new money will be used for. Details will come later, we are told.

Does this mean that the Quebec budget is attacking the heart of the climate problem? Not quite.

Like Ottawa, Quebec is also playing a bit like an ostrich.

To understand it well, you have to have leading this figure: 43% of Quebec's GHG emissions come from transportation. Almost half. A share that always increases a little more each year.

The Legault government is responding to this problem by making vehicle electrification a priority. Quebec has thus become the Canadian champion of electric vehicles, and that's a good thing.

But to really solve transportation problems in Quebec, electrification should not be the main driving force behind the action.

This is also written in black and white in the 2030 Sustainable Mobility Policy of Quebec, where the he RTA approach is recommended. RTA to reduce, transfer and improve.

According to these principles set out by Quebec, the ultimate priority should be, first and foremost, to reduce (R) the need for motorized trips as well as their distance. An approach that calls for an in-depth review of land use planning and the layout of shops, particularly in suburban towns.

The second category of solutions consists in encouraging the citizen to transfer (T) from a motorized mode of transport to a less energy-intensive mode, such as public transport, walking or cycling. A strategy that calls for the establishment of structuring transportation networks (public transportation, bike paths, spaces for pedestrians), which allow most citizens to go where they want on a daily basis in a safe, efficient and comfortable manner and high frequency.

If the citizen of Longueuil takes an hour and a quarter to get to downtown Montreal by public transport when the distance is quite short, the easy solution will always be the car.

These first two strategies aim to modify the structure of trips. They call for major changes, which will be expensive.

And the third stage, after the first two have been initiated, aims to improve the energy efficiency of vehicles. It is at this final stage that the transport electrification policy should find its place.

In its 2023 budget, Quebec does not really show that it applies the principles of its own mobility policy.

In fact, it tackles the problem in reverse.< /p>

If all we do is electrify vehicles, the development model that has been a problem for decades, the one that encourages people to live ever further away and promote urban sprawl, will no longer be not settled.

One way to respect the principles of the sustainable mobility policy would have been to grant significant funds to municipalities, so that they could redevelop their territory in order to encourage active transportation.

Furthermore, those who were hoping for major investments for a structuring public transport network will have to wait. Quebec announces $722 million over six years to improve the accessibility and efficiency of transportation networks.

At a time when transport companies are running out of funds as a result of the pandemic, this seems like a drop in a glass of water.

Sometimes underserved by a network underfunded public transit system, Quebecers love their cars…and preferably big ones. In 2021, 71% of vehicles sold in Quebec were sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and light trucks, compared to 20% cars, according to figures from the HEC Montreal Energy Sector Management Chair. SUV sales increased 253% between 1990 and 2021.

Unlike many states, Quebec categorically refuses to impose a financial penalty to discourage buyers of large vehicles (a penalty in the jargon), even in large cities. .

Budget 2023 offers nothing in this direction.

The data is however clear: the heart of the problem of GHG emissions in Quebec is transportation, and by far.

With their respective budgets, Ottawa and Quebec are making very commendable efforts. But they are also looking a little elsewhere: instead of sending a clear message that would indicate to all economic actors that a real and profound energy transition is underway, political leaders are feeding a little ambiguity in the face of their desire to attack at the root of the problem.

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