Analysis: Canada elections: A new dawn for Canadian climate policy looks likely

Canada has a new prime minister in Justin Trudeau. What will that mean for climate change and energy policies? Photo credit: Reuters / Chris Wattie.
By Anders Lorenzen
Canada has a new Prime Minister. The leader of the Liberal Party, Justin Trudeau, has been elected as Canada’s next prime minister, ending a decade of conservative rule.
The outgoing prime minister, Stephen Harper, had become increasingly unpopular, not least for his position on climate change.
An economy reliant on oil production
During his two terms, Harper positioned the Canadian economy to become heavily dependant on fossil fuels production, and particularly on the environmentally destructive tar sands project. When the oil price suffered, so did the Canadian economy. Harper also opposed modest carbon reductions, and he famously pulled Canada out of the Kyoto Protocol. While their neighbour USA reduced their carbon emissions, Canada increased theirs. Harper clashed with Obama and environmentalists on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport oil from the Alberta tar sands to oil refineries in Texas.
Now with Trudeau taking over as prime minister, what could change in terms of climate policies?
Well, Trudeau himself has said that we will see a different Canada when it comes to tackling climate change. He has pledged to put Canada on course to tackle climate change, and to improve Canada`s battered environmental record. He intends to attend the Paris COP21 climate summit in December and has also said that he would break with the climate policies of Harper.
One step forward
Derek Leahy, an energy and environment writer and founder of the International Tar Sands Day, said that with the election of Trudeau, Canada has taken a small step forward, he told me:
“There’s no doubt in my mind that getting rid of Harper and electing Trudeau as prime minister was a good step forward for climate policy in Canada. But you have to keep in mind we’ve taken many steps backwards after nine years of Harper in power.
Trudeau talks a good climate game, but, make no mistake, he is a supporter of tar sands development. We may be stuck with yet another pro-tar sands federal government, but it feels different this time. There’s hope this time. With Harper, it was quite obvious it would be a cold day in hell before he did anything about Canada’s growing carbon footprint. With Trudeau, it does feel like we may have a government that will listen to Canadians, and the warnings of climate scientists for the first time in a decade.’’
The world’s climate eyes rest on Trudeau
All the world’s climate eyes are now turning to Trudeau, and he faces an uphill battle to forge new climate policies before COP21. It is not yet known if he will have time to overturn Harper’s climate targets, with both the EU and the US having said that the targets were not ambitious enough.  Harper pledged to reduce emissions by 30% by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. But analysts say that with Canada’s rising emissions, even those targets would be very hard to achieve.
But Trudeau is unlikely to introduce policies that would drastically reduce Canada’s emissions or even halt them.  He went into the election supporting the Keystone XL pipeline and tar sands production, which is by far the biggest cause of rising emissions.
The Alberta influence
If there is to be a serious change of policy on tar sands extraction and production, it is likely to come from other sources. Alberta, earlier this year, elected Rachel Notley from the left- leaning party New Democrats (NDP). Last year she said that there is no long-term future in tar sands, and she advocated a switch to renewable energy to rid Canada of fossil fuels dependency.  
Another cause for the rise of emissions is the ongoing extraction of shale gas in the north-east and east-central region of  British Columbia (B.C.). There, the Governor Christy Clark, also from the Liberal Party, is a big supporter of the project.
Trudeau will be aware that urgent action on climate change is needed. While Harper failed to communicate the threat of climate change, it is likely to be very different under Trudeau. He will take a more progressive stance. He might even adopt ambitious renewable energy programmes and introduce a national carbon tax (so far only some regions have a carbon tax or a cap and trade mechanism). However, he is unlikely to make abrupt changes to the extraction of Canada’s abundant natural resources, but he is likely to go to Paris with a pro-tackling climate change agenda.


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