Catherine Abreu, Executive Director, Climate Action Network Canada
Hannah McKinnon, Senior Campaign Advisor, Oil Change International 

Canada doesn’t have its story straight on climate, but that makes it all that much more important to push them on it.

Prime Minister Trudeau has made bold promises when it comes to action to protect our shared climate, and these have come at a time when North America is desperate for leadership. But between tar sands pipeline approvals and the recent decision to delay regulations to cut methane emissions – literally the cheapest and easiest greenhouse gas reductions possible in the oil and gas sector – it is not hard to see the continued influence of fossil fuel companies in the halls of Canadian parliament.

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan addresses the crowd, at the STOP KINDER MORGAN protest rally, on Burnaby Mountain Park.
A Stop Kinder Morgan protest rally on Burnaby Mountain. C: Mark Klotz

We all know that Canada has made significant strides in working for a safer climate future in the past year: a planned end to coal, a pan-Canadian climate plan, and a commitment to do our fair share to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, all of which are critical on the path towards protecting lives and livelihoods around the world. Not to mention in safeguarding our own communities and economy against the consequences of inaction.

But with bold promises comes the need for bolder action and if we don’t want to be global promise-breakers, the government needs reality checks (such as Bill McKibben’s here) that remind us of what’s at stake.

As the home of one of the world’s largest fossil fuel reserves – the Alberta tar sands – Canada has to confront the reality that unless the vast majority of that oil is kept in the ground, we will in all likelihood blow past climate goals and sink much of the hard work going into the other noble efforts across the country and provinces.

Industry spin lurks behind a tendency among some politicians and opinion leaders to pass the buck and say that it is the global appetite for oil that is fueling the tar sands, and until we tackle that demand, there is little to be done. But that is missing half of the equation. Without a complementary approach to limit supply, we risk dumping hundreds of billions of dollars into infrastructure that will do one of two things: either make it next to impossible to phase-out fossil fuels by midcentury as science and our own climate policy demands, or lead to massive stranded assets if the government does act. Fortunately, there is a third door: don’t lock in infrastructure the climate can’t afford to begin with and instead invest in the clean energy economy that everyone else is moving towards.

No one doubts that the government is cleaning up an awful mess that they inherited on the climate file, but in a world where the science dictates that there is no time left to muck around, this has to serve as an impetus for more ambition, not an excuse for less. And until the government can kick the fox out of the henhouse and stop letting the oil patch have a heavy hand in policy, that will be a struggle.

The thing is, as the government has said in some way over and over again themselves, getting a grip on our emissions and making a thoughtful move towards a clean energy future is good for everyone. We can’t and we shouldn’t shut down the tar sands tomorrow, but we can and should start to prepare our economy for the managed decline of a sector that threatens the climate, our communities, our economy, and the rights of Canada’s First Nations.

As a wealthy, stable democracy that values its role as a good global citizen, Canada is perfectly positioned to drive an international discussion about how to responsibly kick the fossil fuel habit, but it is going to take tough love and reality checks to get us there. We have all heard the anecdote that the students with the best potential need to be challenged the most. Canada can be a global leader by embracing a bold transition to a clean economy, but not if they keep dragging their heels where it matters, and not if they think they can get away with anything less than their very best.