“C” is for climate platform: Grading the major national parties’ climate plan

“C” is for climate platform: Grading the major national parties’ climate plan

This summer may mark a potential turning point in Canada’s collective climate consciousness: In June, the country witnessed an unprecedented “heat dome” in the Western half of the country. The town of Lytton, BC, hit 49.6°C, completely shattering the country’s previous heat records. Then came the wildfires, followed by relentless crop-killing drought throughout the prairies, and smoke-filled skies across the rest of the country for weeks. Then the IPCC’s Sixth Climate Assessment was published, providing evidence that while destabilizing climate change is part of the “new normal”, humanity nevertheless has a choice in determining how bad it gets.


Unsurprising then, that climate change has become the number one concern of Canadian voters. The problem is, all of the major national parties have put forward platforms for the upcoming 44th election that are ill-equipped to genuinely address the climate crisis. Either they have proposed highly ambitious plans and haven’t gone the distance to explain how such significant reductions will be realistically achieved, or they’ve put forward more pragmatic and realistic plans which fail to account for the real severity of the climate crisis. It is with this context in mind that I evaluate the four national parties’ climate platforms:

Ambition

Ramping up ambition is important domestically, as it signals to voters how urgent of a global issue the government considers climate change to be, and hints at the scale of change required to address the problem. Canada’s current climate policy framework, as shaped by the Liberals over the last half decade, is more ambitious than the Harper government’s climate policy, thanks to a wide range of programs they’ve introduced(in particular, the Pan Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change and the Net Zero Accountability Act). For this category, I graded each party on a scale of 1 to 10: 1 marks a major scaling back of ambition; 5 represents the same level of ambition as the government’s current policy; and 10 is a major ramping up of ambition. The Liberals scored 7/10, as they have expressed a clear desire to take their mitigation strategy to the next level, including ramping up Canada’s GHG reduction target, earlier this year, to 40-45% below 2005 levels by 2030. The Conservatives have stated a desire to scale back to the Harper era target (30% below 2005 levels by 2030). That’s a major problem, as it would mark a violation of the Paris Agreement rules. Thus, they scored 4/10. The NDP’s is more ambitious than even the Liberals with reduction target of 50% below 2005 levels by 2030. They score 8/10. The Greens, who are calling for a 60% reduction below 2005 levels by 2030 as well as a complete re-orientation of the economy around climate change mitigation, earned an impressive 9/10 for ambition, as their platform truly signals the need for Canada to do its part.

Feasibility

Unsurprisingly, those parties with the most ambition generally have plans that will be harder to swallow for many Canadians, given the country’s contemporary political economic context. Canada is, of course, a divided nation on the question of whether fossil fuels have any role to play in the future. Further, the country’s complex federal structure means that there are various areas of overlapping jurisdiction between provinces and the national government, making climate policy a slow and hiccup-ridden process. Here I asked, on a scale of 1 to 10, how palatable and adoptable each plan seems given Canada’s contemporary social, political and economic contexts. 1 represents a plan facing major obstacles; 5 represents a typical  level of political support and opposition expected in Canadian policy implementation; and 10 marks a plan that should easily garner enough support to come to fruition. 

The Liberals enjoy significant political support for their climate objectives, even from voters in other parties, leading to a fairly high score on feasibility. However, because of tensions around their carbon pricing plan, they scored a 7/10. The Conservative plan scored 8/10, since most Canadians want to see climate action, and it is thus unlikely there would be much opposition to any climate-based policies sought by the Conservatives, with perhaps the exception of the increasingly vocal youth climate movement, which may protest the proposed rollback of Canada’s Paris commitments.[PL4]  The NDP plan scores 5/10 as it would likely garner support in some corners of the country while running up against opposition in areas where large numbers of people are employed in high-emitting sectors; the Greens score 4/10 because their plan would likely meet even greater resistance than the NDP’s. 

All of the major national parties have put forward platforms for the upcoming 44th election that are ill-equipped to genuinely address the climate crisis.

Climate Effectiveness

I asked, on a scale of 1 to 10, how effective each plan would be in terms of putting Canada on a path towards supporting the Paris temperature targets of limiting global warming to between 1.5° and 2.0° C. 1 represents a plan that does not come close to supporting Canada’s required contributions; 5 marks a plan that approachesthe 2.0° C threshold; and 10 denotes a plan that would firmly put Canada in the group of countries helping the world get to within the 1.5° to 2.0° C temperature target. 

Canada’s current planned policies put the country on track for what Climate Tracker calls an “insufficient” contribution to climate mitigation, meaning that if all other countries had the same level of ambition as Canada, the world would likely see up to 3°C of warming by 2100. Given the Liberals plan to improve emissions reduction targets, I’m tempted to offer a score of 6/10. However, the plan’s relatively high reliance on carbon sequestration technology, its unwillingness to embrace the idea of full decarbonization (using instead the oil and gas sector’s subversive language on “Net Zero”), and its central focus on the ever-elusive idea of “green growth”, bring the score down to a 5/10. The truth is it’s going to be incredibly difficult to make Canada’s economy compliant with Paris’ global temperature goals without drastic changes to our economic and regulatory structure, because we’re starting from such a high baseline and have so little time to get to zero. For all their good intentions, the Liberals’ climate policy is too conservative in its attempts to achieve emissions reductions without changing the nation’s political economic structure. 

The Conservative plan gets 4/10 here.  It mirrors some Liberal policies, including carbon pricing for individuals and corporate polluters, EV sales mandates, and billions in clean energy investments, but these place much of the GHG mitigation burden on greener market activity, which just isn’t going to cut it. The NDP scores a 6/10 for effectiveness as it uses language that hints at a desired shift away from fossil fuels in the future, while at the same time being too light on details. The Greens score 7/10 as they offer a comprehensive set of policies and seem sincere in wanting to do what it takes to meet the 1.5C target (though it is a bit surprising that they reject nuclear energy outright, which arguably should play some role if the foremost concern is climate change mitigation). While these latter two plans are indeed ambitious, they sadly only narrowly put Canada on track to support a global warming limit of below 2°C.

Accessibility

Here I’m looking at things like how each plan tackles the problem of incorporating various subtypes of Canada’s diverse population into the plan of action. To what extent do oil and gas workers, Indigenous communities, Canada’s rural population and urbanites, youth and elders, etc., all see themselves represented in the plan? Is the platform presented as a “top-down” plan that citizens will be coerced to follow, or is it a fully-inclusive plan that Canadians from coast to coast to coast will willingly participate in? Part of the score was also reserved for the actual nature of the platform as a communication tool – since that is the first entry point for most climate voters seeking to determine whether the party has something to offer.

The Liberals scored a 5/10 with a plan that comes across as a tad out of touch with Canadians. Yes, different stakeholder groups are mentioned in the plan, but the plan is communicated more as “we’ve got a plan for you” than “we’re counting on your unique contribution”. The Conservative platform scored 6/10 and is notable for reaching out to different groups in Canada without alienating them, from oil sands workers to Indigenous peoples. Ironically though, the growing pool of climate-concerned voters may not be intimately enthused by the watered-down role expected of them. The NDP score of 5/10 was in part a result of being too wordy and light on details, although they got points from strong worker incorporation. The Green Party got 4/10 due to its likely interpretation as excluding workers in heavy-emitting sectors; many “comfortable” Canadian families will feel like the plan is an attack on their way of life.

Overall Results

In the end, we get a sense of the “shape” of each party’s plan by plotting the scores on a radar graph (see Figure 1). As expected, parties with lower ambition scores tend to have higher feasibility scores, and parties that have comprehensive climate effective plans are likely to be seen as less accessible to a plurality of Canadians. That’s just how democracy rolls. 

Figure 1: Assessment of the Four Major National Parties’ Climate Platforms

Finally, we can also tally up the cumulative scores to determine each party’s overall grade (Figure 2). Here, the Liberals, NDP, and Greens all tied with 24/40 points, while the Conservatives trailed behind at 22/40. 

Figure 2: Cumulative Scores (out of 40), Party Climate Platforms, Election 44 (2021)

Admittedly voters should consider my analysis critically; this is, after all, just one person’s subjective analysis. The bad news is that, in grading terms, no party scored higher than a “C”! While it’s certainly no easy task to come up with a viable climate plan that will please everyone, this country’s historically lax efforts on climate change mitigation make this evermore important for Election 44. I would have liked to have seen more effort and “outside-the-box” thinking by all parties to come up with truly ambitious plans that will be achievable, while rallying all Canadians to take part. As it is, we may have to wait – yet again – until next time.


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