In the days following Donald Trump’s ballot-box victory, even Canada’s most battle-hardened environmentalists couldn’t help but bury their heads in Facebook mutterings about the end of the world as we know it. The new “leader of the free world” is after all a coal-loving crotch-grabber who’s famously called climate change a hoax concocted by the Chinese to undermine the U.S. economy. Should Canadians start building geothermal-cooled shelters now? We drill into assumptions about what Trump’s enviro policies could mean north of the border.
“A fucking disaster” for Canada’s climate plans.
Most climate scientists and environmentalists agree that Trump’s plans to put a notorious climate change denier in charge of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, gut billions in climate spending and pull out of the Paris agreement are, as the Broadbent Institute’s Rick Smith candidly tells NOW, a “fucking disaster,” environmentally speaking.
While the president-elect tries to figure out how to wiggle out of the Paris agreement’s four-year notice of cancellation clause, the question is how much Trump’s actions will undermine Canada’s resolve to act on climate change. Already, Conservative Party pols are using Trump’s win as ammo against Liberal plans to slap a national price on carbon.
With 76 per cent of Canadians telling pollsters they’d have voted for Clinton over Trump, Smith argues that “Trudeau will clearly benefit politically in this country by aggressively contrasting himself with Trump, not harmonizing with him. The Libs can’t afford not to move forward with a national climate plan.”
But how aggressively will climate plans get implemented if our number-one trading partner no longer cares how green we, or our oil, are? UBC political science prof Kathryn Harrison is hoping history doesn’t repeat itself, noting Canada did an awful lot of climate coasting after U.S. president George W. Bush pulled out of Kyoto in 2001. Says Harrison, “We remain extremely vulnerable while the direction of our economy is predicated on the assumption that the world won’t get its act together on climate change.”
Will plumes of coal dust will start billowing up from across the border like it’s 1999?
Trump’s boldly promised to end the “war on coal.” Considering up to half of Ontario’s smog has historically come from American coal plants, the potential revival of the industry would seem a cause for concern on this side of the border. But Equiterre director Steven Guilbeault doesn’t think so, given the value of coal, which he says “has melted like snow,” losing 92 per cent of its market value from more than $60 billion in 2011 to $4 billion in 2016. Environmental Defence’s Tim Gray agrees. “Coal hasn’t been constrained by regulation; it’s been constrained by the market.” Thanks to fracking, natural gas is now cheaper than coal, and pretty much every analyst agrees there’s no chance in hell Trump can bring the industry back from the ashes – or kill renewables either, for that matter. He might have an easier time scrapping the U.S. Clean Power Plan, which forces American power plants to slash their carbon emissions. Not good for Ontarians living downwind from smoggy Midwestern coal-fired plants, although enviros say any attempts to repeal the act would likely be challenged in court.
Alberta’s oil patch may be popping the cork on some bubbly.
Trump hasn’t been shy about expressing his affinity for “sweet beautiful oil” and has said he’d “absolutely approve” TransCanada’s 1,900-kilometre Keystone XL pipeline, reversing president Obama’s veto. No doubt having a -fracking billionaire like Harold Hamm at the helm of the U.S. Department of Energy would grease the path for Keystone’s approval. Alberta’s oil patch should be “jumping for joy,” the neo-con Heartland Institute suggests. But are they? Trump’s also said he’s “not in love with the idea of taking Canadian oil” and would want a “big, big chunk of the profits or even ownership rights,” as in “25 per cent of the profits, forever,” in return for Keystone’s approval. Either way, the line would still need approval from several U.S states where opposition is strong. Greenpeace’s Keith Stewart says, “Trump can grant permits, but that doesn’t mean they can be built. The more he tries to bully grassroots opposition, the stronger it will become.” What's clearer is that Alberta Premier Rachel Notley doesn't seem to be counting on Keystone – she says she's still gunning to get Alberta crude to Canadian tidewater.
Could renegotiating NAFTA be good for Canada?
Many lefties and enviros would love to see NAFTA ripped up, or at least renegotiated to get rid of Chapter 11’s dispute resolution mechanism that’s allowed dozens of U.S. corporations to successfully sue the Canadian government over tougher environmental regs. But that’s not what Trump’s likely to target for renegotiation. “My fear is that Trump will want to put walls up against Canadian and Mexican imports, while at the same time deregulating environmental rules in the U.S.,” says Council of Canadians chair Maude Barlow. Barlow tells NOW that Canada would also be under pressure to reinstate gutted water protection laws and kill Canada’s flimsy protections against bulk water exports. Considering Trump owns a bottled water company, Council of Canadians’ Brent Patterson speculates the president-elect “would undoubtedly be receptive to the business case for bulk water exports.”
Trump’s election could be bad news for national emissions standards.
It took about a millisecond after Trump got elected for auto industry lobbyists to start pressing for weaker emissions standards. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents automakers in Washington, DC, sent Trump’s team a memo last week asking to “harmonize and adjust” fuel economy regs, arguing that they “pose a substantial challenge to the auto sector due to the steeper compliance requirements” in effect until 2025. Why should Canada care? We generally move in lockstep with the U.S. on emission and mileage standards. The same lobbyists want to see electric car quotas in the U.S. dropped. Heavy pressure from the auto industry here already pushed Ontario to keep electric car targets voluntary. Of course, Ontario may not have much of an auto sector left if NAFTA is renegotiated, as former Bank of Canada governor David Dodge has warned. He speculates that plants here might move south to avoid cross-border trade skirmishes. Hopefully, more provinces will drive us towards a brighter future by passing zero emission vehicle requirements like Quebec just did.