OTTAWA — "We inherited targets from the Conservatives that they had done absolutely nothing on and in four years we've reached three-quarters of the way to meeting those targets."
— Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, in Sudbury, Ont., Sept. 26, 2019
Justin Trudeau is making the case that Liberals are the best choice for Canadians concerned about climate change, and so has been championing the record of his government on the file, while contrasting it to what the Conservatives did when they were in power.
One, did the Liberals inherit the national target, which is what Canada contributed to the 2015 Paris Agreement, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030? Yes, they did, but that does not mean they had to stick with it.
The previous Conservative government submitted its intended national target to the United Nations in May 2015.
The Liberals ended up winning the federal election that October and had only a few weeks before Catherine McKenna, the Liberal environment minister, headed to UN climate-change talks in Paris.
The Liberals decided to keep the national targets the Conservatives had set, which drew criticism from some environmentalists at the time.
Before the Paris meetings, McKenna said the Conservative targets would be the floor, not the ceiling, and that the Liberals would work with the provinces and territories after the conference to figure out a target and a plan to meet it.
A year later, the Liberal government decided to stick with the national targets the Conservative government had set.
On to the next part of the claim: did the Conservatives do nothing on those targets?
"It's maybe unfair to say that they didn't act on the 2030 target, given how little time they actually had left in government," said Bora Plumptre, a senior analyst of federal policy at the Pembina Institute, but he noted that is not the whole story.
The government led by former prime minister Stephen Harper did set targets — to reduce carbon emissions to 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020 — in the 2009 Copenhagen agreement and then made very little progress toward that goal.
The Liberals before them had also made an international emissions-reduction promise in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which they did little to honour. The Harper government withdrew from that accord in 2011.
"It is fair to say that very little to no progress was achieved from 2009 to 2015 on hitting those targets," said Plumptre.
That is one of the reasons the Liberals gave for sticking with the Harper targets, which they argued were going to be hard enough to meet given the position Canada was starting from.
On to the last part: has Canada gotten three-quarters of the way to meeting those targets since the Liberals came to power?
This claim depends on both the figures we look at and how we calculate them.
The Conservatives point to the total greenhouse-gas emissions across the country each year and say those are going up.
They are right about that.
That data, which is always two years behind, shows that in 2015, total greenhouse-gas emissions were 722 million tonnes. That fell to 708 million tonnes in 2016 before climbing back up to 716 million tonnes in 2017.
The thing is, Trudeau was actually talking projections using computer modelling.
In other words, do the policies that Ottawa and the provinces put into place, or intend to implement, over the past four years, get our emissions down to 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030?
Not completely. The latest projection shows the country will fall short of the target by 79 million tonnes.
Does that work out to three-quarters of the way there? It depends on the starting point.
Michael Bernstein, executive director of Canadians for Clean Prosperity, said most people would probably look at greenhouse-gas emissions from 2005 and figure out how far we need to go to get 30 per cent below that level.
If you do that math, he said, Canada has gone 64 per cent of the way since 2015.
The Liberals say Trudeau was talking about where greenhouse gas emissions were projected to be in 2030 when his government came to power in 2015, before the Paris meeting, which was about 802 million tonnes, and comparing it to what the projections say now.
Looking at it that way, we are about 75 per cent of the way — on paper — to meeting that goal.
Stewart Elgie, a professor of law and economics at the University of Ottawa's Institute of the Environment, said that is a legitimate way to do the math.
"If that is our honest estimate of where we would be in 2030, then it is quite fair to measure how much each new policy would reduce us from that level," he said.
Elgie also noted the Liberals did not include measures such as investments in public transit and clean innovation in their calculations, which means they could actually be further along in closing the gap than Trudeau has said.
Is Trudeau being truthful about the Liberal and Conservative record on climate change?
The claim is partly accurate, but important details are missing. For that reason, his claims earn a rating of "some baloney."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 28, 2019.
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