Will Canada Pick Up Trump’s Climate Change Slack?

It’s hard to identify President-elect Donald Trump’s true position on climate change. He has made many concerning (and often paradoxical) statements over the past several years, beginning most memorably in 2012 when he tweeted that “global warming was created by and for the Chinese”. In January 2014, Trump took to Twitter again to share his thoughts; first calling global warming a “hoax”, and then “bullshit” a few days later. In December 2015 at a political rally in South Carolina, he repeated that he considers global warming a “hoax” and a “money-making industry”. Earlier that same year in September, he told CNN’s New Day, “I don’t believe in climate change”, and finally, in January 2016, he told Fox and Friends that, “climate change is just a very, very expensive form of tax.”


Throughout his campaign, Trump vowed to dismantle many of the progressive environmental regulations that President Barack Obama put in place, including the Clean Power Plan. In regards to the Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) itself, he stated that, “We are going to get rid of it in almost every form”. He also promised to withdraw the United States from the Paris Accord; an international climate agreement initiated by the United Nations, and pledged to reduce federal spending on clean energy innovation and technology, research and development. These objectives come at a time when the international community has finally begun to make slow, delicate progress towards a climate change alliance.


Following his November election win, Trump named Myron Ebell, a self-confessed climate change denier, to head his E.P.A. transition team. Ebell has openly dismissed the validity of climate change, and is head of the Cooler Heads Coalition, a group of NPOs that “question global warming alarmism and oppose energy-rationing policies”. Ebell has been featured in a Greenpeace “Field Guide to Climate Criminals”, and dubbed a “misleader” on global warming by Rolling Stone. Ebell has criticized the Obama administration for joining the Paris Accord, and his appointment as the head of the E.P.A. transition shows Trump’s dedication to renouncing the USA’s commitment to the international treaty.


On December 7, Trump tapped Scott Pruitt, a climate change denier and close ally of the fossil fuel industry to head the E.P.A., prompting politician Bernie Sanders to say that, “At a time when climate change is the great environmental threat to the entire planet, it is sad and dangerous that Mr. Trump has nominated Scott Pruitt to lead the E.P.A.” The co-chairman of Pruitt’s re-election campaign in 2013 was the chief executive of Continental Energy – an oil and gas company. Furthermore, Pruitt has been making legal efforts to fight Obama’s climate change policies since 2014. However, some environmentalists hold out hope that Trump will continue to combat climate change, and Trump’s recent meetings with prominent climate activists, Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio have bolstered optimism.


In the face of the USA’s possible withdrawal from the international climate change agreement, how likely is it that Canada can and will pick up the slack? In December, Canada set a national climate plan to meet the Paris Agreement, taking a leading role in combatting climate change in the international community. All provinces except for Saskatchewan and Manitoba have adopted The Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. It commits to cutting annual carbon emissions, to achieve a 30% drop by 2030, but allows provinces to take different paces to reach the goal. It also outlines massive investments in clean technology and electricity sources, and energy efficiency.


Many provinces have already shown climate change leadership on the sub-national level, but the Pan-Canadian Framework and the ratification of the Paris Accord show an important step towards national unity. Prime Minister Trudeau has stated that if the US takes a step back from fighting climate change, Canada will capitalize. He has said that for long-term jobs and economic growth, the way forward is “figuring out better and smarter ways to do things”, and the federal Environment Minister, Catherine McKenna, has stated that despite Trump, Ottawa will continue to pursue its climate agenda.


Trudeau’s plan for a cleaner, long-term strategy for business includes national carbon pricing that will be put in place by 2018. This policy has faced significant opposition, particularly following the election of Donald Trump. Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall has said that, “It makes no sense for our federal government to push ahead with imposing a national carbon tax, when our biggest trading partner – and our biggest competitor for investment and jobs – is not going to have one.” Many worry that a carbon tax could create an economic disadvantage for Canadian energy companies. However, Trudeau has shown no evidence of second-guessing the carbon tax, saying instead that the world is looking for climate change leadership and “that putting a price on carbon pollution is a way to improve our response to economic challenges”.


Current provincial carbon pricing plans in Alberta, Quebec and Ontario give a break to corporations that face international competition, and McKenna notes that many Canadian corporations, including Suncor Energy Inc., and TransCanada Corp. support carbon pricing. Alberta Environment Minister Shannon Phillips agrees with Trudeau, that, “Putting a price on carbon and using the revenue to support investment in renewable energy and efficiency will diversify our economy and create new jobs”.


However, the federal government approved the Kinder Morgan Pipeline Expansion in November 2016, which could be disastrous for the environment if a spill occurs. The existing pipeline has 82 reported spills since 1961, releasing over 6 million litres of crude oil in the British Columbia environment. PGL Environmental Consultants conclude that the expansion will increase the risk of accidents, and could result in long-term environmental damage and health hazards.


Climate policy in Canada has the potential to drive innovation, and moving forward with the Paris Accord shows Canadian commitment to the international community and its multilateral agreement. Is short-term economic competition a good enough reason for forsaking environmental policy?


Photo: Climate Change Tweet (2014), by Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump via Twitter. Licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Disclaimer: Any views or opinions expressed in articles are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the NATO Association of Canada.

Erin Loney

About Erin Loney

Erin is a contributor and former Program Editor for Expanding Community at NATO Association of Canada. She recently graduated with an Honours BSocSc in International Development and Globalization, with a minor in Political Science from the University of Ottawa. Key areas of study included international trade and development, Canadian foreign policy, economics of globalization, and research methods. Along with these topics, Erin’s personal areas of interest include environmental policy, public diplomacy, and human rights. In addition to her work at NAOC, Erin writes, edits, and contributes to social media management for an Ottawa tech start-up. She plans to pursue further studies and a career in International Affairs and Development. Erin has traveled extensively and is passionate about studying other cultures and areas of the world. She hopes to live abroad and work with an international or multilateral organization in the future. Erin can be reached at eriniloney@gmail.com.