Contributed by Robert Lyman @2016

Robert Lyman is a former diplomat, public servant and an energy economist of 37 years’ experience.

Editor’s note: We have added bold emphasis to one or two sentences of significance.

Following their meeting in Vancouver in March 2016, Canadian First Ministers (i.e. the Prime Minister and the provincial and Territorial Premiers) issued a public “declaration on clean growth and climate change”. The document is worded similarly to international declarations. It contains five sections all preceded by general preambles, lists of commitments, a list of “early actions” to be taken by the federal government and a description of the follow-up work to be done by four federal-provincial-territorial working groups on specific topics. This is a brief summary of the more substantive elements of the declaration.


The preambles set the framework. The specifically “recognize” the recent Paris Agreement of the U.N. Conference of the Parties to the International Climate Change Convention that calls for “significant reductions in global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees C and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5 degrees C above preindustrial levels.” The preambles also “recognize” that this will “require global emissions to approach zero by the second half of the century”.


The commitments are worded in elaborate bureaucratic terms. The following is a layperson’s summary of the main ones:


  • To implement policies to meet or exceed Canada’s 2030 target of a 30% reduction below a 2005 level of emissions
  • To increase “the level of ambition of policies” in order to drive to greater GHG emissions reductions
  • To better coordinate GHG emission reporting systems
  • To foster and encourage investment in clean technology solutions
  • To transition to a low carbon economy by adopting a broad range of domestic measures, including carbon pricing mechanisms, adapted to each province and territory’s specific circumstances
  • To foster investments in clean technologies
  • To encourage the sharing of information and expertise
  • To work together to enhance carbon sinks, including agriculture and forestry
  • To implement strong, complementary adaptation policies
  • To support “climate resilient” and green infrastructure
  • To strengthen collaboration
  • To strengthen public communications


The federal government’s early action will include:


  • Investing in green infrastructure, public transit infrastructure and energy efficient social infrastructure
  • Levering investments through the Low Carbon Economy Fund
  • Doubling investment in clean research and development over the next five years
  • Advancing the electrification of vehicle transportation
  • Fostering dialogue and development of regional plans for clean electricity transmission
  • Investing in clean energy solutions to get indigenous, remote and northern communities off diesel fuel


Four working groups will “identify options” in the areas of: clean technology, innovation and jobs; carbon pricing mechanisms; specific mitigation opportunities; and adaptation and climate resilience. The working groups will report to Environment Ministers by September 2016, and Environment Ministers will report to First Ministers in time for the First Ministers to meet on this again in October 2016.




At one level this is little more that a public relations document, i.e. an “agreement to agree” and to establish a process with few substantive commitments. However, for those concerned about the directions that Canadian climate change policies are taking and about the costs that these policies will impose on Canadians, there are some ominous points.


The first is the explicit linkage of Canadian actions to the U.N. goal of reducing GHG emissions to zero by 2050. This goal is arguably impossible in economic and technological terms and pursuing it will impose immense costs on Canada as well as other countries with which we trade. Even attaining the 2030 goal is highly unlikely, so the only purpose of endorsing an even more unattainable goal is to raise environmental objectives above all other public policy goals.


While the language appears quite bureaucratic and vague, there are some terms that are intended to alter the nature of the public dialogue. For example, we must wonder what is meant by “increasing the level of ambition of policies”; this may be intended to commit Canadians to constantly over reach by setting emissions reductions goals that are far more costly than the public would generally accept. The frequent use of the term “clean” to refer only to energy uses and technologies that reduce GHG emissions is both inaccurate and prejudicial to non-carbon energy sources. One must wonder how to distinguish “clean” electricity from other types in inter-provincial transmission. Similarly, the reference to “green” infrastructure is confusing and misleading; there probably is no less cost-effective way to reduce GHG emissions than to spend billions of dollars on light rail transit systems. The commitment to “strengthen public communications” is code for a substantial increase in climate propaganda by all levels of government.


On the topic that has gathered the most media attention, the setting of a carbon tax, the declaration kicks the ball down the road, but its acknowledgment that the tax or carbon price will be “adapted to each province and territory’s specific circumstances” seems to open the door to a patchwork of different tax rates in each part of Canada, hardly the “sunny ways” approach.


We are led to believe that four intergovernmental working groups can be established, carry out detailed analysis of options, meet a few times to discuss and prioritize these and produce a consensus report in seven months. When a much less ambitious process was started in 1997 (the famous “Climate Change Table process”), it took the better part of two years and still was unable to complete its work well. Setting a seven month period for analysis and consultation, followed by only one month to report to First Ministers basically means that the discussions will be far more political than substantive in nature. This is one area in which we need more thought, and less politics.


Read more of Robert Lyman’s assessments:

Implications of Climate Change Targets

You Can’t Get there from Here

Who Cuts? Who Pays?  Green Climate Fund