Joe Gunn


January 25, 2016

Pope Francis recently highlighted "efforts to bring world leaders together at COP21 in the search for new ways to confront climate change" as optimistic signs of a bright new future for humankind.

The pope's World Day of Peace message on Jan. 1, entitled Overcome Indifference and Win Peace, cites different reasons for a hopeful future. But Canadian efforts to lower our carbon emissions are vastly more complicated depending on the province in which you live.

The Paris climate agreement includes principles many Christian observers, including the pope, want to see lived out in national and international policies. It set a goal of keeping global temperature increase to less than two degrees Celsius, with a preference for it to be 1.5 degrees.

It agreed emissions must be brought to a peak as soon as possible and zero emissions achieved by the end of this century. Billions of dollars were committed to assist developing nations to transition to renewable energy and adapt to already-evident climate impacts.

At these negotiations, Canada doubled its international commitment to $2.65 billion, officially encouraged the 1.5 degree target, and promised that previous national emissions reductions goals (set by the previous government) would only be a floor for a new, more ambitious commitment.

Before March 11, the federal Liberals have committed to meet with provincial leaders to develop this new target, to be announced by Earth Day, April 22.

Now the hard work begins. The new federal government should not leave our nation's commitment for emissions reductions up to the vagaries of different provincial whims, pressures from industry groups or special interests.

The vast majority of Canada's clean energy is in the form of electricity, which is a provincial matter. Fortunately, almost 80 per cent of Canadians live in provinces that produce some of the world's least climate-polluting electricity.

Quebec leads in this area, but Ontario has eliminated two-thirds of the total climate pollution from its electricity supply in the last eight years - by shutting down all of its coal-fired power plants.

The average climate pollution produced to obtain a gigawatt hour of electricity in Canada is 160 tonnes - but rises to 770 in Saskatchewan and 820 in Alberta. Alberta burns more coal for electricity than the rest of Canada combined. (As a comparison, the carbon-intensity of electricity production in China is similar to both of these provinces.)


Saskatchewan and Alberta have yet to develop sufficient climate-safe sources of alternative energy and are the only two provinces that have increased their climate pollution levels since our nation's climate pledge baseline year of 2005.

New strategies for a carbon-constrained future are overdue.

November's release of the Leach Plan in Alberta showed how progress could be made, by recommending the phase out of coal by 2030, limiting tar sands emissions and setting a price on carbon.

Remarkably, industry leaders as well as environmentalists were present with Premier Notley when the report was released. At the same time, more ambitious initiatives will be required, since these measures (including an unpopular carbon tax) will not do enough to limit emissions to prevent warming from peaking under two degrees Celsius.

The Saskatoon Environmental Society has recommended climate change solutions to Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall. It estimates the province must reduce emissions by 35 per cent over current levels, envisioning a 26-million tonne greenhouse gas emission reduction in Saskatchewan over the next 10 to 15 years. Such action must contemplate serious reductions in emissions from the oil, gas and mining, transport and electricity generation sectors.


Journalist Barry Saxifrage notes those provinces that have already taken action to address climate change, and those provinces with lots of clean energy, will have the advantage in meeting Canada's climate commitments.

He refers to Saskatchewan and Alberta when stating, "It has been an audacious gamble to so completely bet on climate-damaging energy this deep into the climate crisis. The businesses and families living in these provinces will soon find out if it was a smart bet to make."

Prairie Christian communities can join Pope Francis in building public support to take the necessary but difficult steps to love our neighbours, protect the vulnerable and honour the Creator by caring for God's creation.

(Joe Gunn is the Ottawa-based executive director of Citizens for Public Justice,, an ecumenical social advocacy organization.)