Source: Own work

A new United Nations report, released before the COP28 climate summit, says Canada is not on track to meet its commitments on climate change. Canada is among a group of top fossil-fuel-producing countries on pace to extract more oil and gas than would be consistent with its emissions targets. Far from decreasing oil and gas extraction, Canada is on track to actually increase production of oil and gas! In the same week, Canada’s commissioner of the environment and sustainable development revealed that Canada is the only G7 country that has not achieved any emissions reductions since 1990. These reports show once again the total inability of capitalism to meaningfully address the climate crisis.

When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau signed the Paris Agreement in 2015, the international treaty that set goals to keep average global temperature rise below 1.5 C, his office made a lot of noise about the success of the Paris conference and Canada’s role in it, boasting: “Years from now, today may very well be the day our children look back to as the beginning of an ambitious global effort to finally fight climate change. I am proud of the role Canada is playing in reaching this historic and balanced agreement.” Yet the latest UN and Auditor General reports show that Trudeau’s speeches only represent more hot air. 

The UN report explains, “Under the ‘current measures’ scenario, which assumes no further action to reduce emissions, Canada’s oil production (crude oil plus natural gas liquids) increases by 25% over 2022 levels by 2035 and remains roughly constant through 2050; and gas production rises steadily through 2050, to 24% above 2022 levels”.

This state of affairs must have made things awkward for the Canadian delegation at COP28—or would have, if the annual UN climate summit were anything other than a festival of capitalist hypocrisy. The stated aim of COP28 was for world leaders to “take stock of previous [climate] commitments and hammer out new pledges”. Yet the 2023 climate summit was hosted by the United Arab Emirates, one of the worst polluters in the world, which has no intention of winding down fossil fuel production. Joe Biden and Xi Jinping—heads of state of the world’s two largest emitters of greenhouse gas emissions, the United States and China—did not even bother to attend. As the cherry on top, Emirati politician Sultan Al Jaber appointed the head of the U.A.E.’s state-run oil company to oversee the talks!

Like all international climate summits, the result of COP28 was more empty promises, with no mechanism to enforce governments’ stated goals. The reality is made clear in the UN report: far from reducing emissions, Canada and other wealthy countries are set to ramp up fossil fuel production to new heights.

Trudeau gives billions to big polluters

The UN report outlines Canada’s plans to invest in a transition from fossil fuels. It says the government has plans to invest “$150 million CAD in 2019–2025 towards infrastructure projects in communities affected by the coal power transition.” 

It is worth noting that the allocation of these funds is part of an “action plan”; therefore it is not guaranteed that these investments will actually be made in full. The UN report goes on to outline all the money the government has invested in fossil fuels. It explains that the federal and provincial governments gave over $2 billion CAD in fossil fuel subsidies in 2021 and that in 2018-2021 they gave another $21.7 billion in loans, grants, and guarantees for fossil fuel development. To put it simply, federal and provincial governments have actually spent 20 times as much [!] in the last five years on expanding fossil fuel production as they have promised to invest in a transition from fossil fuels in the future. 

One is really left wondering how Trudeau expected to meet the commitments he made at the Paris Accords while investing billions in expanding fossil fuel extraction and processing. The UN report says that the federal government has committed to phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies in 2023. But as the International Institute for Sustainable Development points out: “The government first promised to scrap fossil fuel subsidies nearly 15 years ago, and the federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change has been instructed to act on this commitment in the 2015, 2019, and 2021 mandate letters.” This is clearly another promise that the Trudeau government has no intention of keeping.

Big polluters handled with kid gloves

What has the Trudeau government done to fight climate change? This administration’s go-to tool is the carbon tax. Companies are taxed based on their emissions and consumers have to pay a tax on fuel at the pump and gas to heat their homes. This is supposed to incentivize climate-conscious decision-making.

How do the “incentives” imposed by the carbon tax on consumers compare to those imposed on big polluters? In 2020,Suncor, the oil and gas sector’s largest emitter, paid an average of $2.10 per tonne of carbon emissions while drivers paid an average of $30 per tonne at the pumps. In other words, drivers were taxed 15 times as much as this massive polluter! This is because Suncor is one of many companies granted generous exemptions from the carbon tax. Suncor only paid tax on one-fourteenth of its emissions. Industries given exemptions from the carbon tax include oil and gas, chemicals, cement, steel, and mining.

The justification is that if these companies are taxed too much they will pick up and leave, leading to job losses. But where will they go? The capitalists can’t exactly pick up the oil sands and leave. Yet Canada’s oil and gas producers have among the lowest average carbon costs of any sector! As a result of these exemptions, polluters in these industries were only asked to pay a carbon tax based on 16 per cent of their carbon emissions. At the end of the day, the politicians that run Canada and its provinces don’t actually care enough about their climate commitments to cut into the profits of the capitalists.

Carbon tax makes workers poorer

On the production side, it is clear why big polluters are polluting more with each passing year instead of less, despite the carbon tax. They are being handled with kid gloves. The fuel tax imposed on consumers is much more punishing. Has it “incentivized” ordinary people to make more “environmentally conscious” choices? Let’s think about what this could look like!

In hopes of dodging the fuel tax, which comes out to about $5 a tank, perhaps the worker who works in Toronto but lives in Barrie (because they can’t afford Toronto rent) could sell their car and start waking up an hour and a half earlier in the morning. They could take three different buses and spend about two hours standing on buses and trains on their way to and from work, pressed up against all of the other “environmentally conscious” people. Better yet, they could purchase a bicycle and ride it to work on the 404! Canadian winters can be cold, but this worker would be alright with a good parka. They’d need the parka anyway to wear during their downtime at home, since they’re not supposed to heat their home either.

The reality is that no matter how much Trudeau punishes workers for driving to work, and God forbid heating their homes, hundreds of thousands of workers have (predictably) swallowed the additional costs from the carbon tax. These taxes only achieve one thing: they contribute to the ongoing cost-of-living crisis and make workers poorer. The only way the government can incentivize drivers to switch to public transit is by investing in transit. Instead, the same governments that are imposing the carbon tax on workers and blaming us for contributing to the climate crisis are actively making transit worse.

The federal government cannot prove that the carbon tax has had any effect on fuel consumption, and a recent survey revealed the majority of Canadians believe the carbon tax is ineffective. Regardless, the Trudeau government decided to increase the fuel tax earlier this year and to continue increasing it in coming months. This will do nothing to fight climate change, and will simply make workers even poorer at a time of rising inflation and interest rates. 

Politicians offer no solutions

The stupidity and unpopularity of the carbon tax has been a godsend for federal Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, who has gained popularity by promising to scrap the carbon tax. This is part of his so-called “common sense revolution” which promises to end inflation and make life more affordable for ordinary Canadians by cutting taxes and government spending. Poilievre has mocked Trudeau for failing to reach the Paris targets, saying, “Let’s see how far off Justin Trudeau’s carbon tax disaster is from meeting those targets … So far, he hasn’t met a single solitary target when it comes to greenhouse gas reduction.” While Poilievre mocks Trudeau for failing to meet the targets, he will not say whether he himself is committed to meeting the target or not. He also has not presented a climate change strategy to replace Trudeau’s current ineffective plan. When asked what policy will replace it, he simply says “technology”.

Regardless, Poilievre is currently leading in the polls, and if the federal election happened tomorrow, he would almost definitely win. With the election less than a year away, we could have a Conservative government in Canada very soon that openly fuels climate change. Meanwhile, Liberals pretend to be environmentalists after spending tens of billions of dollars on a pipeline and continue to subsidize fossil fuels. A majority of Canadians believe in climate change and 73 per cent agree it presents a significant threat to our economic future. Poilievre and his climate strategy are popular only because of Trudeau’s failure; under Poilievre’s “plan”, emissions will rise. But Trudeau’s climate strategy didn’t achieve anything either. 

What about the NDP? To carry out a climate strategy, the NDP would have to actually win an election, and they are currently even less popular than the Liberals! Having propped up the Liberal government for two years, the NDP has tied itself to an unpopular status quo and appears intent on sinking with that sinking ship, with no prospect of forming government.

The NDP’s climate plan is virtually identical to that of the Liberals, including support for the carbon tax. The party is unpopular and ineffective in addressing climate change for the same reasons as the Trudeau Liberals. Both parties accept the logic of capitalism, which is the root of the climate crisis. We saw this at the provincial level when the NDP formed government in Alberta. Once in power, Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley attempted to outdo the UCP with her fanatical support for pipelines and groveling before the oil barons. The federal NDP recently attacked the home heating tax to little effect, since voters associate them with the Liberals and the carbon tax.

Climate disaster

To recap: 

Trudeau promised to fight climate change, but continued to give billions of dollars in subsidies to big polluters. He imposed a “fuel tax” on consumers and is ramping it up despite no evidence it reduces emissions, while continuing to give billions of dollars in subsidies to big polluters. Poilievre’s plan is to do nothing at all. Singh’s plan is to do what Trudeau is doing.

Meanwhile, the planet is hurtling toward climate disaster. It is no longer a question of reducing emissions to avoid consequences in the future. We are seeing the consequences of climate change unfold before our eyes. Climate change is causing more frequent and more severe droughts, directly contributing to the soaring cost of food. With each passing year, Canada’s “wildfire season” lasts longer and fires spread wider, destroying entire towns in their wake. The effects of climate change are only going to get worse, yet instead of seeing a reduction in emissions we are seeing an increase!

The actions of Canadian politicians defy all forms of logic except for one: the logic of capitalism. As Karl Marx wrote 175 years ago in The Communist Manifesto, “The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.” And the bourgeoisie are short-sighted! They are not prepared to sacrifice their individual short-term profits for the sake of global, long-term goals such as ending climate change. Therefore their representatives in government, like Trudeau, don’t dare to cut into their profits in pursuit of said goals.

Ottawa’s failure to meet emission reduction targets goes beyond any one government, and speaks to the inability of international treaties to fight the climate crisis on the basis of capitalism. The same cycle has gone on for decades. In 1997, governments signed the Kyoto Protocol, which, like the Paris Agreement, ostensibly committed them to reduce carbon emissions. Yet all of these much-hyped climate treaties have a fundamental weakness: there is no way to force governments to meet targets. Why would there be? That would require governments to limit the profits of the very capitalists they exist to serve. 

Under capitalism we are stuck in this endless cycle. First, governments sign international climate treaties with much fanfare in which they pledge to reduce carbon emissions, either as a general goal (Kyoto) or including specific targets (Paris). Then emissions continue to increase, and the climate crisis grows worse as the years pass and governments fail to meet their targets. Political pressure eventually results in governments signing another international climate treaty with no mechanisms for enforcement, and the process repeats.

Socialism or barbarism

To solve the climate crisis, the working class needs to overthrow capitalism and run society itself. The working class has a real, material interest in ending the climate crisis, because unlike the capitalists, we do not have the means to escape its consequences. Once workers collectively own the commanding heights of the economy, we can democratically decide how to use the vast wealth that exists in Canada to improve society, which would involve meaningfully fighting climate change. 

With the profit motive out of the equation and the capitalist class out of the picture, the working class could retool production to use existing emission-reducing technologies to their fullest potential. We could finally transition away from using fossil fuels for good. In an economy where production is run by workers, for workers, such transformative changes would not result in job losses. We could massively invest in public transit to make it preferable to driving. We could have buses and trains that come often and actually arrive on time, bus stops that keep out the elements, high speed rail, and more. 

We can end the climate crisis once and for all when the working class takes power and runs society to fulfill the needs of the many, instead of the profits of a few.