U.S. climate change policy shift puts pressure on Canadian government

Voices in Canada are asking whether the Trudeau government should follow suit.
Donald Trump's first proposed budget decreases funding to the EPA by 31 per cent. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick) (John Elswick/Associated Press)

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On March 15, U.S. president Donald Trump proposed a budget that would slash the Environmental Protection Agency's funding by about a third.  

Donald Trump did not campaign as a champion of the environment, but as his presidency approaches the two-month mark, some environmentalists' worst fears appear to be coming true.

"We're making the job for future historians very easy. The first chapter of every book about the future of the planet will be set in Donald Trump's Washington in the early days,"  says Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org. 

"Yesterday the director of the budget said spending on climate is, quote: 'a waste of your money.' So it won't be happening anymore."

"We're even going to be shutting down some of the satellites measuring how much temperature is going up — how much sea level is rising," McKibben tells The Current

The head of head the EPA, Scott Pruitt, says he does not believe that the release of CO2, a heat-trapping gas, is pushing global temperatures upwards. He has long ties with the oil and gas industry. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)

As the new U.S. administration rolls back environmental regulations, there are voices in Canada asking whether the Trudeau government should follow suit in order to stay competitive.

"We have to be aware of what's happening on the North American continent, and we have make sure that our economy isn't damaged — while maintaining environmental integrity," says Michelle Rempel, Calgary's MP.

I think this is a signal the  Trudeau  government has to come up with a plan that provides more stability and more predictability — especially given the job crisis in Alberta.- Michelle Rempel

Rempel says she "doesn't think there's any Canadian who would like to see our environmental regulations watered down," but believes some of Trudeau's climate initiatives are unduly negatively impacting industry.

"The carbon tax is a big deal," Rampel tells guest host Marcia Young.

"My concern around [the Liberal's] carbon tax proposal has always been that it's not going to work and it's going to add a burden both on Canadian families and industry."

But McKibben, vehemently disagrees that Trudeau should reconsider current climate change policies. Conversely, he says the government needs to go much further in their environmental regulations.

Among the 12 biggest economies on earth, Canada is by far the biggest extractor that there is. Per capita it extracts twice as much carbon as the United States.- Bill  McKibben

"It was Justin Trudeau last week, speaking at an oil and gas executives meeting in Houston, who said 'No country would take the 173 billion barrels of oil that are in the tarsands and leave them underground', for which he got a standing ovation," recounts McKibbins.

"If Canada digs up … [that] oil and ships it out to the world to be burned — that's about 30 per cent of the carbon budget that would take us past that 1.5 degree warming mark Justin Trudeau himself said was the world's goal."

McKibbens says we should think critically about Canada's environmental policies following EPA's budget cuts, but not from a position of superiority. 

"Canada's as irresponsible as anyone else … as long as Canada is building Kinder Morgan and Energy East … it's basically a partner with the U.S. in the ongoing heating of the planet."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this post. 

This segment was produced by The Current's Sujata Berry, Samira Mohyeddin, and Stephanie Kampf.