MacKay calls Paris climate targets 'aspirational' but isn't abandoning them

Conservative leadership candidate Peter MacKay says Canada's Paris climate targets are a "dream" — but he's not ready to abandon them or conclude they're unachievable.

'What we can't afford is to be hypocrites,' MacKay says

Peter MacKay speaks to a crowd of supporters during an event to officially launch his campaign for leader of the Conservative Party of Canada in Stellarton, N.S. on Saturday, January 25, 2020. (Darren Calabrese/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Conservative leadership candidate Peter MacKay says Canada's Paris climate targets are a "dream" — but he's not ready to abandon them or conclude they're unachievable.

Under the 2015 multinational Paris agreement, Canada committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels, a target that was first set by Stephen Harper's government.

In an interview with CBC News Monday, MacKay said the emissions reduction targets are "aspirational."

"But what we can't afford," he added, "is to be hypocrites, and we can't afford to say we're going to do things and then not even come close, which is the case right now.

"We've got to be realistic. We have to be grounded in ways in which we can actually lower our greenhouse gas emissions."

MacKay said he isn't ready yet to roll out his own climate policy — although the polls are telling him clearly he needs one.

A 'thoughtful, costed, workable plan'

A United Nations Emissions Gap Report released last November said Canada is on track to miss its 2030 emissions reduction target by 15 per cent. 

A recent poll by Abacus Data said 41 per cent of Canadians believe "a serious plan to combat climate change" is a "must-have" for the new Conservative leader. That figure drops to 18 per cent among Conservative voters and 22 per cent among "likely" Conservative voters.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer delivers a speech on the environment in Chelsea, Que., on Wednesday, June 19, 2019. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

"It's absolutely critical that we have a thoughtful, costed, workable plan for the environment and I'm committed to that.," MacKay said. "I've talked to a lot of Conservatives who very much feel the same. And for a whole generation of Canadians, this is a primary issue. And so, we have to be able to deliver a solution."

Outgoing leader Andrew Scheer's climate platform was condemned by environmental activists as too vague. MacKay said his own plan "may very well be" quite different from the one Scheer offered — but it also might incorporate "elements" of it.

"There are elements of it, I think, that are are workable, especially around the technologies ... we are making huge advances in technology," MacKay said.

"I favour following science. I favour seeing the research and development in this area continue to grow," he said, adding the plan will combine emissions reduction efforts "with our energy export capacity and our ability to use our own energy."

One thing MacKay's plan won't include is a carbon tax — a policy measure widely opposed within the party. "The carbon tax system is not working," he said. "It's failing in a catastrophic way."

MacKay seems to be leaning toward technological fixes. He said he supports getting more electrical vehicles on the road — "That's going to happen as a matter of course because the price of these vehicles is coming down ... " — and sees promise in carbon capture technology.

"We're looking at what other provinces are doing right now including carbon capture and storage, which is happening in Saskatchewan."

With files from Doug Beazley

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