The next government must invest in transit, electric vehicles and a greener grid

Sask Votes 2020 by Gregory Beatty

Last issue we ran a feature on major Saskatchewan Party fails. Numero Uno was the government’s abysmal performance on the climate change and environment file.

As the Saskatchewan Environmental Society’s Peter Prebble recounted, on a per capita basis, Saskatchewan’s GHG emissions are nine times the global average (68 tonnes versus seven). That’s shameful!

Sadly, though, when it comes to denying that reality, the Sask. Party is pretty much shameless.

How shameless? Well, in 2009 it unveiled an “ambitious” plan to cut GHG emissions by 20 per cent by 2020. “Instead of falling, emissions have risen significantly,” says Prebble. “They missed their 2020 target entirely.”

But wait! As part of its Prairie Resilience climate plan, the Sask. Party has a new GHG target!

“On the government’s website, they say they’re aiming for a 12 million tonne reduction from current levels by 2030,” says Prebble.

That amounts to a 15 per cent reduction. Even compared to the 2009 “plan”, it’s a paltry commitment. And it totally short-changes Canada, which promised in 2016 to cut emissions 30 per cent by 2030.

That’s a commitment, by the way, that Canada just increased to 45 per cent as part of a global effort to stave off catastrophic climate change.

GHG emissions, while important in their own right, are just part of the broader environmental crisis we face — a crisis fuelled by a hyper-form of consumer capitalism that’s destroying wildlife habitat at an alarming rate and polluting our air, water and land. And like climate change, says Prebble, it poses a serious threat to our long-term wellbeing.

“We have to reduce our overall environmental footprint, both with respect to local ecosystems and the planet as a whole,” says Prebble. “In addition to a climate crisis, we also face a biodiversity crisis and the province needs to have its eye on both as part of a global effort to protect the environment.”

Last issue we also recapped some major steps the Saskatchewan Environmental Society says the government should take — such as greening the electrical grid and reducing methane emissions from oil and gas.

But the province can do much more — both alone, and in cooperation with municipal governments.

One example is to restore funding to riverbank conservation authorities in Saskatoon, Moose Jaw and Prince Albert, which the Sask. Party either reduced (in the case of Meewasin Valley Authority) or cut completely in its infamous 2017 austerity budget.

“We’d also like to see an expansion of our cycling and pedestrian infrastructure to promote short-distance travel,” says Prebble. “The federal government isexpressing interest in supporting these municipal investments, and it would be nice to see the province work with Ottawa to improve urban transit and cycling networks.

“In most provinces, the provincial government helps fund urban transit,” he adds. “That’s not the case here. There is revenue sharing where the province gives money to municipalities, and they’re free to use it as they wish. But there are no direct grants for transit.”

Promoting electricity conservation through SaskPower is another policy the SES endorses. The government could also incentivize ultra-fuel efficient and electric vehicles, and encourage tree-planting in southern Saskatchewan and reforestation in the north to sequester carbon dioxide.

If Saskatchewan doesn’t up its environmental game, we noted last issue, other provinces that are making the sacrifices needed for Canada live up to its international commitments are going to get increasingly annoyed with us.

Don’t think other countries won’t notice too, says Prebble.

“Our own well-being is going to rely on countries such as China, India and the U.S. reducing their GHG emissions in an enormous way. But it’s going to be hard for us to complain if we’re doing so little ourselves. Average per capita emissions in India are two tonnes. India urgently needs to cut its emissions to one tonne, as does China. But how can we ask for that when our emissions are 68 tonnes per capita?”