Liberals Promise Net-Zero Emissions by 2050, Don't Elaborate How

The Liberals have called their own plan an ‘ambitious target.’
Justin Trudeau's Liberal party announces net-zero emissions plan
Photo by the Canadian Press/Christopher Katsarov

The Liberals are promising to get Canada to net-zero emissions by 2050, somehow, someway—they just aren’t saying how right now.

“I’ll be frank; it’s an ambitious target,” is how Ottawa Centre Liberal candidate Catherine McKenna described her party’s plan Tuesday.

And even though the Liberals are framing it as comprehensive, they didn’t offer much detail, including how much it would cost. Critics say the plan doesn’t go far enough.


Net-zero means corporations can still emit greenhouse gases, but emissions would be offset by renewable energy or other green initiatives. This lofty pledge is the same one made by the European Union at the United Nations meeting in New York Monday.

The Liberals’ platform will set legally binding five-year targets to reach net-zero emissions over the next three decades. If re-elected, the party also plans to appoint a group of scientists and economists for advice on how to get there.

McKenna framed policy to protect the environment as “a moral responsibility.” She also warned Canadians against a vote for a Conservative agenda, suggesting that would mirror what Ontario premier Doug Ford has done in Canada’s largest province, with cuts to green programs.

“[Conservative Party Leader] Andrew Scheer would cancel our plan, which we know would cost people more money, but think of the impact on our planet and our children and our grandchildren,” McKenna said. “Unfortunately, we are fighting Conservative leaders and ministers at every turn.”

Greenpeace Canada applauds the move away from “archaic targets,” set by the previous Conservative government under former prime minister Stephen Harper, as well as the legally binding aspect of what is proposed. But, according to Mike Hudema, a climate organizer at Greenpeace, Justin Trudeau’s plan shouldn’t include support for environmentally contentious projects.


“If the Liberals are as serious as they say about the climate crisis, they need to be willing to cancel the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and constrain the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions: the tar sands,” he said. “All parties need to listen to the millions of young people calling for action.”

The Conservatives have said they would get rid of the federal carbon tax, introduced by the Liberals this year, although they have also said they’re committed to meeting Canada’s Paris agreement emissions target, which is 30 percent lower than 2005 levels, by 2030. Their approach—which has been criticized for not being much of an environmental plan—proposes requiring big corporate polluters to invest in clean energy rather than paying more taxes. They have also proposed a patent tax credit for businesses involved in green technology.

The NDP plan aims to reduce emissions by nearly 40 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. It proposes spending $15 billion to retrofit buildings as well as create a “climate bank” to invest in renewable and clean energy. Like the Liberals, the NDP wants to introduce a ban on single-use plastics.

Although Canada is responsible for 1.6 percent of global emissions, it is one of the largest emitters per capita and ranks among the top 10 greenhouse-gas-emitting countries in the world, behind Indonesia.

The World Health Organization describes climate change “the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century.” The Canadian Medical Association recently urged federal politicians to “develop a comprehensive climate change plan to ensure our health care and public health systems can deal with the growing health impacts.”

The Liberal Party is also offering training and financial support for workers whose jobs are in peril during a transformation to a greener economy, under the “Just Transition Act.” This is similar to what the Green Party leader Elizabeth May offered last month.

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