Liberals table climate accountability legislation to set national emissions targets

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OTTAWA – Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada Jonathan Wilkinson tabled the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act in November to set binding national emissions reduction targets to help Canada achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. “The Act tabled delivers on a promise we made to Canadians during the last election to provide a legally binding process for this government and all future governments to set national targets.”

Having net-zero emissions is necessary to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5°C, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; this was the goal agreed upon by most countries in the 2015 Paris Agreement. Net-zero means either no greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions or emissions are completely offset by other actions that remove climate warming GHG from the atmosphere. More than 120 countries have already committed to net-zero by 2050 as have several provinces and cities across Canada.

“Reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions is what the science says we must achieve and this 30-year project will require every future government to take actions to grow our economy while reducing emissions in every sector,” said Minister Wilkinson. “This achievement is necessary to ensure our kids and grandkids can live in a world with cleaner air and water and to ensure our businesses maintain and gain a competitive edge by producing the low carbon products the world wants to buy.”

The Act, if passed, will legally bind the government to a process to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. The Act requires a GHG target plan every five years starting in 2030 that includes measures to reach those targets. It will establish a Net-Zero Advisory Body to provide independent advice to the government on the best pathway to reach its targets. It will also require the government to publish an annual report describing how departments and Crown corporations are considering the financial risks and opportunities of climate change in decision making, and will provide for independent third-party review by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development every five years.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the Act “lays out a framework of accountability and transparency that will ensure we reach this goal,” but some organizations feel the legislation doesn’t go far enough. In its statement, Ecojustice welcomed the federal government’s commitment to achieving net-zero by 2050 and its efforts to take the climate emergency seriously. “This is the first time that a federal government has introduced legislation to hold themselves and future governments accountable for reducing emissions. This legislation is a significant step to put Canada on the course to achieve its emissions targets and sets up Canada to become a global leader. However, Ecojustice also believes that there is room for improvement on issues such as the lack of a 2025 target and robust independent expert advice.”

Ecojustice lawyer Julia Croome said, “It is a comprehensive bill that can maintain momentum for climate action when the spotlight is off the federal government. However, Canada has missed every single emission reduction target it has ever set. This bill has the potential to hold our political leaders to account for meeting that net-zero by 2050 target.”

Catherine Abreu of Climate Action Network Canada also expressed concern about the lack of target for 2025 and added, “This government has committed to delivering a new climate plan to meet a more ambitious Paris pledge within the next six months. This should be reflected in a comprehensive new climate law. There is a real emphasis in this bill on the minister’s duty to report rather than to achieve our climate commitments and that is another thing we will be working to change through the amendments process.”

Prime Minister Trudeau responded to concerns about the lack of tangible penalty for missed targets by saying Canadians will determine the consequences for a government that doesn’t lead on climate change. “Climate change remains one of the greatest challenges of our time,” he said. “Just like COVID-19, ignoring the risks of climate change isn’t an option. That approach would only make the costs higher and the long-term consequences worse. People have already seen what floods, storms and wildfires do to homes, communities and businesses.”

Canadians are aware of the threat climate change poses to our health, our economic future and our planet, he said, and have made it clear that Canada must take climate action now.

“We don’t have to choose between clean jobs and good jobs,” said the prime minister. “The argument that protecting the environment and growing the economy don’t go hand in hand is and old and failed way of seeing things.”

Cathy Orlando, national director of Citizens’ Climate Lobby Canada saw much to celebrate in Bill C12 and encouraged the cooperation of all parties and premiers to “get behind this Bill.” 

She called on “all adults, including politicians of all stripes and all levels, to act on the words of our young leaders: listen to the experts, cooperate on the climate crisis and rebuild a better world post-COVID and post-climate emergency.”