Featured graphic courtesy of West Coast Environmental Law
Climate Action Network Canada, along with our members and allies, has been working toward a climate accountability mechanism and legislation for Canada. Bill C-12, the Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act was tabled in Parliament last week. As the bill moves into second reading today, we share our observations, as well as some high-level recommendations for improvement, drafted jointly with Ecojustice, Environmental Defence, West Coast Environmental Law and Équiterre.
Keep an eye on this space for more technical recommendations to follow as the bill moves through the parliamentary review process.
This briefing is divided into four sections:
- Recommendations to strengthen C-12
- Weaknesses of C-12
- Five pillars of a robust Canadian climate accountability law, in brief
- While it makes important strides to establishing a climate accountability framework for Canada and enshrines in law the government’s commitment to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, Bill C-12 will not deliver robust accountability as currently drafted.
- Bill C-12 needs to implement true climate accountability to align the country with the Paris Agreement and its ultimate objective of limiting average global warming to 1.5 degrees C.
- It is key that Canada has a rolling 5-year accountability cycle (starting in 2025) that aligns with the Paris Agreement’s 5-year stocktake process and its goal of ratcheting up ambition.
- We have been recommending 5-year carbon budgets, which are not mentioned in the legislation. Absent carbon budgets, it is unclear what the near-term planning and accountability increments will be. A thorough stocktake and goal-setting moment needs to be designed within the 2025 time frame in order to create a springboard for enhanced action that takes us to 2030.
- There are five pillars common to climate accountability laws in other jurisdictions that form a comprehensive framework, which Canada should emulate in order to implement world-class legislation. Weaknesses in any one of the pillars undermines the effectiveness of the entire framework. (five pillars described at bottom of this brief)
- Bill C-12 includes some elements of four of the five pillars; however, weaknesses under each means that as a whole the Bill would fall short of establishing a robust, world-class climate accountability framework for Canada.
Any meaningful new federal climate legislation needs to respect and reflect the principles of the United Nations Declaration to the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, providing the means for Indigenous peoples to be full participants in climate action. The current bill makes no mention of Indigenous peoples, their rights or avenues for participation in Canada’s accountability processes.
Accountability planning processes will have impacts on the workforce, yet the bill as it is currently written does not reflect any relationship between net-zero pathway planning and planning processes for a just and equitable workforce transition to guarantee good jobs for all workers as social and economic shifts occur. Attainment of Canada’s net-zero goal must be achieved hand-in-hand with the workforce, a relationship that should be reflected in the legislation.
Recommendations to strengthen C-12:
- Bill C-12 must ensure that Canada maximizes ambition as soon as possible, including by requiring the Minister to set a 2025 target and ensuring all targets are consistent with the best available science, international obligations, and equity principles.
- Bill C-12 must place greater emphasis on science and expertise and less emphasis on politics by strengthening the Advisory body’s role in establishing targets, plans and reports, and ensure that the body is comprised of independent experts. The Advisory body should also prepare regular impact reports that assess the risks of current and predicted climate impacts in Canada, to inform adaptation planning.
- Bill C-12 must actually hold government to account by prescribing robust minimum standards for planning and reporting, and imposing a legal obligation to meet the established targets.
- Bill C-12 should ensure targets and plans are set further in advance, provide for earlier and more regular progress reporting, and place a low cap on the use of international offsets (or even restrict those offsets altogether, other than to exceed targets).
- Without undermining the need for the federal government to take a leadership role and be willing to backstop climate action where necessary, Bill C-12 should also incentivize and facilitate provincial ambition and recognize shared action. Bill C-12 must also require transparency about the status and direction of greenhouse gas emissions in sub-national jurisdictions.
- Bill C-12 must reflect Canada’s commitment to enacting UNDRIP and must include means by which Indigenous peoples can be full participants in climate action.
- In amending Bill C-12, Parliamentarians must ensure a strong relationship between climate accountability and just and equitable workforce transition planning.
Weaknesses of C-12 (each of the recommendations is meant to address each of these weaknesses, in turn):
1. Ambition now, not later:
Setting a legislated target of net zero emissions by 2050 is critical, but Bill C-12 must also provide meaningful accountability “checkpoints” over the next ten years – a period deemed crucial by the IPCC for avoiding catastrophic climate change.
Further, Bill C-12 does not require the Minister to consider expert advice when setting emission reduction targets at five-year intervals, increasing the risk that political pressure will lead to weaker targets.
As a wealthy country with high historic and per capita emissions, Canada’s targets should be significantly more ambitious than the benchmarks set by the IPCC of 45% global GHG reductions by 2030 and net-zero by 2050.
C-12 uses milestone targets rather than carbon budgets. That, combined with infrequent accountability plans/reports (see below) means there are inadequate accountability checkpoints in the crucial next decade. The emissions pathway between today and 2030 goes through 2025. Once the government has a plan for a 2030 target, there is no justifiable reason to not set a 2025 target.
2. Strong and independent expertise:
The role of the advisory body must be strengthened and solidified. If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we can’t let politics interfere with the importance of scientific advice.
Rather than establish one advisory committee, Bill C-12 creates an “Advisory Body” responsible for making policy recommendations on how to achieve the targets, and requires the Commissioner for Environment and Sustainable Development (CESD) to prepare reports on the implementation of measures every five years. The two institutions lack the mandate and capacity to properly hold the Government to account. Crucially, neither body has an explicit mandate to advise on the long-term or milestone targets.
It is crucial that the Advisory body be comprised of independent experts and have the capacity and resources to conduct the detailed analysis necessary to advise on targets and plans and to monitor government progress.
3. Accountability in the law, not on the shoulders of Canadians:
There must be consequences for failure at every level. As it stands, Bill C-12 imposes weak obligations on government that will be difficult to enforce. To break the cycle of missed GHG emissions reductions targets, we need a law that holds government to account.
Though Bill C-12 requires a rolling cycle of planning and reporting against the five-year milestones and the long-term targets, as it stands the Bill provides too much wiggle room to set weak targets and table plans that are light on details. Fixing those gaps will mean setting clear and unqualified obligations on the Minister to meet or exceed robust minimum standards when setting targets and establishing plans, and clearly demonstrating how the targets will be met with robust modelling. It also means requiring the Minister to actually meet the targets, rather than just plan to meet them.
Also, the Advisory Body has no clear role in progress reporting, which means that the Government self-determines whether it is on track to meeting the targets. An independent assessment would clearly allow for greater public confidence in those reports. That the Assessment Report comes two years after the milestone year makes it too late to make up for missed reductions, even if it does come with recommendations for additional actions.
4. Certainty and credibility:
The infrequency and potential weakness of the accountability checkpoints has consequences beyond 2030. Certainty matters for the Canadian public, investors and business, and the international community.
Bill C-12 requires the Minister to set targets and plans to achieve them only five years in advance. For 2030 and later, a longer period (e.g. ten years; the U.K. set 12 years) would allow for better planning and the development of policies and programs, and provides medium-term certainty over Canada’s emissions trajectory.
There is also a risk that Canada will place undue reliance on carbon credits and offsets (generated by emissions reductions in other countries) to achieve its targets instead of reducing domestic emissions. For example, Sweden’s Climate Act limits offsets to 15% of its 2050 goal.
5. Sharing the effort across Canada:
The result of Canadian federalism and our regional disparity in emissions requires an ongoing conversation about how to share the effort of reducing our GHG emissions between federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments, and respect Indigenous rights and authority. Bill C-12 doesn’t take this historic opportunity to institutionalize that conversation, let alone push for the cooperative federalism that the challenge of climate change requires.
Five pillars of a robust Canadian climate accountability law
Pillar 1: Long-term (2050 & 2030) GHG reduction targets that are ambitious and move Canada towards its fair contribution to a 1.5 C scenario.
Pillar 2: Five-year carbon budgets that cap total GHG emissions and fairly distribute emissions reductions across the country. Carbon budgets are the basis for mitigation planning.
Pillar 3: Five-year impact reports tabled before Parliament that assess the risks of current and predicted climate impacts in Canada. Impact reports are the basis for adaptation planning.
Pillar 4: Planning and reporting requirements to achieve carbon budgets and guide adaptation. Plans, progress reports and the government’s response to progress reports must be tabled before Parliament.
Pillar 5: Arm’s-length expert climate advisory committee to advise on long-term targets, five-year carbon budgets, climate impact reports and policy solutions, and independently monitor and report on implementation progress. This reliance on independent expertise is central to the accountability framework and plays a key role in each of the preceding pillars.