Federal Bill C-12 isn’t good enough to deal with the climate crisis

In mid-November, the government published Bill C-12, entitled “An Act respecting transparency and accountability in Canada’s efforts to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050”.  The Bill is currently (as of 2021-03-21) in Second Reading: it still has to go to Committee and to Third Reading, so amendments are still possible.   (You can get an update on its progress here.)  Here’s a summary:

  • The national greenhouse gas emissions target for 2050 is net-zero emissions.  What does that mean in practice? – it means that all human-generated emissions into the atmosphere are balanced by an equal amount removed from the atmosphere.  So it means that emissions need to be reduced to close to zero, and the small residue balanced by sequestration technologies, whether natural options like reafforestation and soil improvement or industrial options like carbon capture and storage.
  • Interim targets are to be set for what are called “milestone years” – these are 2030, 2035, 2040 and 2045.  These need to be set at least five years in advance.  (There is no requirement to set a target for 2025.)
  • The exception to this is the 2030 target, which should be set within 6 months of the Act coming into force – but that 6 months can be extended to 9 months if explanations are provided to the public.
  • For each interim target and for the ultimate 2050 net zero target, the minister must set an emissions reduction plan.
  • There is a requirement for progress reports.
  • And that’s about it.

This is a definite step forward, especially in putting into law the recognition that the findings of climate science demand a transition to net zero emissions.

BUT THERE ARE MASSIVE HOLES:

  • There is no requirement for a 2025 target.  What happens in the next ten years to our emissions (and those of other high-emitting countries) is absolutely vital if we are to have any chance of staying within the temperature limits established in the 2015 Paris Agreement.  We urgently need to be reducing emissions now.  And setting the first milestone 10 years down the road makes it all too easy to miss it.
  • According to the Bill as currently written, the targets which it requires will not be legally binding.  There are no serious mechanisms for making sure that they are met, nor for consequences and action commitments if they aren’t.
  • Unless government policy changes fast, the 2030 target will be inadequate.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change offers the most authoritative understanding of the current state of climate science, and they have told us (in their 2018 special report) that, in order to hit the Paris 1.5°C target, we need to reduce global emissions by at least 45% by 2030.  And the Paris Agreement acknowledges that wealthy countries need to move faster than everyone else in the light of “equity, common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities”.  So the current 30% target, inherited from the Harper administration, is not enough – a target for 2030 which is both more scientifically realistic and more just is offered here.  In any case, the Paris Agreement includes a requirement to progressively increase the ambition of targets.

WE SUGGEST THAT YOU COMMEND THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT FOR:

  • Taking the important step of establishing a 2050 net-zero target and a framework to help us get there.
  • The updated national climate plan published just before Christmas, which would give Canada a good chance of meeting its current 2030 target (which, sadly, would be a first for Canada).

AND WE ASK THAT YOU CALL ON GOVERNMENT TO:

  • Include a 2025 emissions target.
  • Make the achievement of targets mandatory.
  • Substantially increase the ambition of the 2030 target.

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