Ottawa does not yet have a road map for meeting its 2030 emissions-reduction goals, the federal Environment Commissioner concluded in a bleak assessment that also found the government’s projections in this area are overly optimistic.
More than two years ago, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged at an international summit that Canada would cut its greenhouse-gas emissions by at least 40 per cent below 2005 levels by the end of the decade.
In a report tabled Tuesday in the House of Commons, Environment and Sustainable Development Commissioner Jerry DeMarco says an audit by his office found that the federal government is on track to continue Canada’s streak of missed climate targets.
The report says Ottawa’s own emissions projections reveal a gap between its emissions goals and the policies meant to fulfill them. Mr. DeMarco also found that the minority Liberals have dragged their feet on implementing key policies, failed to prioritize the most important policies and relied on unrealistic assumptions that undercut their own projections.
The result is that Canada is the only Group of Seven country whose emissions are higher now than in 1990, the report says.
“This is not my first time sounding the alarm,” Mr. DeMarco said at a news conference in Ottawa.
Seven years out from Canada’s next emissions-reduction deadline, his report points out that the country has never met an emissions goal, despite crafting more than 10 separate plans since 1990.
The Trudeau government is at a crossroads on climate policy. More than two weeks ago, Mr. Trudeau announced a surprise softening of his government’s carbon-pricing policy, exempting home heating oil from the levy, but not other fuels. The change catapulted the debate over carbon pricing back to the forefront, as premiers demanded more relief from the carbon price and experts warned the move could spell the end of the Liberals’ signature climate-change policy.
Mr. DeMarco said the change was announced too late for it to be factored into his report.
Despite the government’s carbon-price climbdown, Mr. Trudeau has said Ottawa is “doubling down” on the fight against climate change. On Parliament Hill on Tuesday, Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault told reporters an updated climate plan, which is expected by the end of the year, will have “good news.”
“We’re confident that we can get there. There’s still seven years before 2030,” Mr. Guilbeault said.
“I agree with the commissioner. We need to do more. We need to do it faster. And that’s exactly what our government is doing.”
But Mr. DeMarco said the government has not learned to move faster. For example, clean fuel regulations were years late, and the Liberals’ key 2021 campaign promise to cap oil and gas emissions is also delayed.
“If they have the will to act like it’s a crisis, rather than just saying it’s a crisis, then they can roll things out more quickly,” he told reporters.
In 2022, the federal government released an updated emissions-reduction plan, which said Canada would cut emissions 40 per cent by 2030. But the plan projected only a 36.4-per-cent reduction. At the time, the government maintained it would still hit 40 per cent, because some policies had not yet been modelled.
Mr. DeMarco said that conclusion from the government was not credible. The government “can’t just have a hope” to hit its targets, he said.
The government later released another report that showed an even wider gap, with Canada reaching a 34-per-cent reduction by 2030, compared with 2005 levels. That too was not realistic, the commissioner said.
Both reports were characterized by “overly optimistic assumptions, limited analysis of uncertainties, and lack of peer review,” the audit found.
Mr. DeMarco noted that the issues he is flagging in his latest report repeat concerns that he has raised in the past. Still, he said the government’s most recent plan is an improvement over past attempts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. He said there is still time to “course-correct.”
Dave Sawyer, the principal economist with the Canadian Climate Institute, a government-funded think tank, said Mr. DeMarco’s audit shows that the federal government needs to focus more on implementing the policies it announces.
For example, he said, the think tank’s own modelling shows that, if the government were to implement a stringent cap on oil and gas emissions, Canada “could be on track to more or less hit the target.” But the longer the delay in implementing the policy, the more risk there is, he said.
Overall, Mr. Sawyer said he isn’t surprised by the report’s findings. But he’s optimistic that Canada will be able to change its emissions trends.
“We’re in a much better place than we were a number of years ago,” he said.
In a statement on the commissioner’s report, the Official Opposition Conservatives said Mr. DeMarco’s audit shows the government’s “punitive plan won’t accomplish anything.” The party has not yet said what its own emissions plan would entail.
On Monday, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre refused to say whether he would commit to Canada’s 2030 emissions-reduction targets, or the targets under the Paris Agreement.
NDP MP and deputy environment critic Alexandre Boulerice accused the government of “failing on climate,” in a statement to The Globe and Mail. He said the Liberals should impose a windfall tax on oil and gas companies to pay for home heating retrofits that would lower heating bills.
The climate targets report was released along with reports on a number of other audits by Mr. DeMarco.
One audit found that the Department of Natural Resources’ infrastructure program for zero-emission vehicles is on track to meet its 2026 target. But the report says there is still a “large gap” between the existing number of charging stations for those vehicles and the number needed by 2035.
The audit also found that 87 per cent of federally funded charging stations were placed in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia.
In another audit, Mr. DeMarco’s office found that the federal government is failing to decarbonize its own vehicle fleet, and is currently on track to miss its deadline for greening those vehicles by a wide margin.