Canada has had the worst record among the G7 countries for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases since 2015, the year the Liberals took office, the federal environment commissioner says.
Commissioner Jerry DeMarco released a report on Thursday in which he also said that policies such as buying an oil pipeline and a pandemic relief plan for the oil and gas industry run counter to the government’s climate goals.
The report chronicles three decades of federal government failure to translate talk into action on cutting emissions linked to global warming. Spelling out the effects of climate change on Canada today, his report warns of deaths linked to extreme heat and wildfire smoke, and says the frequency of natural disasters is going up along with the costs of responding to them.
“Past inaction on climate change has created the present crisis,” the report says. “Meanwhile, continued inaction unfairly burdens future generations, who will experience even greater effects from the long‑lasting greenhouse gases that have already been emitted.”
At a news conference in Ottawa, Mr. DeMarco said he’s optimistic Canada can break its streak of “unfulfilled promises,” but said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has shown a lack of urgency and sluggish leadership.
“Not everything that could have been done was done,” Mr. DeMarco said of the current government, adding the Liberals were late in taking leadership on carbon pricing.
“We can’t continue to go from failure to failure. We need action and results, not just more targets and plans.”
Mr. DeMarco’s report said timely implementation “has been sorely lacking” on some of Canada’s more recent climate commitments, made in 2009 and 2015, which pledged 17 per cent and 30 per cent emissions cuts below 2005 levels by 2020 and 2030 respectively.
The 2020 pledge was never fully acted on by former prime minister Stephen Harper’s government. The Liberals say they will far surpass their 2030 pledge and will now meet a higher target for that year.
From 2005 to 2019, emissions dropped by only 1.1 per cent, the report notes. However, they have increased since the 2015 Paris Agreement was signed, making Canada “the worst performing of all G7 nations.”
According to data from the OECD, Canada was the only Group of Seven country where greenhouse gas emissions rose.
Still, he said there has been “some recent momentum” through the Liberals’ new legislation that sets legally binding emissions targets, and stronger plans that leave him hopeful “Canada’s performance can be turned around.”
With four promised targets for emission reductions and nine plans for achieving them since 1990, Mr. DeMarco said federal governments have had a problem yielding results.
In April, Mr. Trudeau said Canada would cut emissions by 40-45 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. The commissioner’s report noted that the policies the government has announced so far would get to only 36 per cent.
“If past performance is the best indicator of future performance, the story is not good,” he said.
Mr. DeMarco told reporters he hasn’t audited the government’s plan, and it will soon be superseded with a new one. Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said on Thursday the government will announce “very soon” whether it will release the updated plan by December, as the new legislation requires, or extend the deadline to March.
He and Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson defended the government’s “mammoth undertaking” to reverse Canada’s emissions trends. When the Liberals came to power in 2015, Mr. Wilkinson said, emissions were on track to be 12 per cent higher in 2030 than in 2005. He said when the data become available for 2020, they will show a decrease.
“We’re doing more things than any other government has ever done in the history of Canada when it comes to fighting climate change,” Mr. Guilbeault said.
The report comes on the heels of international climate talks in Glasgow, called COP26, almost two weeks ago. Those negotiations ended with the president of the summit, Alok Sharma, fighting back tears as he apologized after the conference produced a watered-down accord on climate action that he said was still worth protecting.
Canada’s emissions represent 1.6 per cent of global emissions, but the report suggests the stat plays down the country’s impact on the international picture. It is in the top 10 emitters, has one of the highest levels of emissions per capita, and “continues to play a large role in the dangerous accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere,” the report found.
The Liberal government’s own policies stymy its ability to meet its goals, Mr. DeMarco said. Cabinet’s decision in June, 2019, to invest in the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion is an “example of policy incoherence with progress toward climate commitments.”
More recently, the 2020 pandemic support program for oil and gas companies, called the Emissions Reduction Fund, may have actually spurred a net increase in emissions, Mr. DeMarco said. Although it was intended to encourage companies to find ways to reduce emissions, it was not designed “to ensure credible and sustainable” cuts or ensure “value for the money spent.”
At his news conference, Mr. DeMarco described the Natural Resources department’s approach to the $675-million program as “myopic.” So far, $134-million of the fund has been spent, the government said.
“When you have different departments pushing in different directions, you get problems like the emissions level going up even though you have individual programs trying to make them go down,” Mr. DeMarco said. “This emissions reduction fund isn’t showing the results it should, given the name.”
Mr. Wilkinson said he disagrees with Mr. DeMarco’s assessment, but said the program would have been set up differently if it were for the long term. In question period, he told Green Party MP Elizabeth May the government would review the future of this program and the remaining funding.
Environmental Defence on Thursday said it should be cancelled immediately.
Mr. DeMarco’s report also underscored past findings from his office that the finance department’s assessments of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies were incomplete and poorly defined.
In the House of Commons, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh asked the government why it will not “just finally end all fossil fuel subsidies” and invest the money in renewable energy. In response, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland pointed out that the Liberals have promised to eliminate the subsidies by 2023.
Conservative MP Dan Albas said the commissioner’s report confirms his party’s position that the Liberals’ rhetoric is out of step with their actions.
“This is about the government’s behaviour,” he said while declining to address the role his own party played in the failures outlined by the commissioner during nearly a decade in power.
Mr. DeMarco’s report calls for stronger leadership and co-ordination on climate change, a shift in Canada’s dependence on high-emission industries, and for adaptation measures to be prioritized.
It concludes by calling on Ottawa to “intensify efforts in the fight against climate change to make up for decades of missed opportunities and missteps.”
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