Five Reasons Canada’s Environment Commissioner Gave Ottawa a Failing Grade on Climate

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Reading Environment Commissioner Julie Gelfand’s report on Canada’s climate action, we’d have to say that the woman sounds … ticked.

Here are five reasons Gelfand is wagging a disappointed finger at Canada’s environment officials.

1. Never met a climate target I actually…met

Canada has introduced several climate targets during the last 25 years but has failed to meet a single one.

As Gelfand puts it, “Since 1992, the government has repeatedly promised to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, adapt to the impacts of climate change, and support clean energy technology. However, since then, Canada has missed two separate emission reduction targets and is likely to miss the 2020 target as well; in fact, emissions have increased by over 15 percent.”

What are the details?

Canada set its first target, to reduce annual emissions to 613 megatonnes (Mt) by 2000, at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. In 2000, Canada was 20 per cent over the mark.

In 2005 the Kyoto Protocol aimed to reduce emissions to 576 Mt by 2012. Canada missed that target by 25 per cent.

In 2012 the Copenhagen Accord aimed to cut emissions to 620 Mt by 2020. That target was replaced by the Paris Agreement, which aims to reduce Canada’s emissions to 524 Mt by 2030.

According to Environment and Climate Change Canada’s own estimates, Canada will emit 814 Mt of carbon dioxide equivalent per year by 2030 — that’s 55 per cent over the target.

2. Climate Action Plan. We’ve done a lot of work on the plan part.

Gelfand’s audit found that when it comes to actually implementing plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Canada keeps kicking the can down the road.

On implementing regulatory changes, for example, “the federal government has yet to do much of the hard work that is required to bring about this fundamental shift,” Gelfand wrote.

Instead of developing a detailed action plan to reach the 2020 target for reducing emissions, the government changed its focus to the 2030 target.”

The government has failed to actually implement new greenhouse gas regulations, like methane emission rules, “thereby losing opportunities to achieve real reductions in emissions,” Gelfand said.

Last year Canada did announce the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, which calls for policies aimed at reducing emissions in a number of sectors.

It is crucial that the government turn its plan into actions,” Gelfand said.

3. Climate adaptation? That’s a movie with Nicolas Cage, right?

The government is also nowhere near ready to adapt to the impacts of climate change, according to Gelfand. According to recent research, Canada can expect more frequent and severe storms, droughts, floods and fires as a result of a warming climate.

Canada has done very little to prepare for this new reality. That’s despite the fact a 2011 report by the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy estimated every dollar spent now on adaptation will result in $9 to $38 worth of avoided damages.

In 2011 Environment and Climate Change Canada developed a Federal Adaptation Policy Framework, but then did nothing to actually implement it or work with departments to identify what climate risks actually mean.

Gelfand found only five of 19 departments and agencies analyzed have fully assessed their climate change risks and taken action to address them. The other 11 have “taken little or no action to address risks that could hinder their ability to deliver programs and services to Canadians. “This means that the government does not have a complete picture of the risks it faces from climate change. If Canada is to adapt to a changing climate, much stronger leadership is needed.”

4. Well shucks, you’re right! We DID promise to phase out fossil fuel subsidies…

The federal government simply doesn't have a solid strategy for eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, Gelfand found.

In 2009 Canada promised to eliminate inefficient fossil fuel subsidies but has so far done none of the leg work to identify what exemptions, tax breaks or funds fall into that bucket.

In fact, a 2017 spring report to Parliament from the federal auditor general found “a disconcerting lack of real results when [looking] at what the government had been doing” to meet that commitment, Gelfand noted in her report.

We found that the Department of Finance Canada and Environment and Climate Change Canada — the two departments tasked with delivering on this commitment — had yet to determine which subsidies would require phasing out, according to the commitment,” Gelfand wrote.

It is unclear how Canada will meet this international commitment by 2025 without a clear roadmap to get there.”

5. What do you mean climate change is here? NOW?

Canada warmed at twice the global average between 1948 and 2007.

And according to a 2016 federal auditor general report, disaster funds released through the Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements in the previous six years is greater that all funds released in the previous 39 years.

Gelfand said Canada has been stuck in a “seemingly endless planning mode” and Parliamentarians are ready to move “into an action mode.”

But she adds, “that shift needs to happen, and it needs to happen now, because Canada is already experiencing the impacts of a changing climate.”

On a positive note, Canada does seem to be making progress on clean energy investments. Yaaaaaay?

The Puntzi Lake wildfire grew to over 8,000 hectares in 2015. Photo: B.C. Wildfire Service

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