The federal government is set to introduce climate accountability legislation as early as next week to formally commit Canada to its target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
The long-awaited bill will set out mandatory national five-year targets to cut emissions, starting in 2025.
While the Liberal government has promised the five-year targets will be “legally binding,” the legislation isn’t likely to include an enforcement mechanism to ensure those targets are being met.
The task of coming up with tools to enforce nationally legislated emissions targets likely would fall to a net-zero advisory group the federal government has not yet established. One key hurdle facing Ottawa is getting the provinces on board with reporting mechanisms — particularly the oil-producing provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan still pursuing a court challenge of the federal price on carbon, which is set to rise to $50 a tonne by 2022.
Carbon output varies greatly from province to province. Most provinces emit between 10 and 20 tonnes per capita annually, while per capita emissions from Alberta and Saskatchewan are close to 70 tonnes.
A history of missing the mark
Canada has set multiple emissions reduction targets in past decades and has never met a single one.
It’s also on track to miss its current target by 77 megatonnes, according to the latest federal data from 2018.
“Achieving our goals will certainly be challenging and will require leadership from every region of the country,” Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson told a hearing of the House of Commons environment committee last week.
Many environmentalists and climate policy experts in Canada look at legislation as a way to force current and future governments to make good on their climate promises — as long as the targets are set in law and are accompanied by carbon budgets that show how and when each jurisdiction would cut emissions.
The U.K’s climate legislation — in place since 2008 and widely regarded as the global gold standard for emissions reduction law — includes both carbon budgets and a publicly-funded committee of experts that monitors government progress.
Emissions plan sidelined by pandemic
The soon-to-be-tabled climate accountability legislation is the first step in what sources tell CBC News will be a series of federal measures, rolling out over the coming weeks, meant to ensure that Canada lives up to its commitments at the UN climate conference in Paris five years ago. Those commitments include a promise to cut emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 — a target the Liberal government promised to exceed in the last federal election.
Initial plans to introduce the legislation earlier this year were derailed by the pandemic, along with other key parts of the Liberal environmental platform — such as new rules for cleaner-burning fuels and a promise to plant two billion trees.
In its throne speech back in September, the federal government promised to “immediately” bring forward its 2030 climate targets plan.
Sources tell CBC News the government’s climate plan was approved by cabinet last month — but critics remain concerned about Canada’s path to net-zero, which would require significantly reducing the country’s carbon emissions and offsetting the remaining emissions with other measures, such as planting trees or carbon sequestration.
Next month, the government is expected to roll out new standards for cleaner-burning fuels — which could account for about 15 per cent of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction target — and to begin sector-by-sector consultations to set reduction targets, offer incentives to increase the use of clean energy and develop the market for electric vehicles.
The federal government also has promised a national hydrogen strategy this fall — a key component of its net-zero emissions strategy that would identify potential industrial uses for hydrogen as a fuel source.