Globe and Mail: ‘Underwhelming’ Federal Climate Bill Leaves Accountability to Future Governments
The Trudeau government is taking criticism for introducing an “underwhelming” climate accountability bill last week that would require future governments, but not the present one, to live up to their carbon reduction commitments one.
“By Canada’s lacklustre standards to date,” writes Globe and Mail climate columnist Adam Radwanski, the legislation “represents a significant step forward in the fight against climate change.” And “for Canadians weary of watching their governments set far-off climate goals, without detailed roadmaps for how to get there and accountability for sticking to them, this bill does provide some cause to believe that pattern will be broken.”
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But “by international standards, set more than a decade ago by Britain with climate target legislation since emulated in other countries, the much-hyped plan tabled by Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson is more underwhelming.”
While the bill “includes many of the mechanisms that have helped bring seriousness to climate policy elsewhere,” Radwanski adds, “it falls short of the established ways for this kind of legislation to reshape the climate policy discourse. It also fails to adapt what other countries have done to the Canadian context, by not tackling the need to bring provinces along.”
The two most glaring criticisms: the bill sets the first in a series of five-year targets 10 years in the future, long after the Trudeau government is likely to be in power. “Less obvious, but potentially more of a problem, is that the bill doesn’t match the better international efforts by pairing targets with carbon budgets, which would set shrinking amounts of emissions cumulatively allowed over each five-year period,” Radwanski writes. “That means less imperative to shrink the country’s carbon footprint each year between now and 2030, or between 2030 and 2035, and less disincentive to backload the effort.”
The bill also falls short of the example of the UK’s Climate Change Committee, formed in 2008, which exerts high-profile, independent, non-partisan scrutiny over the country’s climate actions.
The overall package was limited enough to catch the attention of the Globe and Mail editorial board, which cast the legislation as a legally-binding net-zero emissions plan for the next government.
“Under Bill C-12, the year 2025 doesn’t exist,” the editors write. “The first so-called ‘milestone year’ for reporting is 2030, followed by 2035, 2040, 2045, and 2050,” and “mandated progress reports are only due two years prior to the next milestone year.”
Which means the Trudeau government will have six months to introduce a 2030 target and implementation plan after the accountability law is enacted. But “it will never be accountable for those goals, because the first time a progress report will be due won’t be until 2028. That’s at least two federal governments away from the one that just tabled what it calls an ‘accountability act’.”
The Globe editors add that “Prime Minister Justin Trudeau refused three times on Thursday to answer reporters’ questions about why the first milestone year is 2030 and not 2025, but he didn’t need to. Making 2025 the first milestone would have meant his government had to present Parliament with a progress report in 2023—an election year.”
But “imposing accountability on future governments while giving your own a mulligan is a crass political calculation. It undermines Mr. Trudeau’s contention that fighting climate change ought to be a non-partisan effort.”
The Narwhal talked to several climate policy specialists who recapped the shortcomings in the legislation.
Radwanski does see positive in the bill that make it “more like a decent starting point for strong climate accountability than an assurance of it.” And that balance “could make for a good test of the current minority Parliament,” he says. “The legislation will likely need support from parties with strong environmental interests—some combination of the NDP, Bloc Québécois, and Greens to get through.” And just as climate hawks were saying in the hours after the bill was tabled, “if they want to push to make it stronger, there are plenty of places to start.”