Report of the committee
Tuesday, June 22, 2021
The Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources has the honour to table its
Your committee, which was authorized to examine the subject matter of Bill C-12, An Act respecting transparency and accountability in Canada’s efforts to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050, has, in obedience to the order of reference of Wednesday, June 2, 2021, examined the said subject matter and now reports as follows:
To inform its deliberations, the committee held five public meetings, totaling 11.5 hours, hearing testimony from 22 organizations and five individuals and receiving written briefs from several organizations. The testimony of these organizations and individuals represented a broad range of perspectives (see the committee’s pre-study webpage), but given more time, the committee would have heard from additional witnesses given the importance of this proposed legislation.
The need for a national climate accountability framework in Canada is pressing. For Canada to do its part to achieve the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global temperature rise this century to 1.5° Celsius, the country will require immediate, deliberate, and ambitious new national policies. While witnesses have noted that Bill C-12 has many deficiencies, which are outlined in further detail below, there can be no delay in implementing a national climate accountability framework.
Your committee requests that the Government of Canada address these observations as soon as possible, and not wait until the five-year statutory review required under the Bill.
Canada has never had a problem setting greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets; rather, the problem has always been achieving those reductions. To date, no Canadian government has been held politically accountable for these failures. Your committee would like to increase the strength of Bill C-12’s political accountability mechanisms but recognizes that political accountability on climate performance stems, in part, from culture. Over time, the climate accountability framework in Bill C-12 could help build a political culture in Canada where citizens expect climate performance across all levels of government.
Your committee feels that the climate accountability process under Bill C-12, which includes a cycle of GHG target setting, emission reduction plan development, and reporting on progress and performance audits, is weak and will not lead to actual reductions of GHGs in line with national targets. More needs to be done to bolster how Canadian governments are held to account for GHG emission reductions.
For example, the committee is of the opinion that the Net-Zero Advisory Body must have administrative independence, including control over its own budget and secretariat, as well as a strict conflict of interest code requiring recusals from discussions and recommendations relating to direct conflicts of members.
The committee is also of the opinion that to increase the level of independence of the Commissioner of Environment and Sustainable Development, the Commissioner should be an Officer of Parliament who reports to parliamentarians.
JURISDICTIONAL RESPECT AND COLLABORATION
The decisions about targets and plans that the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change will make under Bill C-12 are of national significance. A national climate accountability framework can increase long-term certainty about Canada’s climate policy direction by establishing progressively stronger GHG emission reduction targets set well in advance of milestone years. Witnesses have noted that policy certainty is important for attracting the sustained investment that will be needed to fund Canada’s energy transition.
In Canada’s federation, constitutional jurisdiction over some of the most important policy areas influencing GHG emissions rests with the provinces, territories and Indigenous governance structures, rather than with the federal government. The committee notes that there is an urgent need for the various orders of government in Canada to work out how their various jurisdictional and constitutional authorities related to the environment, the economy, and Canada’s social infrastructure will be used to collaboratively achieve our commitment to net zero by 2050, and to meet the milestones on the way to that commitment.
Provincial and territorial climate change strategies and policies, including GHG emission reduction targets, should be integrated in the targets, plans, and reports established by the Minister under Bill C-12. The committee notes how important it is for the federal government to work closely with the provinces, territories, municipalities, and industry, and in ongoing collaboration and consultation with Indigenous governance structures towards the net zero 2050 target.
AN EQUITABLE AND JUST TRANSITION
The transition to a net zero energy system is going to have disproportionate benefits and challenges for the different regions and economic sectors in Canada. As the committee heard, there are many possible pathways to net zero emissions and no region has the same emissions profile. The committee is of the opinion that the achievement of Canada’s net zero GHG emissions goal, and its implementation plans, must be done in an equitable and just way in relation to the various regions of the country and the sectors of the economy that will benefit or be challenged. The committee reminds the federal government of the legacy of environmental impacts associated with natural resource developments in and around Indigenous lands and that it has an obligation to incorporate Indigenous perspectives, uphold Indigenous human rights, and strive to balance environment and economy on the path to net zero by 2050. The committee is of the opinion that ensuring Indigenous representation on the Net Zero Advisory Body– appointed in consultation with Indigenous peoples and respectful of traditional governance structures – would help to advance these obligations.
ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL CONSIDERATIONS
While Bill C-12 is fundamentally about establishing a national accountability framework for reducing GHG emissions, the committee considered whether it would be appropriate to include economic measures like real gross domestic product and social measures like employment as targets under the framework.
The committee is of the opinion that targets under Bill C-12 should only relate to GHG emission levels in milestone years. That said, the committee is concerned that plans and reports under Bill C-12 are not required to contain information about the economic and social impacts of climate action or inaction, such as through cost-benefit analysis. Further, despite the preamble of Bill C-12 referring to making Canada’s economy “more resilient, inclusive, and competitive”, there is no specific inclusion of measures such as real gross domestic product, levels of investment and employment, energy affordability, among others, as considerations in the Minister’s plans and reports. Similarly, there is no mention of energy security as a consideration despite its importance as a factor in the transition to a low carbon economy. It is therefore the view of the committee that these measures must be included as considerations in the Minister’s plans and reports before the statutory five-year review.
For greater clarity, including economic and social considerations in the climate accountability regime does not diminish the clear policy signal sent by the milestone GHG emission reduction targets under Bill C-12. In fact, considering and measuring these indicators may improve Canada’s ability to get to net zero faster and more equitably.
PAUL J. MASSICOTTE