Canada’s climate change efforts going from ‘failure to failure,’ says commissioner’s report – CBC.ca

Despite three decades of action, Canada’s emissions have risen 20 per cent since 1990, the country remains unprepared for climate disasters and recent subsidies to the oil and gas sector have not delivered the promised emission reductions, according to the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development’s fall reports.  

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A flare stack lights the sky from the Imperial Oil refinery in Edmonton on December 28, 2018. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Despite three decades of effort, Canada’s carbon emissions have risen 20 per cent since 1990, the country remains unprepared for climate disasters and recent subsidies for the oil and gas sector have not delivered promised emission reductions, according to new reports from the federal government’s chief environmental watchdog.

That damning verdict applies not only to past Liberal and Conservative governments but to the current government led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“Canada was once a leader in the fight against climate change. However, after a series of missed opportunities, it has become the worst performer of all G7 nations since the landmark Paris Agreement on climate change was adopted in 2015,” said Environment and Sustainable Development Commissioner Jerry V. DeMarco in a media statement.

“We can’t continue to go from failure to failure; we need action and results, not just more targets and plans.”

DeMarco’s five reports look at various federal efforts on the environment and conclude that, despite failures in a number of policy areas, Canada still has time to turn it around with the right policy.

“With strong, concerted action from parliamentarians and Canadians, Canada can move past its poor track record on climate change and meet its international climate obligations,” one of the reports said.

“Building on momentum around the globe and at home, including recent climate legislation, stronger plans, and increased funding, Canada can achieve a cleaner, net-zero-emission future for generations to come.”

The report looking at Canada’s record on reducing greenhouse gas emissions is not an audit, DeMarco’s office said, but rather an examination of progress meant to help governments improve outcomes going forward.

The commissioner identifies eight lessons that could get Canada back on track with its target of cutting emissions 40 to 45 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Key lessons

The first requires improved policy leadership and coordination between federal and provincial governments. 

The commissioner notes that Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador produce 97 per cent of Canada’s oil and gas and that any discussion about cutting emissions has to closely involve energy-producing provinces to reduce national tensions over the issue.

“Canada needs to depolarize the climate change discussion to move the debate from whether the country should significantly reduce its emissions and toward a discussion on how emissions should be reduced,” the commissioner said.

The commissioner said that Canada must transition its economy and vulnerable communities away from emissions‑intensive sectors. The commissioner’s office notes that while Canada’s oil and gas sector is responsible for eight per cent of GDP, it’s also to blame for 25 per cent of emissions.

To turn that around, the commissioner said Canada needs to fund efforts to transition workers away from emissions-intensive industries and increase the country’s reliance on lower-emission energy sources.

Preparing for climate disasters

The commissioner said that dealing with weather-related disasters, such as the catastrophic flooding in B.C.’s interior, costs the country up to six per cent of GDP annually. Better preparation for such events is crucial, DeMarco said. 

“Compared with the high costs of cleaning up disasters after the fact, investing early in adaptation measures avoids losses and generates significant economic, social and environmental benefits,” the commissioner said.

DeMarco’s office is calling on the federal government to reorient its financial activities toward greener ends by targeting investments in low carbon initiatives and requiring firms seeking to invest in Canada to reveal the climate impacts of their projects.The report notes that recent polling shows just three quarters of Canadians agreed that global warming is caused by human activity and only 60 per cent of Canadians polled thought the federal government would be failing its citizens if it did not address climate change.