2050 is too late

Federal net-zero emissions legislation: 2050 is too late

Robin Tress
1 month ago

Last week, the federal government tabled Bill C-12, the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act. This act sets a target for Canada to emit net-zero carbon by 2050 but doesn’t say much else. Overall, this legislation does not contain a compelling framework for effective action that would lead to ambitious carbon  emission reductions.  

We need real reductions by 2030 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the international scientific body on the climate crisis, told the world two years ago that as a global society, we need to cut global emissions by 45 per cent by 2030.  

Canada has emitted huge amounts of greenhouse gases in our history compared to other countries with lower populations. We are responsible for a greater share of existing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and should make even more drastic cuts to our current and future emissions to meet that 2030 directive. The Climate Action Network Canada calculated that based on Canada’s historical emissions our ‘fair share’ climate target is a staggering 140 per cent reduction below 2005 emissions levels by 2030. This could be possible, if we reduce domestic emissions by 60 per cent and directly support the remaining emissions reductions in developing countries.  

With the science in front of us, and these fair share calculations already complete, why is the net-zero legislation falling so far behind? 

This legislation doesn’t have meaningful targets 

The tabled legislation does not contain any targets other than net-zero by 2050. Targets are meant to be set within six months of this bill passing, with the possibility of a 90-day extension at the discretion of the Minister of Environment and Climate Change. Even if Bill C-12 was passed tomorrow, it could be almost a year before we even have our first target!  

Reporting only every five years 

The act requires reporting only every five years – that’s not good enough. We need ongoing reporting, conducted by independent experts, so we can correct course if we’re not on track to meet the target. To put this in perspective, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change writes overview reports every five years – in 2014 the IPCC was still trying to affirm that climate change was caused by humans. By 2018, the IPCC broke the five-year cycle and wrote a special report to tell the world we are officially in crisis. We can’t have lengthy reporting periods when we need fast action. 

Who will calculate emissions and how? 

This legislation does not determine how emissions will be calculated or who will decide if the targets have been met. Without establishing an independent body to conduct this oversight, there is a high probability that corporate interests will influence the way that monitoring and reporting are conducted. We need to monitoring and reporting to serve the public and the planet, not corporate profits.  

Minister can change the targets 

Bill C-12 allows the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to change the targets and the reduction plans “in a manner that is consistent with the purpose of this Act.” This should be clearer: the Minister should only be allowed to change the targets to make them stronger, not weaker.  

No penalties or legislated consequences for missed targets 

If the future targets aren’t met the Minister writes a report about why they weren’t met and how the plan will be adjusted to make up for it – there are no legislated consequences, and no mechanism to issue penalties. 

Of course, there are real-life consequences for missing the targets: climate chaos. Unfortunately, these consequences will be felt primarily by those who had nothing to do with creating the problem – future generations, Indigenous peoples, poor communities and other marginalized peoples. We want to see real penalties and consequences for those perpetuating this crisis and stalling action - Big Oil CEOs and lobbyists, politicians refusing to take meaningful action – not people who are already made vulnerable by the climate crisis. If we hope to avoid the worst of what the climate crisis has to offer, there needs to be immediate consequences for veering off track of emissions reductions. 

Need real commitment to UNDRIP 

C-12 states that Canada is committed to constitutional rights in Indigenous Peoples and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Federal legislation on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was tabled in 2018 but rejected by the senate. Since then, the Canadian Government has continued to criminalize Indigenous land defenders working to protect their communities and the planet  from continued harm and climate chaos. We need to see more than a vague “commitment” to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in this climate legislation. 

No mention of transition for workers 

C-12 ignores workers. There is no mention of job creation or transition, retraining, bridges to retirement, or any program that would protect and create good jobs for people as the country moves towards decarbonization. 

Canada’s history with climate targets is not good 

Canada has not met a single one of its climate targets this century. Through multiple governments at provincial and federal levels and all governing parties, decision makers are consistently allowing corporate interests to guide policy, instead of putting science and public interest first. 

This proposed legislation does not contain incentives to reduce emissions, nor penalties for failing to do so. It does not describe the mechanisms of climate accountability that will be used to ensure we meet these goals. In that way, this plan is not substantially different than any other emissions reduction plan Canada has ever put forward. 

Because the targets don’t have to be set for a maximum of nine months after legislation passes, and reporting doesn’t have to be done for five years after that, we will have a new government when the first report is issued. As Dale Marshall, National Climate Program Manager at Environmental Defense said, this legislation will, “at best, hold future federal governments accountable for Canada’s climate commitments.” 

There is hope 

There are inspiring examples of the kinds of rapid transformations that are consistent with safer climate all over the world. Here are a few examples: 

Community movements across the globe are ready and willing to change to avert the worst of the climate crisis. When we fight together for the things we need, that’s when we win.  The Council of Canadians is building local political power by supporting grassroots organizers to transform their communities from the ground up. Will you join us?