Clean Energy Canada | Auditors Find Significant Gaps In Ottawa’s Climate Effort
October 7, 2014

Parliament Hill -600

We’d circled today on our calendars in anticipation of the release of an important assessment from Canada’s Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Julie Gelfand. And I’m glad we did: the new commissioner’s audit of Ottawa’s climate plans—which found fundamental gaps in the federal government’s approach—should be required reading for anyone concerned about climate and clean energy.

Gelfand’s report is so strong—so clear in its observations and recommendations—that we really don’t have much to add. So here are the highlights:

  • “In 2012, we concluded that the federal regulatory approach was unlikely to lead to emission reductions sufficient to meet the 2020 Copenhagen target. Two years later, the evidence is stronger that the growth in emissions will not be reversed in time and that the target will be missed.”
  • “Despite some advances since our 2012 audit, timelines for putting measures in place to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have not been met and departments are not yet able to assess whether measures in place are reducing emissions as expected.”
  • “Environment Canada lacks…an effective planning process for how the federal government will contribute to achieving the Copenhagen target.”
  • On coal-fired electricity regulations: “The final regulations will reduce emissions in the year 2020 by about half as much as originally planned in 2011; this is because the final performance standard is less stringent and existing power plants are assumed to have longer lifespans.”
  • On oil and gas regulations: “According to Environment Canada, the oil and gas sector will contribute 200 megatonnes to national emissions in 2020. This is 27 megatonnes more than in 2012—a larger increase than any other sector. Despite this prediction, regulations for the sector have been repeatedly delayed.”
  • On working with provinces and territories: “Overall, we found that the federal government has not provided sufficiently focused coordination to meet its commitment of achieving the national 2020 emission reduction target jointly with the provinces and territories.”
  • On developing Canada’s next climate target: “To meet Canada’s long-term emission reduction objectives, the federal government, working with the provinces and territories, will need to plan for further reductions beyond 2020. It has not yet done this.”
  • And from the Commissioner’s Perspective section of the report, where she tells us the significance of her findings: “If Canada does not honour its climate change commitments, it cannot expect other countries to honour theirs.”

While we’re pulling out highlights, this chart (reproduced below) is an excellent summary of the relationship between federal and provincial climate effort in Canada. Provincial actions account for 63 per cent of all projected emission reductions in Canada by 2020, with Ottawa’s efforts accounting for the remaining 37 per cent—or as the Commissioner’s title puts it, “Current federal measures will have little effect on emissions by 2020.” (It’s also worth noting that Ottawa’s strongest climate policy to date, the fuel efficiency regulations it has adopted for vehicles, originated in the United States).

In the electricity sector, provincial actions account for four times more reductions than Ottawa’s contribution, thanks in large part to Ontario’s groundbreaking phase out of coal-fired electricity.

Source: 2014 Fall Report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development
Source: 2014 Fall Report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development

We were happy to see the Commissioner offer useful suggestions for improving Environment Canada’s annual Emissions Trends report—already an invaluable accountability tool—and to see the generally positive review of Canada’s initial contribution to international climate financing.

The overall conclusion of the report can only be seen as a failing grade. Auditors know what it means to make a plan and put systems in place to meet it. The federal government still isn’t taking those basic steps when it comes to tackling climate disruption.

Good work is being done—increasingly outside of the federal government­—to chart a path forward for Canada. For example, as part of a UN-backed project, economic modellers from Navius Research and EnviroEconomics have crafted a scenario for Canada that would see us reduce greenhouse gas pollution by more than 95 per cent between 2010 and 2050 while our GDP grows by more than 200 percent.

It’s well past time the federal government stepped up and worked collaboratively with Canada’s provinces and territories to put us on just such a path.