climate impacts

Canada’s Governments Don’t Have Real Plans to Fight or Adapt to Climate Change: New Audit

Canada talks the talk, but fails to walk the walk on climate change, according to a cross-country audit of climate change planning, emissions reductions and the likelihood of Canada meeting any of its targets.

The audit, conducted by federal environment commissioner Julie Gelfand and auditors general of nine provinces and three northern territories, paints a picture of a patchwork of incomplete plans, lack of clear targets and few roadmaps to show how the country can reach its goals.

The mish-mash of plans showed that no Canadian government has met all its climate change commitments, most of those who have got around to setting greenhouse gas reduction targets will not meet them and no government is fully prepared to adapt to climate change, despite increasing evidence of its ravages, from increased floods and more intense wildfires to rising ocean levels and melting permafrost.

“Most Canadian governments have not assessed and, therefore, do not fully understand what risks they face and what actions they should take to adapt to a changing climate,” says the report.

Gelfand, in a webinar held with B.C. Auditor General Carol Bellringer, Nova Scotia Auditor General Michael Pickup and Glenn Wheeler, audit principal in the Office of the Auditor General of Canada, said more than half the governments did not have overall targets for reducing their greenhouse gas emissions and, of the six that had targets, including B.C, only New Brunswick and Nova Scotia are on track to achieve them.

“Governments do not seem to be aiming in the same direction,” she said.

“The majority of provinces and territories have developed high-level strategies to reduce emissions, but they lacked details, timelines, implementation plans and cost estimates. In addition many governments did not know whether their planned actions would be enough to meet their emission reduction targets or they already knew their planned actions would fall short,” she said.

An example is B.C.’s 2016 Climate Leadership Plan, Gelfand said.

“The plan did not build a clear and measurable pathway to meeting the targets and was missing a clear schedule or detailed information about implementing the mitigation plan,” she said.

Adding to the problem, Gelfand found that only five out of 19 federal departments had done complete risk assessments and Environment Canada, which tells other ministries what to do, had not done its own risk assessment.

Canada is not expected to meet its 2020 target for reducing emissions and “meeting Canada’s 2030 target will require substantial effort and actions beyond those currently planned or in place,” says the report.

Climate Action Tracker, an independent, science-based assessment that tracks international emission commitments and actions, marks Canada as “Highly Insufficient.” Only Morocco and Gambia are likely to meet their Paris Agreement commitments.

Canada has missed every single target set at a national level since the 1990s and our greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise,Gelfand said.

It is now vital to see action plans designed to meet the Pan-Canadian Framework and to start the emission curve bending downwards, she said.

Although all provinces and territories committed in 2016 to contribute to Canada’s 2030 target only three — New Brunswick, the Northwest Territories and Ontario — set 2030 targets and the federal government does not yet know how it will measure each province’s contribution to meeting its target.

Gelfand also took issue with how governments are reporting to their citizens.

“Without regular monitoring and reporting on progress, the governments cannot assess if actions are working as intended and Canadians cannot hold governments to account for their commitments,” said Gelfand, who wants Canadians to hold their provincial and federal representatives feet to the fire and ask what action they are taking.

“Questions like: What will governments do to demonstrate that they will be able to reach their greenhouse gas emission reduction targets? How will these actions be funded? Or, as governments dedicate resources to adaptation actions, how will they ensure that the most pressing risks are being prioritized?” she said.

Bellringer said B.C. has legislated requirements to submit reports on reducing emissions.

“But we did find that the 2016 report had less detail than reports issued in 2012 and 2014 and the public reporting on adaptation has been limited,” she said.

The Canada-wide report echoes much of what Bellringer found in her February report, which concluded that B.C. is not managing risks posed by climate change and that there is little hope that the province will meet  2050 emissions reduction target.

The province is aiming to reduce emissions to 80 per cent below 2007 levels by 2050.

Bellringer said she was surprised about the lack of attention paid to adaptation.

“There are a lot of ministries involved with it, but the central ministry in the Climate Action Secretariat, for example, only had three employees working on adaptation and 36 working on mitigation. There were some good things happening across the province, but we would have expected something more central in terms of control and leadership,” she said.

More coordination is needed, not only within government, but also with local governments and First Nations, Bellringer said.

It is also important that, as circumstances change, climate action plans are adjusted accordingly, she said.

“As policy decisions are made there should be the context of understanding what it means to the plan and whether there needs to be a major adjustment. In B.C. there’s lots of conversation about LNG and the impact on the plan is an important component.”

B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver said it is encouraging that Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are on target for 2020, but deeply disappointing that the rest of the country is so far off track.

Canada must recognize that the effects of climate change are not in some distant future and that there is a responsibility to younger generations not to leave them worse off, Weaver said.

Global trends are clear, with even fossil fuel companies investing heavily in innovation and clean technologies, and there are opportunities to be seized from the transition to the low-carbon economy, but they will not flow to those who double down on the sunset industries of yesterday, said Weaver, a climate scientist.

“It is simply doublespeak to suggest that, in order to meet our targets, we need to expand fossil fuel infrastructure like the Trans Mountain pipeline and the B.C. NDP’s recent attempt to lure a massive LNG facility to our province through a $6-billion tax giveaway,” he said.

“That is absolutely not climate leadership. We are holding the B.C. NDP government to account on its promise to implement a plan to meet our emissions targets. This is the right thing to do for our province, for our economy and for our international commitments.”

Paying for climate change mitigation and adaptation is one theme running through the provincial and collaborative reports and there are increasing suggestions that industry should foot some of the bill.

Andrew Gage, staff lawyer with West Coast Environmental Law, said B.C. should introduce a bill similar to one introduced in Ontario this week, that holds fossil fuel companies liable for climate impacts and allows people to sue companies for climate damages.

“Chevron, Shell and other fossil fuel companies can no longer assume that they can profit from products that cause climate change while leaving taxpayers and ordinary Canadians t pay for its impacts,” Gage said.

Ensuring that fossil fuel polluters pay will give an incentive for them to work towards a sustainable future, he said.

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