Justin Trudeau Steven Guilbeault

Trudeau government failing to meet emissions target for 2030, audit finds

Key portions of the climate plan aren’t being prioritized, while responsibility for emissions reductions has been scattered across government, environment commissioner said

The Trudeau government isn’t on track to meet Canada’s emissions reduction target for 2030, according to a new federal audit.

In a Nov. 7 report, federal environment commissioner Jerry DeMarco laid the blame on a range of failings by the government, including an inability to quickly advance critical elements of the government’s 2030 Emissions Reduction Plan.

Portions of the plan that would be the most important in helping Canada achieve its climate goals, or that target economic sectors like oil and gas with the highest emissions, weren’t being prioritized by Environment and Climate Change Canada, DeMarco found.

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He also found the positive effects of some strong measures in the plan were outweighed by other weaknesses like a lack of peer review and “unreliable projections,” including “overly optimistic assumptions” and “limited analysis of uncertainties.”

“Missing and inconsistent information, delays in launching important measures and a lack of reliability in projections hindered the credibility of the plan,” DeMarco’s report states.

“Although the plan was designed with measures that could deliver sizeable reductions, fragmented accountabilities for reducing emissions and no prioritization of measures were barriers to success.”

The government agreed with seven of the commissioner’s recommendations on improving transparency, developing better tools and identifying key measures to meet emissions targets, and “partially agreed” with two others related to conducting better analyses and working with independent scientists and other experts.

Aerial view of industrial sites in a winter setting with large plumes of white smoke coming off them
The environment commissioner’s audit found less than half of the government’s climate plan had deadlines for implementation, and only a few measures had a target or emission reduction expectations. Photo: Amber Bracken / The Narwhal

Failure to implement oil and gas emissions cap a barrier

One key measure is the long-promised emissions cap for the oil and gas sector, which is still in the works after being first proposed in 2021. Large oilsands companies lobbied to delay and weaken elements of the emissions cap.

The government also proposed in 2021 to tighten rules surrounding the ability of oil and gas companies to belch methane pollution into the atmosphere, but those tighter rules have also been delayed.

Another key measure was the Clean Fuel Regulations, DeMarco said, which sets limits on the amount of carbon pollution associated with producing fuels like gasoline or diesel.

Those regulations were first proposed in 2016 but only partially came into effect in July 2023, after facing a lobbying effort that sought to brand it as a “second carbon tax.”

The commissioner said he had discovered they were pushed back as a result of “having to compete against other high-priority regulations.”

Less than half of the plan’s measures had any sort of deadline for implementation, and only a small few were associated with a target or any emission reduction expectations, DeMarco said.

“While some progress has been made, we are still extremely concerned about the federal government’s ability to achieve meaningful progress under the new Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act,” the audit reads.

“The stakes for failing to mitigate climate change grow ever higher, and the window of opportunity to reduce emissions and meet the 2030 and 2050 targets is rapidly closing.”

Environment minister needs greater powers to implement climate plan

DeMarco also said responsibility for emissions reductions had been scattered across different federal entities instead of being concentrated under the environment minister, Steven Guilbeault, who is ultimately responsible for the climate plan.

This meant the minister had no authority to order others to pick up the slack, he noted.

And nothing in the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act actually requires the environment minister to achieve emission targets — only explain the reasons why Canada has failed to do so, if it fails. The law does not hand the minister any way of compelling other Cabinet colleagues to do more to meet targets.

New controversy threatens otherwise strong carbon pricing plan

One of the elements that DeMarco said was part of “potentially strong measures” in the plan was carbon pricing, which the commissioner found had been broadly implemented in all provinces and territories, and had been bolstered by the government after initial shortcomings.

But carbon pricing is facing new political headwinds after the federal government announced it would temporarily cancel the carbon price on home heating oil, provoking accusations of regional favouritism and leading some premiers to demand further carveouts.

Opposition Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has described carbon pricing as a “tax” that he promises to scrap if his party forms a government. He has not offered any substantial alternative plan to address the climate crisis.

The Trudeau government’s 2030 Emissions Reduction Plan, published in 2022, was born out of the federal net-zero law, which requires the Canadian economy to achieve net-zero carbon pollution by 2050. The law requires that the government publish plans to cut emissions.

The plan promises to slash emissions by at least 40 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. Canada committed to this target a year earlier, as part of the Paris Agreement on climate change, which seeks to hold global average temperatures to below 2 C above pre-industrial average in order to blunt the more extreme physical consequences of climate change and threats to life on Earth.

Environment and Climate Change Canada had already expected emissions reductions of 36.4 per cent below 2005 levels, lower than the 40 per cent target. But in December 2022 the department even revised that figure downward to 34 per cent, DeMarco’s report said, “missing the 2030 target by an even wider margin.”

“The federal government can still reduce emissions and meet its 2030 target with drive, focus and leadership,” DeMarco said in a press release. “Implementing our recommendations would be a step in the right direction.”

Second audit targets inequity of electric vehicle infrastructure rollout

In another audit Tuesday, DeMarco found Natural Resources Canada’s program to fund the construction of electric vehicle charging stations didn’t go far enough to ensure an “equitable distribution” across Canada, with 87 per cent of charging ports installed at stations in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia.

While the program has funded over 33,000 charging ports as of July 2023, the department didn’t collect any data to identify which communities most needed chargers, or which areas were most likely to be underserved by provincial governments or corporations.

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The Narwhal’s reporting team is busy unearthing important environmental stories you won’t read about anywhere else in Canada. And we’ll publish it all without corporate backers, ads or a paywall.

How? Because of the support of a tiny fraction of readers like you who make our independent, investigative journalism free for all to read.

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