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Canada lagging on climate change action: report

Emission reduction plans lack details and are late in addressing the issue

Canada’s federal and provincial governments are lagging far behind their targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and are woefully unprepared for climate change, a new report says.

Canada is expected to miss its 2020 emissions reduction target by 20 per cent and is also likely to miss its 2030 target without a major effort, says the report by nine provincial auditors general and the federal environment commissioner.

Worse still, governments appear to have no idea about the risks posed by climate change and what to do about them, the report says.

“Canada’s auditors general found that most governments in Canada were not on track to meet their commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and were not ready for the impacts of a changing climate,” it said.

“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.”

The audit, the first collaboration of its kind among Canada’s auditors general, paints a discouraging picture of the country’s efforts to deal with climate change by establishing emissions goals.

Among its findings:

  • More than half the governments do not have overall targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Of those that do, only two (New Brunswick and Nova Scotia) are on track to meet them.
  • Most governments have not fully assessed climate change risks. They have also not developed detailed adaptation plans.
  • There is limited co-ordination of climate change action within most governments.
  • Most governments do not have timelines, detailed implementation plans and cost estimates. For example, New Brunswick plans to have 20,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2030. But it has no implementation plan and timeline for achieving this goal.
  • Some governments are not reporting regularly on progress.

What emerges is a hodge-podge of different greenhouse gas emission targets across Canada with different jurisdictions often doing their own thing, the report says.

As a result, it is unclear how Canada will meet its 2030 national target for reducing emissions, it concludes.

Philip Gass, a senior policy adviser for the International Institute for Sustainable Development, said part of the reason for governments’ poor record is that they didn’t start to get serious about making commitments for reducing emissions until about five years ago. Until then, governments made only vague promises without much policy to back them up.

“We’ve got a lot of lost time to make up for,” Gass said in a telephone interview from Geneva, Switzerland.

Another problem is that Canada’s federal government has limited ability to enforce nationwide standards for reducing emissions. So it promises a federal standard while telling provinces they are free to come up with alternative approaches.

Currently, most provinces except for Saskatchewan have some kind of plan in place. But there are few details on critical elements, such as how money from carbon taxes will be used to reduce emissions, said Gass.

“The longer we wait for those answers, the more challenging it’s going to be to meet those targets.”

Still another problem is a lack of equivalency among systems in different provinces, Gass added.

“If Manitoba has a carbon levy of $25 a tonne and British Columbia has a carbon tax of $30 and Quebec and Ontario have a cap-and-trade system, how do we know everybody’s pulling their fair share?”

The report warns the impacts of extreme weather events resulting from climate change are already being felt around the world, including Canada. Massive floods in Alberta in 2013 caused $1.7 billion in damage. The extent of summer Arctic sea ice has decreased by nearly a third since 1980. Wildfires in 2017 burned 1.2 million hectares of forest in B.C. Thawing permafrost in the Northwest Territories is already causing roads to shift and sinkholes to form.

Gass said Manitoba farmers will be affected by major changes expected from rising temperatures and the number of hot days per year.

Extreme weather events such as floods and droughts are expected to be more frequent and severe.

But climate change could also benefit farmers by resulting in longer growing seasons and an increase in heat-loving crops such as corn and soybeans.

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