Imagine you create a budget. You want to eliminate wasteful, unhealthy spending in 10 years. Maybe it’s omitting the cigarettes, or the weekly case of beer, or the family-sized packs of candy and cookies. Then you put the kids, the smokers, and the beer drinkers in charge of monitoring your progress toward your goal.
And they don’t have to report on that progress for, oh, say 10 years – the year by which you want to have reached the goal. And if they miss the target? They just have to say: Yup, we missed it.
That’s the scenario we need to avoid with Canada’s Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act (Bill C-12), introduced in November. It’s now at the amendment stage, and it needs amending.
It’s a welcome piece of legislation, granted. It aims to help Canada meet its Paris Climate Agreement commitments – cutting emissions in half by 2030, and getting us to net-zero by 2050 – to avoid climate disaster.
Unfortunately, over the years Canada has missed every emissions target we have ever set. Our current target was set by the Harper government and is woefully inadequate to get us where we need to go. We need an accountability act that holds our present and future governments accountable. And we need specific, up-front targets that we can all see, with regular, detailed reporting on our progress in meeting our carbon budget. Right now, the bill proposes a first target of 2030. How do you know you’re going to reach a 2030 goal if you don’t check it until 2030?
We also need to ensure that our major emitters – like the oil and gas industries – do not have a seat at the table when it comes to setting interim targets and monitoring our progress. That would be a little like letting the kids run the candy store.
And if interim targets are missed, the government needs to be held to account. We need to know why, and what will be done to make up for the shortfall.
We don’t have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to doing this legislation right. The U.K. passed a strong accountability act in 2008 and since then has lowered emissions by more than 40 per cent from 1990 levels. During that same period, Canada’s emissions have steadily climbed.
A report released last month by an international group of scientists warns that our planet is much worse off than even most scientists understand. “We aim to provide leaders with a realistic ‘cold shower’ of the state of the planet that is essential for planning to avoid a ghastly future,” they write in Frontiers of Conservation Science.
With our Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act, our leaders have a chance to do just that. New Zealand has passed strong accountability legislation that closely resembles the U.K.’s. We should too.
Ginny Colling, Lindsay