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Opinion

How to end Canada’s cycle of making and breaking global commitments on climate change

By Catherine Abreu and Dale Marshall      

By establishing an independent body of experts with the explicit mandate of measuring progress toward Canada’s climate and clean growth goals while continuously re-visioning Canada’s climate targets, the federal government can deliver on a once-in-a-generation opportunity to show the world that Canada can make good on its climate commitments.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, pictured recently on the Hill. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade
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Since 1992, Canada has struck out on three global climate agreements, failing to live up to promises made in Rio, Kyoto, and Copenhagen to cut climate pollution. But Canada doesn’t have to keep doing this—some of our allies have already developed systems that will keep them on track to meet their climate targets, and Canada should follow their example.

The Paris Agreement enshrined Canada’s fourth climate commitment in 2015. For a chance at redemption, Canada desperately needs measures that not only get the country on track to meeting our Paris pledge of cutting climate emissions 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, but push us past that goal to the deeper GHG reductions science tells us we need. The Paris Agreement is explicitly structured to push countries to ratchet up their goals over time.

Though governments are sometimes hesitant to create institutions that will put their and future governments’ feet to the fire, it is clear that much greater oversight and accountability of Canada’s climate action is necessary to prevent Canada from striking out a fourth time on the most important issue facing humanity. Canada must end its cycle of making and breaking international commitments on climate change.

The federal government is already taking steps in the right direction by establishing a body to engage experts on clean growth and climate change and by earmarking $20 million over five years to fund the endeavour.

Yet the proposed mandate for that expert body—laid out in an August discussion paper—is fairly timid, falling short of the truly rigorous and accountable system Canada needs.

The oversight and accountability mechanism needed is one that:

  • Requires the panel of experts to develop and track standard indicators that measure progress on Canada’s climate and clean growth goals over time.
  • Requires regular reports from the panel of experts to federal and provincial governments, and necessitates a formal response to their recommendations from the federal government.
  • Mandates the panel to make recommendations on how Canada can improve its performance on climate action in line with the best available science and credible assessments of Canada’s fair share of the global effort.
  • Mandates the panel to propose more robust emissions reduction goals over time, in line with our Paris commitment, and put us on track to full decarbonization by 2050.

Canada doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel. The leadership and experience of two Canadian allies can help inform the creation of such an expert panel and establish a productive relationship between the experts and Canadian governments.

The German Environment Agency is an organization that operates at arms’ length from government to gather data on the state of the environment and provide relevant government ministries with policy advice. Applying the German model can ensure that regular status reports are made publicly available to federal and provincial governments using standardized measurements.

The U.K. Committee on Climate Change provides independent analysis annually to the U.K. Parliament, the secretary of state, and relevant government bodies. For Canada, this would mean that annual progress reports and advice for future action would be delivered to provincial premiers (through the Council of the Federation meetings) and federal, provincial, and territorial ministers of the environment. The federal Minister of the Environment and Climate Change would be required to respond in Parliament to the report of the expert panel, indicating how government policy will respond to its recommendations and, as necessary, explaining why any recommendations will not be acted upon.

An added benefit of the U.K. model? It has helped shield climate action in that country from partisan politics and the fickleness of election cycles.

By establishing an independent body of experts with the explicit mandate of measuring progress toward Canada’s climate and clean growth goals while continuously re-visioning Canada’s climate targets, the federal government can deliver on a once-in-a-generation opportunity to show the world that Canada can make good on its climate commitments.

Catherine Abreu is executive director of Climate Action Network Canada. Dale Marshall is national climate program manager for Environmental Defence.

The Hill Times 

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