As the Liberals’ climate-change bill is in the final stages of its passage through the House, green groups are giving the amended bill a tentative thumbs-up.
Bill C-12, the Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act, would set legally binding targets as Canada seeks to emit net-zero greenhouse gases (GHG) by 2050. It would require the government of the day to have a reduction plan, informed by an expert advisory body, to meet those targets. The bill also requires the environment commissioner to report on the government’s progress, and recommend how best to make the necessary reductions. It’s modelled on similar laws in the U.K. and New Zealand.
The current bill is quite different from the one the government first introduced last fall, after the NDP and Bloc Québécois put forward a series of successful amendments at the Environment committee’s recent clause-by-clause review.
Green groups had been pushing MPs to add emissions-reporting and -reductions targets, and more detailed plans to reduce emissions, among other changes.
The committee did adopt some of their recommendations, earning lawmakers some praise, but the groups say some key measures have been left out, rendering the bill weaker than similar laws in the U.K. and New Zealand.
“Bill C-12, though still imperfect, is important, and gives us a foundation we can work from to build that robust accountability framework that we know Canada needs (in order) to make sure we never miss another climate target,” said Catherine Abreu, executive director of Climate Action Network, which represents hundreds of climate-concerned organizations across Canada.
Abreu is also a member of the government’s 14-member advisory panel established by the bill to help the government chart its course to net-zero emissions by 2050.
“We’ve seen some significant amendments through the committee stage that have taken the bill much further forward in delivering real transparency and accountability,” said Alan Andrews, a lawyer and head of the climate program at Ecojustice. “It still leaves us some way short of some of the best examples from around the world … but it’s comparable.”
One of the most important amendments is the new requirement for earlier and more frequent GHG-reduction targets and progress reports, they said.
The bill initially required the Environment minister to draft a plan to ensure Canada meets its Paris Agreement target of a 30 per cent reduction in GHGs from 2005 levels by 2030. The plan would need to be presented six months after the bill becomes law. The 2030 target was the first one in the initial bill.
The amended bill includes the same 2030 target, but also mandates an interim target in 2026, in addition to progress reports in 2023, 2025, and 2027.
“When the bill was initially introduced, there was a decade-long gap between now and 2030, and all of us were mystified by that,” because the next 10 years are crucial to limiting the worst impacts of climate change, Abreu said.
“All of those pieces we’ve got now on the runway between 2021 and 2030 are hugely important,” she added, echoing comments made by the co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The plans to meet those targets must now be fleshed out. Initially, the plans had to include ways the government would reduce emissions, how it would reduce its own carbon footprint, and details of sector-specific emissions reductions.
“One of the concerns we had when we first saw C-12 was it was very, very light on the details that would actually be required in plans,” Andrews said.
The amended bill now requires the plans to include details of actions taken or agreements made with the provinces and territories to reduce emissions, the exact length of time each measure is expected to take, and forecasts of how the measures will affect Canada’s targets.
The changes are significant, because,”whether you’re an interested member of the public, a politician, or an expert, you should be able to look at that plan and have a fairly good sense of whether it’s actually likely to achieve” the targets, Andrews said.
On Monday, the Liberals put forward a motion on the notice paper to fast-track the bill’s passage. The NDP are expected to support the effort to limit debate to two hours after repeatedly stating its intention to get the bill passed by consenting to the use of all parliamentary tools available.
In order to get C-12 and other important bills passed quickly to the Senate, the House also agreed to sit until midnight on Mondays and Wednesdays, and on Friday until 4:30 p.m., until the House rises for the summer on June 23.
There are just five sitting days, not including Monday and two opposition days, left on the House calendar before it rises. One more Senate sitting day is tentatively scheduled for June 25, however.