For the exhausted parliamentarians involved in shepherding Bill C-12, the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act, through a minority Parliament in a pandemic, its adoption at the 11th hour might feel like finally reaching the finish line. But the reality is quite the opposite: For the first time, we’ve just officially made it to the starting line. We’re all about to enter the race of our lives — for our lives.
It’s about time we got here. Bill C-12 became law on Tuesday as a record-breaking heat wave gripped British Columbia, setting and breaking record temperatures day after day.
Canada is the 10th-largest contributor to climate change, and our emissions per capita are among the highest in the world. They’re double Norway’s, also an oil producer. We’ve never reached a single target to reduce greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions since international action officially started three decades ago, and we’ve since had the greatest increase in emissions of all G7 countries. It’s the equivalent of starting the race terribly out of shape, but the more we lag, the harder it will be, and the less chance we’ll have of keeping up.
It’s literally time to go from zero to hero in this race for net zero. Bill C-12 is the first step, the shot from the starting gun. It’s not a “plan to make a plan.” It’s a comprehensive framework for establishing targets, developing emissions-reduction plans, and reporting on progress. It includes independent expert advice from a net-zero advisory body and assessment by the commissioner of the environment and sustainable development. What’s more, the legislation sets a clear, long-term goal of emitting net-zero GHGs as soon as possible, at the latest, by 2050. Countries, industries, and corporations all heard the signal, and they’re already running.
The 121 countries in the Climate Ambition Alliance have committed to “working towards achieving net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050.” In the private sector, at least one-fifth of the world’s 2,000 largest public companies, representing sales of over $17 trillion, have committed to meeting net-zero targets.
Even the fossil-fuel sector is now on board. Earlier this month, companies operating about 90 per cent of Canada’s oilsands production announced an initiative to emit net-zero GHGs from oilsands operations by 2050. The International Energy Agency, an organization of fossil-fuel suppliers, released a comprehensive roadmap for the global energy sector to reach net-zero by 2050, calling the transition to net zero “a huge opportunity for our economies, with the potential to create millions of new jobs and boost economic growth.”
Two weeks ago, the G7 countries committed “to ambitious and accelerated efforts to achieve net-zero GHG emissions as soon as possible, and by 2050, at the latest, recognizing the importance of significant action this decade.” Two nations have already achieved net-zero emissions and now claim to be carbon-negative. Five OECD countries have committed to reaching net zero before 2050. Our new net-zero law specifies there’s nothing stopping us, either, from reaching net zero before then.
Climate-accountability legislation was pioneered by the United Kingdom in 2008, and, since then, it’s made the largest GHG reductions of all G7 countries. At least 15 countries have legislated climate accountability since that time, too. With C-12 becoming law, Canada finally joined the race.
In its February 2021 report, Canada’s Net-Zero Future, the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices examined more than 60 possible pathways to reach net-zero by 2050, and in all of them, Canada’s GDP is substantially larger than it is today.
A majority of Canadians from all provinces believe the energy transition is unavoidable. Two-thirds of Canadians want Canada to do better than average in the shift to low-carbon energy and clean technologies, and workers want a fair and equitable transition. The pandemic hasn’t changed this support. Canadians understand and agree with the data. The majority feels that the economic opportunities of the transition outweigh the economic risks.
And we’re going to do this in a unique way, by blending in the best available science with Indigenous knowledge and respect for Indigenous rights, hoping that climate action becomes a true place for reconciliation — one where we can not only start healing deep wounds, but also learn from the leadership of the First Peoples the country has so wrongly tried to erase.
Racing toward net zero is a tremendous opportunity to create a more prosperous and resilient future for all Canadians, especially our children and those who will follow them. This is just the beginning of the race of our lives, the race for all life.
Rosa Galvez is an Independent senator for Quebec, a professor of civil and water engineering at the Université Laval in Quebec City, and president of ParlAmericas’ Parliamentary Network on Climate Change. She was the sponsor in the Senate of Bill C-12.
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