Today’s missive is intended to be something you can post on Facebook pages and share with friends by email. Please share and please take steps to demand better.
On Thursday, the long-awaited Climate Accountability Act – full name “An Act respecting transparency and accountability in Canada’s efforts to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050” – received First Reading.
At 7:30 AM BC time, I was on the phone with Ottawa for what was advertised as the “technical briefing” for Members of Parliament. After a series of officials explaining what was in the bill – in English and then in French – with no questions allowed, the call was over by 7:45 AM. Read it yourself. It won’t take long.
Setting aside for a moment some of the clear criticisms – the lack of penalties for missing targets, the lack of any target except the one for 2050, etc., points made forcefully by Green leader Annamie Paul, here I want to walk us through the science.
In its own way this legislation represents a new form of climate denial. It comes down to selective reliance on advice from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The preamble of the bill makes this reference to IPCC:
“Whereas, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that achieving
net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 is key to keeping the rise in the global-mean temperature to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and minimizing climate-change related risks; “
But skips this from the IPCC Special Report on 1.5 degrees:
“In model pathways with no or limited overshoot of 1.5°C, global net anthropogenic CO2 emissions decline by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030… reaching net zero around 2050 …”
Translation: If we want to get to net zero by 2050, we first have to get to roughly half as many emissions in 2030 as in 2010.
More bluntly: You cannot get to the 2050 goal without doubling the 2030 target.
It is the urgency of the October 2018 IPCC special report on 1.5 degrees C that should be driving our actions and this bill. The IPCC report made it clear that the window of holding to 1.5 degrees – the Paris goal- will close – and close forever – unless we succeed in slashing emissions globally by 2030. IPCC: 1.5°C limit needs rapid and far-reaching action, but enables SDG progress – pv magazine International (pv-magazine.com)
The IPCC has been very clear. We must hold to the most ambitious of the Paris goals. The Paris Agreement commits the world community to hold to as far below 2 degrees as possible and attempt to hold to 1.5 degrees. At COP 21 in Paris, the decision was made to mandate the IPCC to dive deeply into the available science and inform governments of how much worse the impacts of a 2 degree warmed world would be as opposed to 1.5 degrees. And to report on whether holding to 1.5 degrees C was even possible anymore.
That report was tabled in October 2018. The news was not good, but it held out the hope that holding to 1.5 degrees is possible – with massive effort. The IPCC made it clear that holding to 1.5 degrees global average temperature increase does not guarantee human civilization can survive. But our odds of survival are far better at 1.5 than 2 degrees. We need to make every effort to hold to 1.5 degrees. A target to 2050 that ignores the herculean effort required this decade is dangerous.
In October 2018, Secretary General of the UN, Antonio Guterres said, “This report by the world’s leading climate scientists is an ear-splitting wake-up call to the world. It confirms that climate change is running faster than we are, and we are running out of time…..”
Sadly, it seems Canada can sleep soundly though the “ear-splitting wake up call.” The stakes could not be higher. We are risking the habitable nature of global climate. We are risking the survival of human civilization. And this is where the betrayal of Bill C-12 becomes unforgivable.
Selecting some science and ignoring the more urgent advice creates a fiction in which we have plenty of time to get around to a deadline three decades from now. Choosing the first target year for action at 2030 is appalling. Imagine “accountability” legislation in 2020 that sets out the first “progress report” in 2028. This is a dream world of unending timelines for further procrastination. An accountability regime with targets every five years is a very good idea. But placing the first target in ten years is a non-starter.
Worse, our current target is incompatible with our Paris commitments. If we are to fulfill our fair share of the global effort, since we are so far behind, Canada should double our target to a 60% cut in GHG emissions by 2030. Adding to our global failure as a reliable climate actor, Canada is violating the decision document attached to the Paris Agreement by failing to put a stronger target in place in 2020.
2020 is the year in which Canada is supposed to replace the current NDC with a more ambitious target. COP26 was supposed to be right now – running November 9-19, 2020. Due to COVID COP26 is postponed.
COP26 was postponed, but Canada’s obligation to enhance our target in 2020 was not.
Our current target (known as a “Nationally Determined Contribution” or NDC) was set by Harper in 2015 – 30% cut in GHG below 2005 levels by 2030. In 2005, we emitted 730 megatonnes. In 2018, the last year for which we data, we emitted 729 megatonnes. That’s right… five years into a fifteen year target and we are virtually at the same level.
We are not making a dent. That’s because while some jurisdictions have done a lot – Ontario shutting down its coal plants, for example – increases in GHG from the oil patch have wiped out that progress. While many Canadians are buying EVs and hybrids, the biggest sellers still are light trucks and SUVs, wiping out any progress in auto emissions over-all.
There is one way out of this mess and only one way that I can see. To meet the requirements of the COP21 Decision Document to which Canada agreed five years ago, Canada must table a new target within 2020. And it must table it before being gummed up in the works of the process set out in C-12.
This legislation will, ironically, make it impossible for the minister to bring forward a new target with any level of urgency. The passage of the act and then the 6-9 months for the planning most likely place this process after the next federal election. Then the Minister (or a new minister – there could well be a new government in place by then) will have to: first, establish an advisory panel, then consult it, consult the public, indigenous governments and the provinces (all things Harper never did before establishing the albatross around our necks which is our current NDC). So once the legislation is passed, there will be statutorily mandated delays to fulfill the obligation to improve our target, a commitment running very much behind its deadline of calendar 2020.
Wilkinson can still save this act if, as is done in C-12 for the year 2050, a target for 2025 is named in the bill. 2025 must be the first milestone year.
Then on passage of the bill, the first task must be to set a plan in place for how to meet the 2025 target. The first progress report would be due in 2023.
I propose a 20% reduction of emissions against 2005 levels by 2025 be set in the legislation. The 2030 target needs massive ramping up as noted above. But this first milestone is doable. Green Party calculations for Mission Possible got us to 32% reductions from 2005 levels by 2025 from a flat 2020 start.
We can save this act and make it meaningful by demanding that a 2025 target of at least 20% (as against 2005 levels) be baked into the legislation. Then we have a starting target for 2025 and a finish line in 2050, with five year accountability milestones in between.
With some solidarity we can do this. Please contact the Prime Minister and Minister Wilkinson and let them know you demand a 2025 target be set in the bill for Second Reading so we have something we can support. And, by the way, tell the environmental groups you support to get strong and loud on this.
Best for a busy Sunday of getting the word out!
PS A great local effort was brought to my attention recently. In the Victoria area check this out!