Climate emergency! Weak climate change act being steamrolled through Parliament

Click here to read the article as originally published by the National Observer.


The so-called climate accountability bill was set at such a low bar that it creates “accountability” in name only.

To get the changes needed to make it meaningful will take a miracle. A new world of pressure in 48 hours on Justin Trudeau, Jonathan Wilkinson and Jagmeet Singh to say, “Send back your half-baked loaf.”

I call on the Liberals and the NDP to deliver a bill that meets the demands of science — and our kids.

Since November, the bill has taken a slow, very slow, climb toward passage. Picture an amusement park ride where the thrill-seekers move on a slow, dull ride to a decent height only to suddenly drop to a dizzyingly fast finish. It takes your breath away. Or maybe it just makes you feel sick.

In parliamentary terms, I am describing the tabling of the bill last November, only to have it disappear from the parliamentary calendar until March, only to leave it to the side again until April, and then, after only 12 and a half hours of debate, the Liberals, with NDP support, claimed it was taking too long. Debate was limited — shut down after five more hours.

The reason I am sharing this now is not just that I am mad as hell, but because there is still time.

On Monday, we will vote on amendments to fix the advisory board to an independent science-based group.

We have not yet voted on my amendments, based on testimony from West Coast Environmental Law, to create some real accountability in requiring the government to meet the targets. We could fix the NDP amendment to ensure that the report on progress to an interim 2026 target be tabled in 2026.

The amendment could be good for public relations for the Liberals and the NDP, a watered-down version of a 2025 milestone year. It reads, “The emissions reduction plan for 2030 must include an interim greenhouse gas emissions objective for 2026.”

The reason I am sharing this now is not just that I am mad as hell, but because there is still time to fix Bill C-12, Green Party MP @ElizabethMay writes for @NatObserver. #ClimateLaw #Parliament #FederalGovernment #ClimateChange
But in the scheme of the other proposed amendments, reporting on that 2026 interim target will not take place until 2028. So, curb your enthusiasm.

There are models around the world Canada should be looking to.

Those who study climate law have observed steady improvement in refining such laws. The first, and in many ways still the gold standard, is the U.K. 2008 Climate Accountability Act. It is a big part of the reason that the U.K.’s climate plans are followed, despite elections moving from a Labour to Conservative government. The U.K. is now at 43 per cent below 1990 GHG emissions levels. It recently pledged to get to 78 per cent below 1990 by 2035. In contrast, Canada’s emissions, last verified just before COVID-19, are 21 per cent above 1990 levels. It is often said that Canada has never hit a climate target set by various governments. The truth is, we have never gotten the direction right — emissions rise despite targets for reductions. In fact, we have by far the worst record in the G7.

There are now climate accountability laws, more or less based on the U.K. model, in France, Denmark, New Zealand, Germany, Netherlands, Costa Rica, Pakistan, and elsewhere. The best bills share common features — starting with a hard target within five years of the bill passing. As climate accountability laws require verification and targets set every five years, the 2008 U.K. law started with a 2013 target. The climate laws that work also base their five-year targets in carbon budgets, set out as how many tons of carbon can be emitted over the five-year period, and the plans, budgets and progress are set. Another common feature is that the progress be monitored and reported on by an independent, science-based committee.

There are modifications within the laws. For example, the most recent law, the 2020 New Zealand act, includes all the U.K. elements, but adds more detailed carbon budgets and includes specific engagement requirements for Indigenous peoples.

One might have expected Canada to grab the New Zealand approach. Or even the U.K. approach.

But in contrast to laws from climate leaders, Bill C-12 has none of these shared common features. The first “milestone year” for accountability is 2030. The advice on targets, plans and monitoring is from a multi-stakeholder committee advising the minister — not independent, not expert. The targets are not structured as carbon budgets.

This was justified, so the Liberals, NDP and many hopeful environmental groups claimed, because of the imperative to get the bill to committee. It was the committee, all hoped, that would “fix the bill.”

But then the Liberals, with NDP support, shut down the review of the bill.

Instead of the weeks of testimony from concerned Canadians — expected for important legislation — only three meetings were held for a total of seven and a half hours.

The Hon. James Shaw, minister of climate for New Zealand, had agreed to testify.

So had the head of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University Law School. I had hoped Seth Klein would be a witness, plus climate scientists who could explain the imperative of holding to no more than 1.5 C warming. I submitted my list of witnesses. None of them were contacted or called.

No Indigenous witness had a chance to testify. No climate scientists (although some good climate policy and social science witnesses), but not the experts in explaining the perils of positive feedback loops. And no young climate activists — our real leaders.

When the hearing shut down last Thursday at 5 p.m., it was announced all amendments had to be submitted within 24 hours. The horrible reality is that hundreds of written briefs from concerned groups and individuals have been sent to the committee — after the study is over and amendments written.

We moved fast to a “clause by clause” review, with a first session of four hours on May 26. I submitted 37 amendments to committee to strengthen the bill. We are about halfway through, but the backroom deal to push through inadequate legislation is now transparent.

There is a deal between the Liberals and the NDP that gives the NDP some very small “wins” and rejects all Green Party amendments.

So far, Green amendments to insert a 2025 milestone year, to insist on targets “based on the best available science” and to embed the 1.5 C goal in the purpose of the act — are all rejected.

It is so crazy that my amendment to ensure that the next target is set not five, but 10, years ahead — identical to the next motion from the Liberals — was voted down, with only the Bloc Québécois voting for it. Then, to the shock of the Liberals and NDP MPs who wanted the amendment to pass, but not as a Green amendment, the chair informed them (which he had warned before the vote) that defeating my amendment meant that the identical Liberal amendment was also defeated.

That caused quite a kerfuffle, until the NDP changed the Liberal amendment to read, “nine years and 366 days.” Then they could pass it.

The NDP is already crowing about gaining an amendment (set to be heard and passed when we resume committee on Monday).

I call on the government of Canada to accept meaningful amendments. There is time to strengthen the climate accountability act to meet the demands of science and of our children.