Mr. Speaker, there are times when we are called on to do big, hard, important things. I believe tackling the climate crisis is one of those things, and I know many in this place agree.
It is such an important thing that I feel both compelled to speak and afraid that my words will not measure up to the hopes of my daughters’ generation, rather, that they will be added to the decades-long soundtrack of political platitudes, which, taken all together, have added up to so little. I first became concerned about climate change as a teenager; now I have teenagers of my own, and yet so little progress has been made.
Today we are debating Bill C-12, Canada’s much-awaited climate accountability legislation. I would like to focus my remarks on a gaping hole it contains, which is the lack of any climate targets until 2030, at the very end of the decade that we know will be the most critical in turning things around. In some ways, the once slow-moving train wreck of climate change would seem the perfect candidate for incrementalism. If we had acted in a measured and determined fashion decades ago, making modest but significant reductions each and every year, we would be in a very different place right now, but of course we did not.
In 2004, Rick Mercer merrily called on Canadians to commit to the one-tonne challenge. Canada’s emissions back then were 742 million tonnes. Fifteen years later, in the inventory just released for 2019, they were 730 million tonnes, only 1.6% lower. Along the way, we made all sorts of commitments, in 2000, 2002, 2005, 2007, 2010, and we fulfilled none of them.
It is startling that the Minister of Environment was quoted as saying recently that it was “really good news” that Canada’s emissions went up by one megatonne. I am all for positive vibes and sunny ways, but on what planet is it “really good news” when things the government said it would make go down go up instead?
The government has adopted Stephen Harper’s 2030 target of reducing emissions by 30% compared to 2005 levels, and has promised to raise this ambition in line with the Paris accord. This is well and good, because we know we need to do more than 30% if we are going to do our part in avoiding the worst ravages of climate change.
However, a lot of Canadians would appreciate a government that gives them the unvarnished truth, that we have been losing badly. We have blown through every single climate target we have set as a country and, like a kid who puts off studying until the night before the exam, the timeline has collapsed on us. We are very nearly out of time altogether. We can no longer claim with a straight face that modest incrementalism is going to get us to where we need to be within the time still left on the clock.
As the IPCC has stated, this decade matters most. In each and every year leading up to 2030, we need to make progress that is not just measurable, but indeed quite dramatic.
Given this dire situation, this climate emergency, I cannot understand why the government is so resistant to the idea of telling the public about where it plans for Canada to be, where we need to be, in 2025. Why would it resist such basic transparency?
The minister stated in the media that he is confident Canada is on track to achieve year-over-year emissions reductions from here onward. Yet every year since the government came to power, emissions have gone up, and every year the minister has claimed we are on track. It begs the question what the phrase “on track” even means.
The analogy that comes to mind is that of training for a marathon. There are certain milestones one needs to reach along the way. If the race is in two weeks and people are not yet running 10 kilometres comfortably, they are certainly not going to be ready for 42 kilometres. Canada’s government has paid the entry fee and jogged to the start line of many climate races, but we do not train and we do not finish. We just commit to running new races and jog up to the start line, again and again, high-fiving our friends and smiling for the cameras. Worse yet, these past six years we have taken to bragging that we are going to run with the best of them, but our actions, our results, have yet to add up to any of our ambitions.
This is a race we cannot lose. We need a different approach, and that is exactly what the NDP, the Bloc and the Green Party are calling for, an approach that is transparent, honest, collaborative: what my late friend Bruce Hill once called a “show, don’t tell” approach.
Of course, a near-term milestone puts our policy choices into stark focus. There is much less room for contradictions, trade-offs or half measures, and no time for clichés about the environment and the economy going hand in hand. It means the decision-makers around the table today are likely to be the same people held accountable in just four years’ time.
In addition to targets, we also need to strengthen Bill C-12's enforcement mechanisms to ensure real accountability. The bill tasks the Environment Commissioner with assessing progress, but we know that office does not even have adequate resources for its current mandate. The arm’s-length advisory committee needs to be given an active role in setting targets and reviewing progress. We are ready to work constructively with the government to improve this bill and give real teeth to independent, empowered bodies that can enforce the government’s targets. It is the kind of approach that worked for the U.K.
The U.K. climate change act is seen as the gold standard of climate accountability. Central to the U.K. approach are five-year carbon budgets. These are legally binding with regular reporting to Parliament. The first five-year carbon budget covering the period of 2008 to 2012 was not enacted until 2009, yet the country met that milestone with room to spare. It exceeded its second carbon budget too, and today is well on its way to meeting its third. The U.K.’s arm's-length advisory body, the committee on climate change, helps set targets and publicly reports on whether those targets are being met. Since 1990, the U.K.'s emissions have fallen 44%. The Brits are not just finishing the race: They are on the podium. It feels funny describing all this because, of course, the government is perfectly familiar with the U.K. example, yet it has tabled a bill that falls far short.
It is not that there are not aspects of Bill C-12 that we support. For the first time, the government is codifying the basic principle of accountability on the climate. Targets will be enshrined into law, and the government acknowledges that we must limit the global temperature increase to 1.5°C. Although the language could be much stronger, it is positive to see reference to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. However, this bill’s basic purpose is to ensure we hit our 2030 and 2050 targets. In that regard, the lack of a near-term milestone and stronger enforcement mechanisms are glaring flaws.
Canadians elected not just a minority parliament, but a minority in which over 60% of MPs elected belong to parties that prioritize climate action. The promise of a minority is that we will work together in the spirit of collaboration to strengthen legislation and serve our country in the best way possible. With the NDP, Bloc and Greens all calling for the same basic amendments to Bill C-12, this is the Liberals’ opportunity to show they can lead alongside others.
Who knows? With the Leader of the Opposition’s recent revelation that carbon pricing is a thing, even in a weird way that rewards people who burn more fossil fuels, we may yet see the Conservatives graduate from climate curious to climate sincere. First he will have to convince his party that climate change is real, but hope springs eternal. Imagine a House united against this common threat, as it has been only a few times in our history. If there is a challenge worthy of such unity, the climate crisis is that challenge. Let us show Canadians we are equal to it.
In closing, I was reminded recently that my predecessor, the inimitable Jim Fulton, stood in the House 30 years ago and called delay on climate action “a crime no future generation would forgive.” He was right, and we have delayed far too long. Let us improve this bill, hold our government to account and maybe we can get things pointed in the right direction at long last.