Citizen Action Monitor

Canada’s Commissioner of Environment flunks feds on climate change performance

Federal government clear on desire, big on promises, short on action.

No 2073 Posted by fw, October 12, 2017

“The federal government has been clear in its desire for action on climate change. Since 1992, the government has repeatedly promised to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, adapt to the impacts of climate change, and support clean energy technology. However, since then, Canada has missed two separate emission reduction targets and is likely to miss the 2020 target as well; in fact, emissions have increased by over 15 percent. The government does not have a solid strategy for eliminating inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, and it is nowhere near being ready to adapt to the impacts of climate change.”Julie Gelfand, Commissioner of Environment and Sustainable Development

In her reports tabled today [October 3, 2017] in Parliament, Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Julie Gelfand, presented the results of four audits completed since last spring, along with her Commissioner’s Perspective and the annual report on environmental petitions.

In addition, the following short video, with transcript, was included with the release of the reports.

Below is a repost of the Commissioner’s Perspective, along with my added subheadings and minor text reformatting. Alternatively, to read Gelfand’s perspective on the government’s website, click on the following linked title.

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The Commissioner’s Perspective on the 2017 Fall Reports of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Officer of the Auditor General, October 3, 2017

Federal government clear on desire, big on promises, short on action  

The federal government has been —

  • clear in its desire for action on climate change.
  • Since 1992, the government has repeatedly promised to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, adapt to the impacts of climate change, and support clean energy technology.
  • However, since then, Canada has missed two separate emission reduction targets
  • and is likely to miss the 2020 target as well;
  • in fact, emissions have increased by over 15 percent.
  • The government does not have a solid strategy for eliminating inefficient fossil fuel subsidies,
  • and it is nowhere near being ready to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Time for feds to do the hard work to turn Pan-Canadian framework into measurable actions

Canada’s latest climate change strategy, the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, was released in December 2016 and was endorsed by the federal government and most provinces and territories. This national framework includes

  • a commitment to put a price on carbon,
  • measures for reducing emissions in a number of sectors,
  • planned actions for adapting to the impacts of climate change, and
  • an emphasis on the transparent monitoring and reporting of results.

Previous plans have failed to produce concrete results. It’s time for change. The federal government needs to start doing the hard work to turn this latest broad framework into tangible and measurable actions.

Feds have failed to do hard work on reducing carbon gases and adapting to climate change impacts

The findings presented in our fall 2017 reports show that in two important areas—reducing greenhouse gases and adapting to the impacts of climate change—the federal government has yet to do much of the hard work that is required to bring about this fundamental shift.

Feds emission reduction action plan changed focus from 2020 target to 2030 target

For example, instead of developing a detailed action plan to reach the 2020 target for reducing emissions, the government changed its focus to the 2030 target. In addition, the government did not pursue a number of greenhouse gas regulations, thereby losing opportunities to achieve real reductions in emissions. The recent Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change calls for policies aimed at reducing emissions in a number of sectors. It is crucial that the government turn its plan into actions.

Feds not ready to adapt to the impacts of climate change

The government is also not ready to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

  • Environment and Climate Change Canada developed a Federal Adaptation Policy Framework in 2011, but it did not follow up with an action plan to implement it.
  • It also failed to provide departments and other government organizations with adequate guidance and tools to identify their climate change risks.
  • As a result, only 5 of 19 departments and agencies we looked at had fully assessed their climate change risks and taken action to address them.
  • The others had taken little or no action to address risks that could hinder their ability to deliver programs and services to Canadians.
  • This means that the government does not have a complete picture of the risks it faces from climate change.
  • If Canada is to adapt to a changing climate, much stronger leadership is needed.

Feds failed to deliver on commitment to phase out fossil fuel subsidies

In one of the 2017 Spring Reports of the Auditor General of Canada to the Parliament of Canada, we again noted a disconcerting lack of real results when we looked at what the government had been doing to meet Canada’s 2009 international commitment to phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies. We found that the Department of Finance Canada and Environment and Climate Change Canada—the two departments tasked with delivering on this commitment—had yet to determine which subsidies would require phasing out, according to the commitment. It is unclear how Canada will meet this international commitment by 2025 without a clear roadmap to get there.

Slim list of achievements

We found that Environment and Climate Change Canada actively collaborated with provinces, territories, and other federal departments to develop the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. This collaboration is important because effective action on climate change in Canada will require a concerted effort across all levels of government.

The federal government has also recognized its role in promoting clean energy technologies and developed mechanisms to support clean energy demonstration projects. In our audit of clean energy funds, we found that they were working well overall. In my view, the government’s announcement in Budget 2016 of an increased investment in clean technologies is a positive step.

Recognizing the unique role they play in promoting accountability in almost all areas of government activity, most of Canada’s provincial auditors general partnered together and with the Office of the Auditor General of Canada in a nationwide climate change audit initiative. Each participating audit office agreed to contribute audit work that assessed its government’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gases and adapt to the impacts of climate change. Audit work for the territories was carried out by the Office of the Auditor General of Canada in its role as independent auditor to Canada’s northern legislatures. This collaborative work will be used to produce a summary report. By working together, participating auditors general across Canadian jurisdictions intend to deliver an assessment of climate action in Canada, identifying common issues and opportunities to improve collaboration.

Parliamentarians urged to hold government to account on climate change commitments

Parliamentarians are in a position to help the government take that critical next step that will move it from a seemingly endless planning mode into an action mode. That shift needs to happen, and it needs to happen now, because Canada is already experiencing the impacts of a changing climate. I urge parliamentarians to use the work delivered in these fall 2017 reports to hold the government to account on its climate change commitments and ensure that the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change bears concrete results for Canadians.

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