The government of Canada will bind itself to a process intended to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. That doesn’t mean Canada must reach the 2050 objective. It means only that, between now and then, governments must take certain specific steps that may lead them there.
The commitment and process are found in Bill C-12, the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act, introduced in the House of Commons on November 19, 2020.
Bill C-12 sets net-zero emissions in 2050 as the national target for Canada. To achieve that target, it requires the Minister of the Environment to set targets for 2030, 2035, 2040 and 2045, defined as “milestone years,” each with a view to getting national emissions to net-zero by 2050. Each target must be set at least five years ahead of time and must be accompanied by a greenhouse gas emissions reduction plan to reach it. The minister must also deliver a progress report on each target at least two years ahead of each milestone year.
A new advisory body will be established to provide independent advice to the government on the best pathway to reach its targets, and at least once every five years, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development must weigh in with an independent assessment of the government’s actions.
“I think the Act is pretty good,” Sam Fankhauser, director of the London School of Economics’ Grantham Research Institute, says in an e-mail to EcoLog News. It includes a statutory long-term target, statutory short-term milestones, an independent advisor, and clear reporting obligations and deadlines — all hallmarks of modern climate legislation in countries like the United Kingdom, Sweden and New Zealand, says Fankhauser.
Leading jurisdictions have also addressed adaptation in their national climate law, something not in Bill C-12, which Fankhauser describes as a clear omission.
Bill C-12 will not impose a penalty, other than a political one, on a government that fails to meet its target. The minister will be required to explain why the target was not reached and describe the measures the government will take to address the failure.
Bill C-12 is also merely ordinary legislation of Parliament, which means that any government, including the current one, may amend it or repeal it at any time. However, given the strength of public opinion on the need for action on climate change — recent polls have found between two-thirds and three-quarters of Canadians supporting more government action — a government might pay a heavy price for doing so.