Despite mounting criticism that it has fallen behind on climate change commitments, the federal government is touting "good progress" on efforts to implement the country's first nationwide strategy for tackling the crisis.
On Saturday, Environment and Climate Change Canada released its first annual report on the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, a roadmap for reducing Canada's climate impact through carbon pricing, clean technology and innovation, climate adaption and other regulatory measures for reducing emissions.
The framework was adopted in December last year by all provinces and territories except Saskatchewan and Manitoba, whose premiers opposed its obligatory carbon tax plan.
Since then however, the report says all governments that did sign on are "on track for (the framework's) first year milestones." That includes drafting new regulations to cut climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions, an increase in federal funding for provincial and Indigenous climate action initiatives, and the establishment of new programs that will help protect vulnerable communities from the impacts of a warming and less predictable climate.
The report comes just days after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau released a statement on Canada's climate change and clean growth partnership with China that appeared to contradict the federal government's commitment to reducing pollution. The two countries proposed an expansion of energy trade, including liquefied natural gas. They also recommended a shift to "cleaner energy" sources such as natural gas and renewables, while suggesting that the former is not a fossil fuel.
While renewable energy generally doesn't result in carbon emissions, the consumption of natural gas produces pollution that traps heat in the atmosphere and warms the planet.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration says that natural gas, crude oil and coal are all considered fossil fuels since they were "formed from the buried remains of plants and animals that lived millions of years ago." In an interview, Pembina Institute analyst Bora Plumptre agreed that natural gas "is definitely a fossil fuel," and not as "clean a fuel as either government should be thinking about using in transitioning to a cleaner energy grid."
Environment Canada confirmed receiving National Observer's request for an interview on Monday about its new report, but it didn't immediately provide any further comments.
Slammed for inaction by audit
The new federal report is also the first major assessment of Canada's progress after the federal environmental watchdog slammed the government for failing on climate adaptation and readiness, and abandoning a 2020 greenhouse gas emissions target set by the previous Harper government.
After a sweeping audit of 19 federal departments, Environment and Sustainable Development Commissioner Julie Gelfand found that Environment Canada had not provided other partners and agencies with the tools, resources or “leadership” required to assess or adapt to climate change risks. The department had also failed to "clearly indicate" how it will measure, monitor and report on provincial and territorial contributions to meeting a new 2030 emissions target, she said in her October report.
"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,” said Gelfand in October. "The federal government needs to start doing the hard work to turn this latest broad framework into tangible and measurable actions.”
Department says results will come
In its own report, published on Dec. 9, Environment Canada acknowledged the lack of tangible results in emissions reduction. The department, it said, along with provincial, territorial and Indigenous governments, must still implement nationwide carbon pricing in 2018, and develop and finalize a variety of regulations and programs, like collaboration on electricity grid interconnections, building codes, and a zero-emissions vehicle strategy.
"While good progress has been made to date, much work remains," said the report. "As there is a time lag between the implementation of new policies and initiatives and the subsequent changes in behaviour, it is not possible to assess the impact on GHG emissions in the short term.
"In future years, as funding begins to flow and policies and regulations come into force, the focus of subsequent reports will shift toward concrete results and outcomes to track progress."
The federal government is poised to introduce legislation early in 2018 that will force a carbon pricing mechanism on all provincial and territorial governments that have not yet implemented their own. One of the objectives of annual reporting on the pan-Canadian framework, said Environment Canada, is to "facilitate an assessment of policy outcomes and recommend further action in order to increase ambition over time."
That last line, said Pembina's Plumptre, is very important because it "signals the government’s understanding that this process of transparency and reporting is about getting us to a place that is actually in line with what we've committed to." He congratulated the federal government for its voluntary update, and on nationwide progress on carbon pricing and phasing out coal-fired power.
Plumptre expressed concerns however, with some of the implementation timelines for policies pertaining to cleaning up industry — particularly transportation and oil and gas.
"On heavy industry, the government committed to a target of 45 per cent reductions in methane (emissions) by 2025, and it still says it's going to meet that target, but they have delayed the timelines for those regulations by a couple of years," he told National Observer.
"While the in-year reductions in 2025 are going to be the same as what they originally announced, it still leaves a whole whack of emissions on the table. That's one area of concern, specific to the methane case, but there are other instances..."
Moving forward, he added, countries are going to be looking for leaders, and may expect Canada to set its "sights a little higher than we have hitherto." He also set the record straight on Canada's joint climate
Samples of success this year :
- Ontario launched the Green Ontario Fund, which supports the deployment of market-ready technology solutions that cut down greenhouse gas emissions from buildings or the production of goods.
- Alberta extended its carbon pricing system by introducing a carbon levy at a rate of $20 per tonne, increasing to $30 per tonne in 2018, to complement its intensity-based pricing system.
- Quebec announced an action plan for its 2030 Energy Policy and commitmed to increasing renewable energy generation capacity by 25 per cent.
- Saskatchewan launched a solar electricity generation procurement project that will help it achieve a 2030 target of 50 per cent of total generation capacity from renewable energy sources.
- British Columbia created a new 2017 Energy Step Code that helps communities gradually progress to net-zero energy ready buildings that have substantial emissions reduction opportunities.
- Manitoba delivered on a promise to provide funding support of $400,000 for the creation of the Prairie Climate Centre, which develops climate data to inform decision-making and address climate impacts.
- Newfoundland and Labrador released a Vehicle Efficiency and Cost Calculator to inform consumers about the costs and benefits of purchasing a fuel-efficient, hybrid or electric vehicle.
- Prince Edward Island secured funding to conduct a risk assessment of coastal infrastructure assets, develop provincial flood risk maps, and make the data publicly accessible to all of its residents.
- Nova Scotia produced and published regional climate data and local flood risk maps that can be used by planners, researchers and the public across the province.
- The Maliseet Nation Conservation Council worked with three Maliseet communities in New Brunswick to build resilience to climate change using community knowledge from traditional ecological surveys and interviews with Elders.
- The Yukon, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as northern Indigenous organizations, collaborated to develop the Northern Adaptation Strategy, which will be finalized with help from the federal government in 2018. It will identify climate adaptation measures, foster innovation that will develop resilient communities, and contribute to renewed Arctic leadership.