The federal environment minister has named a group of outside experts who will advise him on the best way Canada can get its carbon pollution to net zero by 2050.
Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson announced 14 members of a new Net-Zero Advisory Body on Thursday, fulfilling a Liberal Party pledge to appoint a group of independent “scientists, economists, and experts” to guide Canada towards achieving its emissions reductions targets.
The group's members represent a range of expertise. They include Assembly of First Nations Yukon Regional Chief Kluane Adamek, climate scientist and University of British Columbia professor Simon Donner, and Kim Thomassin, executive vice-president of Canada’s second-largest pension fund, Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec.
Each is expected to be in their position for at least a year and up to three years, with the potential for renewal. They will be able to draw upon the resources of Environment and Climate Change Canada and other government departments to conduct emissions modelling or other analysis, and can be briefed by public servants on federal programs.
“I’m really eager to be a part of a bunch of folks who are going to be really thinking about how Canada transitions to clean, renewable energy, while building the climate-safe economy we need,” said Climate Action Network Canada (CAN-Rac) executive director Catherine Abreu, a member of the advisory body, in an interview.
“As a Maritimer who grew up in Toronto, I have first-hand experience with what happens when governments and communities fail to plan for the future. I don’t want other communities in Canada to have to experience what my family experienced, and leave their homes to find work because a natural resource industry could no longer provide what it was once providing.”
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The advisory body is one of the new accountability measures contained in the federal government's legislation, Bill C-12, the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act. The bill would require Wilkinson to set carbon pollution targets starting in 2030 and draw up plans for hitting those targets. It was introduced in November and is currently at second reading in the House of Commons.
Canada’s current carbon pollution target, known as the nationally determined contribution (NDC), is 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, and was originally set in 2015. The White House said Tuesday that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was aiming to announce an "enhanced 2030 emissions target" for its NDC by the U.S.-hosted Leaders’ Climate Summit on April 22.
Abreu is also on the advisory council of the independent, publicly funded Canadian Institute for Climate Choices, which recently published a report reviewing over 60 scenarios where Canada reaches net zero by 2050.
Part of its initial mandate will be to “provide advice on actions Canada can take now to ensure a strong economic recovery,” while also “laying the foundation” for net-zero.
The institute's report weighs in on the government's legislation, saying it includes "many core elements of a strong accountability framework" but that it "could go further...to increase accountability, provide greater certainty, and engage other orders of government in meeting national climate targets."
Amara Possian, Canada campaigns director with advocacy group 350.org, said Thursday that the legislation “still needs a lot of work" including more ambitious targets that start earlier in 2025, and climb to negative emissions by 2050, and stronger language around the role of Indigenous Peoples and support for oil and gas workers to transition away from the industry.
Members must disclose potential conflicts of interest
The advisory body will report to the minister, and may present its recommendations to Trudeau and his cabinet if requested. Members are also expected to produce an annual public report and to seek input from Indigenous governments, organizations and other groups.
Members are expected to provide advice on “the most likely pathways for Canada” to achieve net-zero emissions in 2050, and on the emissions reductions “milestones” leading up to that date.
Part of their “initial mandate," according to the terms of reference, will also be to “provide advice on actions Canada can take now to ensure a strong economic recovery,” while also “laying the foundation” for net-zero.
Abreu said she was confident she would be able to maintain her independence as an expert on Canadian climate policy, and that CAN-Rac would as well and could continue the work that it does.
Members must disclose potential conflicts of interest and “embrace full transparency” by declaring interests related to items under discussion, and recuse themselves when there is “a real or perceived conflict.”
Possian said the government should be going a step further and ensuring that participation in the group meant that members are in favour of aggressive climate action. "It isn’t enough for conflicts of interest to be disclosed. The terms of reference should disqualify climate deniers and delayers from this group outright,” she said.
Co-chairing the body will be Dan Wicklum, who previously launched the oil and gas industry group Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA), and who now heads up the non-profit Transition Accelerator, as well as Marie-Pierre Ippersiel, who leads PRIMA Quebec and is a former executive at Écotech Québec.
The other members are Nunatsiavut Government impact and benefit agreement coordinator Theresa Baikie, Pembina Institute executive director Linda Coady, Propulsion Québec CEO Sarah Houde, ARC Energy Research Institute Deputy Director Peter Tertzakian, Conseil Économique du Nouveau-Brunswick CEO Gaëtan Thomas, Former Saskpower president John Wright, MaRS Discovery District CEO Yung Wu and Canadian Labour Congress president Hassan Yussuff.
350.org had also campaigned for fossil fuel executives to be banned from the group. Possian said it was good news that the list of advisers didn’t include officials from large Canadian oil and gas firms, but “it’s only a start.”
Carl Meyer / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer