On November 19, 2020 the government introduced Bill C-12, titled an Act respecting transparency and accountability in Canada’s efforts to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050.
Why is this now Canada’s legally required goal? It is not required by the Paris Accord of 2015, which set no national goals for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions. The federal government has previously set several GHG emission reduction goals without needing any new laws. Why legislate now?
The government will argue that C-12 adds an important element of transparency and accountability to the federal reporting requirements. But there is nothing to prevent the government from being more transparent and accountable without enacting this law. And, despite the “accountability and transparency” there is no requirement to disclose how costly it will be to reach the next milestone, who will bear the cost, or how the cost will be financed.
The Bill sets Canada’s national GHG emissions target for net-zero by 2050. It also requires the Minister to set national GHG emissions targets for each of several “milestone years”. The Minister must establish a plan for achieving the 2050 target and for each milestone year before then. If the target for a milestone year is not met, the Minister must explain what will be done to get back on track to meet the target.
An increasing number of cases are being brought before the courts in which environmental advocacy organizations argue that challenges to government climate policy are “justiciable”, and therefore, should be decided by judges. (“Justiciable” means capable of being determined by a court.) The lawsuits have sought to compel governments to carry out the advocated climate policies.
The environmental non-governmental advocacy organizations that developed the criteria for Bill C-12 probably wanted to enable themselves to sue the government for failure to do more to achieve the legislated target. Political defendants in lawsuits are not always unhappy to be sued; they may even be delighted. Bill C-12 is a potential source of such lawsuits, enabling the government to justify its target as moderate compared to the claims in the lawsuits.
The central purpose of C-12 is to bake the net-zero 2050 goal into the public consciousness and into the Canadian political agenda. Lawsuits won’t do the baking, just raise the temperature.
About the Author
ROBERT LYMAN is an economist with 27 years’ experience as an analyst, policy advisor and manager in the Canadian federal government, primarily in the areas of energy, transportation, and environmental policy. He was also a diplomat for 10 years. Subsequently he has worked as a private consultant conducting policy research and analysis on energy and transportation issues as a principal for Entrans Policy Research Group. He is a frequent contributor of articles and reports for Friends of Science, a Calgary-based independent organization concerned about climate change-related issues. He resides in Ottawa, Canada. Full bio.