After years of missed targets, Liberals table their climate plan this week

The Liberals will this week table their most detailed plan to date for achieving Canada's climate goals — after years of governments missing their marks.

The goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 to 45 per cent within ten years

A person walks past a climate change-themed mural in Toronto on April 22, 2021. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

The Liberals will this week table their most detailed plan to date for achieving Canada's climate goals — after years of governments missing their marks.

"Canada has never reached any of its own climate targets," said Caroline Brouillette, national policy manager at Climate Action Network Canada, a coalition of more than 130 groups.

"This plan is an opportunity to correct this."

In June 2021, the Liberals passed Canada's Net Zero Emission Accountability Act (CNZEAA). It states, among other things, that the Canadian government must set regular incremental targets on the road to net-zero by 2050.

The government has agreed already to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 to 45 per cent by 2030. It has committed to setting further incremental targets in 2035, 2040 and 2045.

The new act has built in a framework of checkpoints and assessments that include independent oversight. But the basic government reporting measures include tabling emissions reduction plans and regular progress reports.

Canada has had nine climate plans since 1990 and has failed to hit any of the targets in them. Federal Environment and Sustainable Development Commissioner Jerry V. DeMarco said Canada has been the worst performer among G7 nations on climate targets since the landmark Paris Agreement was adopted in 2015.

"We can't continue to go from failure to failure. We need action and results, not just more targets and plans," DeMarco said.

The government hopes this week's plan changes that trajectory of failure.

A climate plan is a lot like a household budget, said lawyer Julia Croome of Ecojustice, an environmental law charity — if you don't pay attention to the details, you won't achieve your goals.

"You need a plan. You need to break it all out — what are my expenses, what do I need to achieve. And without that, you are obviously not going to stay within your budget," Croome said.

Climate Action Network Canada said this week's emissions plan should set deadlines and show how much Canada's climate commitments will cost, how progress will be measured, how data gaps will be closed and which ministers are responsible.

What do opposition parties want?

The Conservatives say they worry the plan could hurt the Canadian economy.

"We've got really tough issues with inflation, gas prices, other things. The last thing we need is for the net-zero plan to result in a job-zero plan," said MP Kyle Seeback, the Conservative environment and climate change critic.

Seeback said Conservatives fear the government will exclude nuclear power and liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Canada's low-emissions plan, citing the Liberals' decision to keep nuclear and LNG out of its Green bond purchasing program. He said the party also doesn't want to see the price on carbon rise to the equivalent of 11 cents on a litre of unleaded gasoline.

The Green Party of Canada said consultations on the plan, which began in December and ended in January, were rushed.

"It is always unreasonable for the government to put forward any consultation and act as though Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year's are not a factor in making it harder for citizens to respond," said MP Elizabeth May, the Greens' parliamentary leader.

Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said he was "surprised, if not shocked" to hear the Greens wanted more consultation.

"I would have thought that of all the organizations out there, the Green Party would be one of the first ones to say, 'Let's get on with implementation,'" he said.

Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault speaks to media at COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, on Monday, Nov. 1, 2021. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The NDP, meanwhile, says it wants a transition plan to help workers in Canada's energy sector get ready for an economy that relies less on fossil fuels.

"[We need to] take into account how we are protecting workers and ensuring that we support communities most impacted and include Indigenous people in the creation of the plans and the implementation," said MP Laurel Collins, the NDP's environment and climate change critic.

MP Charlie Angus, the NDP's natural resources critic, called for an immediate cap on oil and gas emissions to 2019 levels.

"We need to say to the world we are serious," said.

Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said the oil and gas emissions cap the government is working on won't be announced until after Ottawa finishes consultations. He said this week's emissions plan will still address the sector that accounts for most of Canada's emissions.

"The emissions reduction plan that minister Guilbeault will be bringing forward, and certainly he and I have been working actively and collaboratively together on it, will have projections for each sector, including the oil and gas sector," Wilkinson said.


David Thurton

Senior reporter, Parliamentary Correspondent

David Thurton is a senior reporter in CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. He covers daily politics in the nation’s capital and specializes in environment and energy policy. Born in Canada but raised in Trinidad and Tobago, he’s moved around more times than he can count. He’s worked for CBC in several provinces and territories, including Alberta and the Northwest Territories.

With files from Kyle Bakx and Tony Seskus.


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