Federal budget strips accountability and transparency from climate change policy

Blog - April 30, 2012 - By P.J. Partington

Canadians have been hearing an awful lot about accountability and transparency since the Auditor General’s recent report on F-35 fighter jets, and rightly so. We have been reminded yet again of the importance of planning, proper management structures, oversight and a fully informed public in effectively advancing a complex file.

While that might seem like common sense, the federal government is ignoring these lessons when it comes to the country’s climate change commitments. Rolled into the federal government’s budget implementation bill are a curt few lines repealing the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act. In the space of two haikus, they have junked Canada’s best weapon for transparency and accountability on climate policy.

This is a law that requires:

  • The Environment Minister to publish a climate change plan each year detailing the measures being taken to meet Canada’s commitment, including the timing and expected reductions of each. Also required is a forecast for emissions reductions as a whole, a discussion of how implementation fared the previous year and an explanation of how any measures that weren’t implemented as planned will be redressed.
  • The independent National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE) to assess each year’s plan and offer constructive expert feedback. (Unfortunately, the NRTEE was also eliminated in this year’s budget, marking a tremendous loss for informed climate policy advice in Canada.)
  • The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development to report regularly on Canada’s progress in implementing its climate plan and achieving its target.

As its name suggests, the Act sets Canada’s Kyoto targets as the goal — but this could be changed with a simple amendment to reflect the government’s current commitment under the Cancun Agreements. Repealing the Act will instead eliminate all of the above accountability measures.

The annual plans required by the Act are an essential source of public information on the government’s climate policies. For many of the government’s measures, these reports are often the only means of getting information on their effectiveness.

Regular expert input from the NRTEE and Environment Commissioner has also added significantly to our understanding of the progress made and challenges faced by Canadian climate policy in recent years. Environment Canada has shown an admirable commitment in responding to their advice and improving the quality of their reporting and projections each year.

Switching off the headlights?"...[R]ather than amending the Act to apply its essential transparency and accountability requirements to its own targets, the government has simply chosen to eliminate it."

 This Act has significantly bolstered transparency on federal climate policy, and in doing so has enabled the public to be an informed partner in accountability. This is an essential building block of credibility — something Canada will need more than ever in the decade ahead when it comes to doing our fair share to avert the worst impacts of climate change.

Government projections show Canada is on trackto achieve only one quarter of its 2020 emissions target with current policies. The government insists it is committed to getting the rest of the way, but has yet to show how.

There is a clear need for the Act’s requirements to be extended to cover the government’s 2020 targets. The NRTEE has been recommending this for several years, just as the Environment Commissioner has highlighted the perils of trying to meet a target without a clear plan and clear management structures in place. These failings contributed to Canada performing so poorly on our Kyoto target in the first place, and they will hamper our efforts in the future if left unaddressed.

Unfortunately, rather than amending the Act to apply its essential transparency and accountability requirements to its own targets, the government has simply chosen to eliminate it.

The government should be seeking to build credibility by clearly laying out its plan to achieve Canada’s target, not leaving us all guessing by eliminating important sources of public information.

Given the complexity of our climate and energy systems, and the competing interests at stake as the world transitions to a low-carbon economy, tackling climate change is difficult enough. There’s no excuse for turning off the headlights when we need to clearly see the road ahead.

P.J. Partington

P.J. Partington was a senior analyst with the Pembina Institute's federal policy group until 2015.


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