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Canada is praised for its climate leadership, despite a damning watchdog report on climate policy failures

Canada is praised for its climate leadership, despite a damning watchdog report on climate policy failures

Two men sit at a table with mics and laptops in front of them.

The International Energy Agency (IAE), released its Canada: Update Report in mid-January, it was largely a summary of the Canadian fossil fuels landscape coupled with praise for the federal government’s climate policy commitments and Canada’s climate leadership.

Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Natural Resources, was clearly pleased with the issuance of a statement that the IEA report vindicated the government’s climate progress: “This report, in my mind, is a validation of the work that the federal government has been doing over the past six years.” The statement included a message from Fatih Birol, IEA executive director: “Canada has shown impressive leadership, both at home and abroad, on clean and equitable energy transitions.”

But it was only a few months ago when Jerry DeMarco, Environment and Sustainable Development commissioner, published a scathing report on Canada’s climate record . Canada, he wrote, “has become the worst performer of all G7 nations since the landmark Paris Agreement on climate change 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.”

The commissioner’s report is blunt, and signals that it will hold the government accountable for its climate-related policy failures going forward. It methodically details multiple shortcomings of the federal government’s climate strategy and policy, including its relationships with other levels of government, and what can be done to remedy these shortcomings.

The good news

The IEA report wasn’t entirely favourable. It recommended Canada create a national emission reduction plan that includes clearly defined targets to reduce oil and gas sector emissions. The plan should also include a focus on increasing electricity production, and connecting between provinces.

Yet it danced around Canada’s most controversial climate policy shortcomings. It did not mention the continued investments in fossil fuel supply. Annually, approximately $38 billionor its failure to set an end-date on fossil fuel emissions, despite the fact that it is the IEA’s own net-zero 2050 report specified the need to end investments Coal mines and oil and natural gas supply projects.

According to the The Canada Energy Regulator has released the most recent projectionsOil sands production, currently at three million barrels/day, is expected to increase to 3.9 million barrels/day by 2032, and then drop slightly to 3.4million barrels/day by 2050.

The IEA report implied the planned increase in oil sands production would endanger the future safety of the planet, but it only gently pressed Canada to “further reduce the environmental impact of oilsands development in order to balance ambitious environmental targets with the economic benefits of resource development.”




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There may have been many reasons why Canada was not criticized by the IEA. It was likely to highlight positive actions Canada has taken in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Canada is one of few countries that has taken steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It was passed into law.. Perhaps more cynically than that, the agency was reluctant not to alienate a major funder and producer of energy.

The Alberta government and oil and gas industry didn’t react to the IEA’s report. This suggests that there was no threat to their production plans.

Reality check

In contrast, the commissioner’s report, Lessons Learned from Canada’s Record on Climate ChangeThe author notes that despite multiple commitments to reduce emissions at climate summits, there has been no significant reduction in emissions. Canada’s emissions have increased by more than 20 per cent since 1990. Canada’s emissions continued to Even after the 2015 Paris Agreement, the increase was 3.3% — the same year Justin Trudeau was elected.

According to the report, Canada is one of the top carbon emitters per capita. It is the world’s fourth-largest oil producing country, after the U.S., Russia and Saudi Arabia. According to the report, 53 per cent of Canada’s oil is exported, and Canada’s continued oil production growth will come exclusively from the oil sands.

According to the International Carbon Emissions Database, the global average carbon emissions from oil production was 19 kilograms per barrel. Rystad Energy. But a barrel of oil from Canada’s oilsands generates nearly four times as much — 73 kilograms of carbon.




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The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development’s report includes the following reminders and critiques:

  • Canada and the international community are very different when it comes to climate change.

  • Canada should shift the discussion from whether Canada should significantly reduce its carbon emissions to a discussion about how to do so.

  • A federal investment of $12.6 million in Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion (TMX) is a clear example of policy incoherence relative to climate commitments.

  • Lack of coordination among different levels of government has resulted in inconsistent or ad-hoc climate policy measures like identification, assessment and measurement of climate-related risks, opportunities, and management.

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  • The onshore portion of Natural Resources Canada’s Canada Emissions Reduction Fund, which offered up to $673 million per company, did not, according to the commissioner’s 2021 audit, ensure credible and sustainable reductions in the oil and gas sector’s greenhouse gas emissions or value for money spent.

  • Current securities legislation in Canada requires the disclosure of certain climate-related information such as the impact of climate change on a company or an investment fund’s returns. However, there is not a standard framework that corporations can use to report climate-related financial disclosures.

Two men sit at a table with mics and laptops in front of them.
At an event at COP26 in Glasgow (Scotland), on November 2, 2021, Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister, sits alongside Joe Biden, the President of the United States.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

The way forward

In 2022, according to the report, the environmental commissioner will share its audit work with Parliament and Canadians regarding the government’s promises to ensure it has in place strong actions to meet its climate targets. These include carbon pricing and just transition for workers, communities, hydrogen strategy and greening government operations. There is also a study on climate-related disclosure.




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The commissioner is a rare branch of government that is willing to speak truthfully to power. It is an independent body of the Office of the Auditor General and reports directly to Parliament. It is not subjected a political manipulation.

Although it cannot legally obligate the government to make good on its promises, the commissioner can show the Canadian public — and the world — when government climate policies are just words on paper or unfulfilled promises.

In fact, in response to the commissioner’s report, Wilkinson said To improve transparency and outcomes, he would overhaul the methane program..

Here lies the hope that it will be different this time.

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