Canada still isn’t on track to meet its greenhouse gas reduction targets or phase out fossil fuel subsidies, federal Environment Commissioner Julie Gelfand warned last week, in the last report she will issue before her five-year term expires.
“For decades, successive federal governments have failed to reach their targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and the government is not ready to adapt to a changing climate,” Gelfand said in a statement, the same day Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) officially released a report that showed the country warming at twice the global average.
“A lot is at stake in terms of getting this right,” she told the Globe and Mail. “Canada has to get ready to adapt to the changes.”
The outgoing commissioner also scorched the Trudeau government for failing to live up to its promise to phase out “inefficient” fossil subsidies, a decade after G20 countries promised to do so at a meeting in Pittsburgh.
Gelfand “said there is a direct link between the [phaseout] commitments and efforts to combat climate change, but found neither Finance Canada nor Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) adequately define what constitutes an ‘inefficient’ subsidy,” the Globe reports. “Her office found Finance Canada focused almost exclusively on fiscal and economic considerations and didn’t weigh social and environmental factors, for example. Meanwhile, ECCC looked at only 23 out of more than 200 federal organizations when it compiled an inventory of potential subsidies for the fossil fuel industry.”
Last week, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said Ottawa would take steps to properly define a fossil subsidy, nearly 18 months after then-auditor general Michael Ferguson warned that the lack of clarity was putting the push for a phaseout in jeopardy. Last week, Gelfand echoed his concern.
“The government has so far cancelled eight of nine tax preferences that support fossil fuel exploration or production and last week launched consultations to inform the phaseout of subsidies outside the tax system,” the Globe states. “The department says it identified four of 36 subsidies that benefit fossil fuels but found that none of them were inefficient. They included electricity supports for off-grid Indigenous communities, charging stations for electric vehicles, as well as funding for clean technologies in the oil and gas industry.”
Gelfand added that fossil subsidies was the only issue on which a federal department has ever formally challenged her findings, National Observer reports.
“It is the first time that a department has disagreed with one of my recommendations. Was I surprised? A little bit; it hadn’t happened before,” she told media last week. “It is their right to disagree, and really it’s up to parliamentarians and Canadians to ask the departments why they disagreed, and what are they going to do about that.”
Gelfand’s audit also cited the C$4.5-billion taxpayer bailout/buyout of the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline as one of a series of federal investments, including some “that were designed to increase production of fossil fuels and manage waste from oil sands production”, that ECCC should have included in its list of subsidies, Observer notes.