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Liberals, NDP Close In on Changes to Climate Accountability Bill

Canada’s environment minister has put forward changes in response to NDP concerns about a bill that would make the federal government more accountable as it strives to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. 

The proposed legislation was introduced last fall, but has been stalled at second-reading stage in the House of Commons, where the minority Liberal government needs the support of at least one major opposition party to get bills passed, The Canadian Press reports.

Bill C-12 would require that starting in 2030, Ottawa set rolling, five-year targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions, ending in 2050 when carbon emissions are supposed to be either eliminated or captured in the ground. The Conservatives have moved to quash the bill, citing the potential influence of “climate activists” on a panel set up to advise the government.

Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson recently wrote to two New Democrat MPs, saying he’s prepared to amend the legislation to address some of their party’s concerns once it passes second reading and gets to a House of Commons committee.

“Gratitude: We asked parties to work together & use all parliamentary tools at their disposal to move #BillC12 through 2nd reading into committee so it could be improved,” tweeted Climate Action Network-Canada (CAN-Rac) Executive Director Catherine Abreu. “Awesome to see @NDP & @liberal_party team up to #strengthenC12 and get it to the next phase.”

The NDP has been asking the Liberals to set a 2025 milestone target to deal with what it says is a lack of accountability on reducing emissions over the next decade. “2030 is around the corner and this is the most important decade,” NDP MP Taylor Bachrach said Tuesday.

In his letter, Wilkinson said he supports improved accountability. He also supports including in the bill Canada’s newly-announced goal of slashing greenhouse gas pollution between 40 to 45% below 2005 levels over the next nine years. The previous goal had been 30% under the Paris Agreement, but the Liberals maintain they can get to 36% under existing measures.

Wilkinson said the government’s proposal for better short-term accountability includes added progress reports in 2023 and 2025, on top of one set for 2027. “Let me clear, though: I support enhanced interim accountability to ensure we meet our 2030 target—not another target-setting exercise for a date that would be only 2½ years after Bill C-12 would potentially come into force,” reads the letter.

“The additional requirements could include estimates of projected greenhouse gas emissions over time as well as projected reductions resulting from measures taken,” Wilkinson wrote. “This will ensure Canadians have a clear and publicly available picture of Canada’s overall trajectory toward meeting our enhanced 2030 target.”

But Bachrach said there’s an important difference between a progress report and setting a halfway target to reaching that goal.

“One describes where we are and the other one describes where we need to be,” he said. “Without defining the actual track and without setting out milestones or checkpoints along the way it’s very hard to claim that we’re on track.”

CAN-Rac Policy Analyst Caroline Brouillette said the climate policy analysts following C-12 are looking to all parties in the House of Commons to get the bill into committee as quickly as possible and make sure the final version includes “accountability checkpoints” during the course of this decade.

“What really matters here is short-term ambition, a clear and measurable accountability checkpoint in the period prior to the 2030 target, and a way to measure that progress,” she told The Energy Mix yesterday. So interim reporting “that includes some modelling of where emissions reductions should be would respond to that need.”

The revised bill would also enshrine the new 2030 target in legislation, Brouillette said, and CP writes that the Liberal government is suggesting amendments around the new Net-Zero Advisory Body and sector-specific emissions goals.

The main body of this report was first published by The Canadian Press April 27, 2021