Wilkinson not keen on planning for climate target in 2025

·5 min read

Canada’s environment minister says he is reluctant to ask the public service to come up with a plan to achieve an emissions target in 2025, setting up a possible clash with opposition members over the government's climate bill.

Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said he would rather his department work on implementing the initiatives contained in the federal government’s new climate plan that are designed to achieve their objectives by 2030.

Bill C-12, the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act, would require the federal government to come up with national climate targets for the year 2030 and every five years thereafter, ultimately reaching net-zero carbon pollution by 2050.

Prominent climate scientist Corinne Le Quéré, who chairs France’s High Council on Climate and is a member of the U.K.’s Climate Change Committee, as well as Canadian environmental lawyers and opposition members of Parliament have all called on the government to plan for a 2025 target instead of waiting for 2030, saying climate action can’t be delayed.

NDP environment and climate change critic Laurel Collins, an environment committee member, said she would like to see a 2025 target, arguing that waiting until 2030 was “extremely problematic.” The Green Party has also released a plan that calls for “clear enforceable targets and timelines starting in 2025.”

In comments to media following the Powering Past Coal Alliance Global Summit, Wilkinson said he was not ruling out adding 2025 as a target year, and that he was open to “a range of different amendments” to Bill C-12.

But he said he felt the “underlying point of the 2025 request” was a “desire for more accountability” rather than a hard target. Along those lines, he said, he was open to setting new requirements, for example mandating progress reports. And he portrayed Canada’s push to cut emissions as centred around 2030, suggesting this was in line with global efforts.

“What I would say to you is, the whole focus of the Paris Agreement was around 2030. Almost every country around the world has a 2030 target. The focus very much is on the kinds of infrastructure changes that are going to drive the kinds of reductions that we need to see by 2030, like building out electric vehicle infrastructure, like phasing out coal, all of which are around a 2030 timeline,” said Wilkinson.

“And as you know, we just went through a large number of months of enormous work to put together a climate plan that is really focused on 2030 as the ultimate target. I’m not particularly interested in redirecting my civil servants in my department to go around and try to build a plan to 2025 after spending all of that time. I’d rather them work on implementing the initiatives that are going to allow us to make the changes.”

The government’s $15-billion climate plan unveiled in December 2020, called A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy, envisions the federal carbon pricing system reaching $170 per tonne in 2030.

The Liberals claim the plan, which also involves energy retrofits, zero-emission vehicles, carbon capture and natural spaces, will exceed Canada’s Paris Agreement target of 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is aiming to announce a new "enhanced" 2030 target for Canada next month when the United States hosts the Leaders’ Climate Summit on April 22.

In an interview, Collins said she was open to working with the government and the other parties to “create some structure” to foster accountability on emissions before the 2030 target. This could be in the form of “assessment reporting and transparent accounting,” she said.

Asking the federal public service to come up with a plan to reach a climate target in 2025, however, was not an overly burdensome task, she argued.

“The idea that this is somehow going to be a ton more work for the government doesn’t actually hold water. There are lots of ways that they could build in real accountability between now and 2030, and make sure that we have robust assessments of our progress,” said Collins.

“I do not understand why, if we are setting a 2030 target, why we could not be transparent about where we expect to be in 2025 — it wouldn’t require more work. Let the public and the House of Commons know the roadmap of how we’re going to get there.”

Other criticism of the bill has focused on whether the minister’s 14-member Net-Zero Advisory Body, which will provide advice on reaching net-zero emissions in 2050, will be sufficiently independent to be able to challenge the government on the effectiveness of its climate action.

The body will draw “logistical, administrative, and policy support” from Environment and Climate Change Canada, according to its terms of reference, and Wilkinson will also be able to check in with members on their work and “refer lines of inquiry” to them. Le Quéré said it was critical that the body have its own budget, and capacity to do its own analysis.

Wilkinson said the advisory body can rely on the independent, publicly funded Canadian Institute for Climate Choices to carry out research for them in addition to pulling from federal government resources.

“The intent is that it will have dedicated resources that are drawn out of the department, but effectively it will have its own secretariat that will support it, and largely it alone,” he said.

“Absolutely, the intent is that they will be working independently. The whole point of this is for them to be able to actually provide advice, and thoughtful independent advice, to myself, but also to future ministers of environment and climate change.”

Carl Meyer / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer

Carl Meyer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, National Observer