Canada Makes It Law to Cut Emissions by 40-45% for 2030, but Does It Matter?

News Analysis

The federal government has officially committed Canada to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 40–45 percent below 2005 levels by 2030; however, there is no consequential penalty for failing to achieve the target. Furthermore, the incremental means to reach this goal may rely solely on stricter carbon tax schemes across the country.

Canada has a long history of missing emission targets. Its latest goal was made law under the new Bill C-12, the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act. On July 12, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson formally made Canada’s 2021 Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) submission to the United Nations.

Under the Paris Agreement, countries have to submit national greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets every five years, with each successive one being more ambitious than its predecessor.

In the 2021 federal budget, the government projected Canada’s emissions would go from its target of 31 percent below the 2005 level of 730 megatonnes (Mt) to 36 percent below, or from 503 Mt to 468 Mt. The NDC commits to bringing emissions down 40–45 percent (between 438 and 401 Mt).

Environment and Climate Change Canada did not respond to The Epoch Times’ question on what specific policy measures are expected to further cut emissions down to the 40-45 percent target or if more stringent carbon pricing across the country is the intended solution.

Largely Symbolic

Analysts and observers have said that these emissions reduction targets are largely symbolic, highly challenging to achieve, and not enforceable. Some also say that the road to net zero by 2050 comes with too many unintended costs that will damage the economy and even some parts of the environment.  

University of Calgary law professor David Wright said there is no real penalty for missing the target under the law, in his preliminary review of Bill C-12.

The law says the environment minister must set national GHG emissions targets for 2050 as well as milestone years 2035, 2040, and 2045, and if a target is not reached, the minister must write an assessment report explaining why Canada failed to meet the target, including what the government will do about it, along with any other pertinent information.

Furthermore, Wright said, “The government of today cannot bind the government of tomorrow when it comes to climate change plans and targets, even if they are legislated. This is a basic feature of Canada’s democratic system as inherited from the United Kingdom.”

Much Depends on Carbon Pricing

The feds estimate that carbon pricing will contribute more than a third of the total emissions reductions between now and 2030, but that about three-quarters of those reductions hinge on all pricing systems in Canada aligning with more rigorous benchmark criteria. 

The feds have allowed the provinces and territories to implement their own carbon-pricing schemes as long as they meet minimum national stringency standards. For provinces that opposed the federal carbon tax or don’t have their own plan that’s approved by Ottawa, like Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, the feds have imposed the national scheme, while others, like B.C., Ontario, and Quebec, have their own carbon-pricing or cap-and-trade systems.

As part of the July 12 announcement, the government included additional information describing how it intends to harmonize and tighten carbon pricing across the country. 

It said the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices found that there are “significant variations in the stringency and effectiveness across Canada” for carbon-pricing systems.

“Beyond simply the rate at which the price will rise, it is also important that these ‘benchmark’ design criteria are updated to ensure all systems across Canada will be comparable in terms of stringency and effectiveness,” the government added.

Some of the changes to the current benchmark include the requirement to cover the same proportion of emissions as the federal backstop if a province or territory has its own system, to not give instant rebates that are tied to the amount of carbon tax paid, and to ensure that carbon offset credits meet the best practices identified by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment.

Saskatchewan has already butted heads with Ottawa over carbon pricing in efforts to replace the national scheme with its own. The issue of contention is that the feds don’t want the province to provide upfront rebates or reduce fuel taxes to offset the carbon levy.

“Targets do not mean much without a realistic plan to achieve them,” Paul Hamnett, press secretary to Alberta’s Minister of Environment and Parks Jason Nixon, told The Epoch Times in an email. He pointed to Alberta’s actions including its framework for cutting methane emissions by 45 percent by 2025.

The final benchmark is to be published in the coming weeks, and all provinces and territories will have the opportunity to propose carbon-pricing systems for the 2023–30 period that meet the updated criteria.

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