Environment Commissioner warns of inaction

With extreme weather events increasing in frequency and ferocity, the costs associated with climate change are mounting. This spring’s flooding in Eastern Canada and fires that seemed to burn all summer in the West have roots in climate change, but the Hurricanes that ravaged, Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and large parts of the Caribbean are bigger reminders that our climate is changing and it’s becoming expensive to deal with effects.  Perhaps that’s why it was disappointing to hear from the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development that the government has failed to take necessary action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or deal with the impacts of climate change.

In her report this week, federal Environment Commissioner, Julie Gelfand stated that the government has not made progress toward meeting Canada’s commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In addition to that she explained that only five of 19 government departments and agencies had fully assessed the risks posed by climate change and acted to address them.  She found that since 1992, greenhouse gas emissions have actually increased by 15%.

Two years ago, the first order of business for the newly elected Liberal government was to sign the Paris Climate Agreement. Lost in the fanfare was the fact that nothing had really changed and Canada was re-committing to the emissions targets set by Stephen Harper.  This week, the Auditor said that instead of working toward our 2020 targets, the government has shifted its focus to a new, more difficult target set for 2030.  This pushes our emission reduction targets further into the future along with the cost associated with action.

New Democrats say the report only confirms what they have been saying for a long time, that greenhouse gas reduction targets are not aligned with the targets we are committed to, and worse, they will not be achieved.  They are worried that there is still nothing concrete from the government to eliminate inefficient fossil fuel subsidies and that the scatter-gun approach to climate change is simply not working.

It isn’t just targets that are being missed. Canada is still struggling with ways to quantify any action we are taking.  In her report, the Commissioner stated that Environment Canada has failed to develop mechanisms to measure, monitor and publicly report on emissions.  She also found that fourteen of nineteen audited departments and agencies, including (and incredibly) Environment Canada and Climate Change, failed to assess climate change risks or deliver a plan of action.  The Commissioner explained that the government is nowhere near ready for the massive storms and more frequent floods and fires that are expected to result from climate change.  That means more extreme weather events will catch us by surprise and expose our lack of preparation. 

Climate change has been on the political radar for 25 years going back to the United Nations Earth Summit in 1992, yet so little has been done to address the cause or the symptoms.  This is despite the fact that costs associated to extreme weather mount year after year.   Unfortunately, the real legacy of climate change is the bill we are leaving for future generations.  I can’t imagine that too many Canadians are happy about that inevitability.