Commissioner Julie Gelfand, of the Environment and Sustainable Development Commission, holds a news conference in Ottawa, Tuesday, October 3, 2017. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

Canada, provinces lack clear plan to adapt to climate change, auditors say

Canada has committed to cutting emissions by at least 30 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030

Neither the federal government nor the provinces have adequately assessed the risks a changing climate poses to the country and have no real idea what might be needed to adapt to it, concludes a scathing new audit released Tuesday.

The joint audit, conducted by federal environment commissioner Julie Gelfand and auditors general in nine provinces, took a detailed dive into climate change planning and emissions reduction progress between November 2016 and March 2018.

It says while many governments have high-level goals to cut emissions, few have detailed plans to actually reach those goals, such as timelines, funding or expected results from specific actions.

Assessments to adapt to the risks posed by climate change have been haphazard, inconsistent and lacking in detail, with no timeline for action and no funding, the report notes.

It also calls Canada’s emissions goals a hodgepodge of different targets, with no consistency in how emissions are measured or whether cuts will target overall greenhouse gas outputs or just those from specific economic sectors. Only two provinces and Ottawa have actually laid out their specific 2030 emissions targets, and none are on track to meet them, Gelfand said.

The auditors say that means there is no clarity on how Canada and the provinces and territories are going to measure, monitor and report on their contributions to meeting Canada’s international commitment to cut emissions by at least 30 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030.

As of 2015, the most recent year for which full statistics are available, Canada was nearly 200 million tonnes short of that goal, the equivalent of the emissions produced by about 44 million cars each year — twice the number of vehicles registered in Canada.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said it is the first time auditors have completed such a review of Canada’s climate change policies, an important acknowledgment of the importance of making climate change a priority. But the audit, as Gelfand herself notes, looks backwards and does not actually take into account the government’s own Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, McKenna said.

That plan was released in December 2016, after the audit’s scope was already established. It too falls short of reaching the 2030 goals, and while it’s is one of the best Canada has had on climate change to date, Canada has been down this road before without success, Gelfand warned.

“We’ve had several plans in the past and yet our emissions keep rising, we do not hit targets and we’re not ready to adapt to a changing climate,” she said. ”We are ever hopeful — but it is, at this point, a plan, and we need to see details.”

Gelfand said she doesn’t want Canadians to think the country is doing nothing on climate change; rather, the fact is that governments need to be more concrete in what they are doing and make a more co-ordinated effort to measure what is being done.

Canada has had at least four international emissions targets in the past, and as many as eight plans to meet them, but has yet to do so once, said Gelfand, who plans to audit the pan-Canadian framework in the next couple of years. That audit will start no earlier than 2019, and will take about 12 to 18 months to complete, she said.

McKenna said the framework addresses many of the concerns in Gelfand’s audit, including outlining how certain policies will achieve specific emissions cuts.

“The previous government did nothing for a decade, but we’re 100 per cent committed to our target,” McKenna said. “Hard things are hard, we have a plan and we’re already seeing measurable results.”

Conservative environment critic Ed Fast seized on Gelfand’s report as proof the government doesn’t have a grip on climate change, nor evidence to back up its carbon-pricing efforts.

The Liberals should abandon that plan and leave it to the provinces to decide on their own how best to cut emissions, said Fast, while Ottawa can focus on funding research into how Canada’s geography or agricultural practices can be used to reduce emissions.

If the world doesn’t meet its emissions targets to keep the planet from getting too warm, everyone will pay the price, said Catherine Abreu, executive director of the Climate Action Network.

“We just don’t get to live in a way we’re used to if that happens,” she said. “We are already seeing devastating harm from climate change.”

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

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