Perspectives on Climate Change Action in Canada—A Collaborative Report from Auditors General

Presentation to the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development

Perspectives on Climate Change Action in Canada—A Collaborative Report from Auditors General

(PDF 1.2 MB)

27 March 2018

Julie Gelfand,
Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development

Madam Chair, thank you for this opportunity to present our collaborative report on climate change action in Canada which was tabled in the House of Commons earlier this morning. Joining me is Kimberley Leach, the Principal responsible for the project.

This report is historic. It is the first time that so many auditors general in Canada have partnered to assess an issue of such national magnitude.

Over the last 18 months, each participating provincial office completed an audit of climate change and reported its findings to its legislature. As you know, I did the same at the federal level, delivering my report to Parliament last fall.

The Auditor General of Canada, in his capacity of auditor to the three territorial governments, also provided a climate change report to the legislative assemblies of the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

I would like to present to you this morning the key points we’ve raised in the collaborative report.

So first, the good news. The findings from the federal, provincial and territorial climate change audits confirm that Canada’s governments are working on climate change. All governments have agreed that climate change is an important issue and have committed to taking significant action. So Canada is out of the starting gate.

The bad news, however, is that the work Canada needs to do is far from done. The audit work on climate change showed that overall

In other words, Canada still has a long way to go.

As I said, most governments are not on track to meet their targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Seven governments had not set an overall reduction target for 2020. Six jurisdictions had: the federal government and British Columbia, Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador. Of those who had targets, two are on track to achieve them: New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

Canada has now set a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. All provinces and territories have stated that they intend to contribute to reaching it. However, only New Brunswick, Ontario, and the Northwest Territories had set a target for 2030. And the federal government did not yet know how it would measure each territory and province’s contribution to reaching this new national target.

The audit work showed that a majority of provinces and territories had developed high-level strategies to reduce emissions. But they lacked detailed timelines, implementation plans, and cost estimates. In addition, many governments did not know if their planned actions would be enough to meet their emission reduction targets, or they already knew that their planned actions will fall short.

For example, British Columbia issued a Climate Leadership Plan in 2016 which outlined the government’s planned actions to reduce emissions; but the plan did not build a clear and measurable pathway to meeting the targets, and was missing a clear schedule or detailed information about implementing the mitigation plan.

And the Northwest Territories greenhouse gas strategy, which expired in 2015, lacked meaningful emissions targets.

The Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change is intended to provide a national plan to meet Canada’s 2030 emission target.

The audit work also looked at what governments had done to help Canadians prepare for the impacts of a changing climate.The first thing governments need to do is figure out what the risks of climate change are. The report shows that only Nova Scotia had undertaken a detailed, government-wide assessment of risks.

The auditors found some very good practices in specific jurisdictions, such as work that was underway to map flood plains or to address permafrost thawing in the north. Some governments had undertaken risk assessments for individual communities, sectors, or government departments.

For example in Nunavut, the government in 2017 did an assessment looking at the risks that climate change posed to sources of drinking water in communities. It also completed an assessment of climate change risks to the territory’s mining sector, including to infrastructure such as access roads, airstrips and tailings or mining waste.

At the federal level, we found that only 5 out of 19 departments that we examined had assessed their climate change risks. As a result of the weaknesses in risk assessments, adaptation strategies often lacked detail. And the federal government, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Northwest Territories had no adaptation strategy or plan at all.

Several audit offices found challenges with coordination between departments. For example, departments that were assigned leadership roles on climate change often did not provide sufficient information, guidance, and training to the rest of the government. That was the case federally, with Environment and Climate Change Canada. In some cases, the lead did not have the authority or sufficient resources to require ministries to take specific action.

On reporting, only seven jurisdictions, including the federal government, were regularly informing the public on the status and results of their actions taken to reduce emissions. Without regular monitoring and reporting on progress, the governments cannot assess if actions are working as intended, and Canadians cannot hold governments to account for their commitments.

The collaborative report also provides questions that legislators and Canadians could consider asking as governments across the country move forward on their climate change commitments.

Questions like: What will governments do to demonstrate that they will be able to reach their greenhouse gas emission reduction targets? How will these actions be funded? Or as governments dedicate resources to adaption actions, how will they ensure that the most pressing risks are being prioritized?

We encourage the members of this Committee to have a look at these questions.

Why does all this matter? First of all, greenhouse gas emissions have yet to go down, and the impacts of a changing climate are already being felt. Canadians are experiencing more severe weather, more flooding events, more intense forest fires and rising sea levels. Meeting the new 2030 target will require significant effort and actions on top of what is currently planned or in place.

The Pan Canadian Framework is a step in the right direction. It brought together key players to chart a possible way forward. What we need now is to see it implemented.

Madam Chair, we remain hopeful that progress can be achieved. We will continue to audit this very important issue.

This concludes my opening remarks. We would be pleased to answer any questions the Committee may have. Thank you.