Lessons Learned from Canada’s Record on Climate Change

Opening Statement before the Standing Committee on Public Accounts

Lessons Learned from Canada’s Record on Climate Change

(Report 5—2021 Reports of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development)

8 February 2022

Jerry V. DeMarco
Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development

Thank you, Mr. Chair. We are happy to appear before your committee this morning. I would like to acknowledge that this hearing is taking place on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabeg People. With me today are Kim Leach, and Elsa Da Costa, the principal and director who were responsible for the report.

As you know, the Office of the Auditor General of Canada conducts performance and financial audits of the federal and territorial governments. We provide elected officials with objective, fact‑based information and expert advice. We also undertake special examinations of Crown corporations, and we conduct additional work, such as a yearly commentary on our financial audit work and the climate report that I will be discussing today.

The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, who is appointed by the Auditor General, reports to Parliament at least once a year on environmental and sustainable development issues, including the specific matters set out in legislation, such as the new Canadian Net‑Zero Emissions Accountability Act.

Our most recent reports, which were tabled in Parliament in November 2021, included a report on lessons learned from Canada’s record on climate change. By choosing this topic to discuss today, the committee is sending a critical message about the urgency of addressing climate change. In preparing our report on lessons learned, we looked back at our audit work on Canada’s action over the last 3 decades. We also asked climate experts and former senior government officials what we can learn from the past in order to help translate today’s good intentions into real results.

After more than 30 years, the trend in Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, which create harmful climate impacts, is going the wrong way. Despite repeated government commitments to decrease emissions, they have increased substantially, unlike the other Group of 7G7 countries. During that time, Canadians have felt the devastating effects of climate change, such as droughts, floods, melting permafrost, heat waves, wildfires, and storms.

Our report sets out 8 lessons learned from Canada’s action and inaction on the enduring climate crisis.

Leadership is the first lesson. Stronger leadership and coordination are needed to drive progress on climate change. Other lessons include reducing dependence on high‑emission industries, learning to adapt to climate change impacts, investing in a climate‑resilient future, increasing public awareness, acting on and not just speaking about climate targets, involving all climate solution actors, and protecting the interests of future generations.

The new net‑zero legislation seeks to bring more rigour to Canada’s approach to greenhouse gas emission reductions. Just as this committee holds government to account on financial matters and program implementation, you can also consider holding government to account on its climate plans. Ensuring that government starts translating its plans and targets into effective action would be in keeping with lesson 6 of our report. Climate change is not just an environmental issue; its social and economic implications are just as significant.

The enduring crisis of climate change looms larger than ever. Like pandemics, climate change is a global crisis, one that experts have been raising the alarm about for decades. Pandemics and climate change both carry risks to human health and the economy, and both require whole‑of‑society responses to protect present and future generations.

To help frame discussions on climate change such as this one, our report provides critical questions that legislators and others can consider to prompt action against commitments. We’ve provided these in an appendix to this statement for your reference.

In closing, there is a need for the federal government to achieve real outcomes—not just words on paper or unfulfilled promises. All too often, Canada’s environmental and sustainable development commitments are not met with the actions needed to protect air, land, water, and wildlife, now and for future generations. And this is a trend we urgently need to reverse.

Mr. Chair, this concludes my opening remarks. We are happy to answer any questions the committee may have.

Appendix—Lessons Learned from Canada’s Record on Climate Change—Considerations for Parliamentarians

Lesson 1: Stronger leadership and coordination are needed to drive progress toward climate commitments

Considerations for parliamentarians

Lesson 2: Canada’s economy is still dependent on emission‑intensive sectors

Considerations for parliamentarians

Lesson 3: Adaptation must be prioritized to protect against the worst effects of climate change

Considerations for parliamentarians

Lesson 4: Canada risks falling behind other countries on investing in a climate‑resilient future

Considerations for parliamentarians

Lesson 5: Increasing public awareness of the climate challenge is a key lever for progress

Considerations for parliamentarians

Lesson 6: Climate targets have not been backed by strong plans or actions

Considerations for parliamentarians

Lesson 7: Enhanced collaboration among all actors is needed to find climate solutions

Considerations for parliamentarians

Lesson 8: Climate change is an intergenerational crisis with a rapidly closing window for action

Considerations for parliamentarians