2021 Reports 3 to 7 of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development to the Parliament of Canada—Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development’s Opening Statement to the news conference
2021 Reports 3 to 7 of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development to the Parliament of CanadaCommissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development’s Opening Statement to the news conference
Good afternoon and thank you for joining me. I’m Jerry DeMarco, Canada’s Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development. I would like to acknowledge that we are on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishnaabeg People. First I’ll give you a brief overview of the 5 reports that will be going forward to Parliament this afternoon and then I’ll be happy to take your questions.
I’m going to turn now to our first report, which provides the findings of our audit of the Emissions Reduction Fund for the oil and gas sector. This Fund was part of the measures that the Government of Canada rolled out in response to the COVID‑19 pandemic.
As the name points out, Natural Resources Canada’s Emissions Reduction Fund was intended to reduce harmful emissions while maintaining employment and encouraging investments in oil and gas companies. It is important that programs aimed at oil and gas companies be efficient and effective at delivering emission reductions. Otherwise, they risk undermining Canada’s efforts to fight climate change.
We found that the program was poorly designed because it did not link funding to net emissions reductions from conventional onshore oil and gas operations.For example, in two thirds of the 40 projects funded by the Emissions Reduction Fund, companies stated in their applications that the funding would allow them to increase their production levels. When production increases, so do the related emissions.
To help Canada achieve its national targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Natural Resources Canada should systematically ensure that any policy, program or measure it develops with the aim of reducing emissions is based on reliable estimates of expected reductions. This would mitigate the risk of undermining Canada’s efforts to achieve its 2030 and 2050 targets for reduced emissions levels.
Moving on now to our next audit, we examined whether Environment and Climate Change Canada and Agriculture and Agri‑food Canada were working together, using a risk-based approach, to reduce algal blooms caused by excess nutrient pollution in three Canadian water basins, namely Lake Erie, Lake Winnipeg and Wolastoq—Saint John River.
Excess nutrients and algal blooms have been concerns in all three of these water basins, and may worsen as a result of agricultural pressures and climate change. Canada has a stated goal of increasing agricultural production, which could increase nutrient runoff. Excess nutrients can lead to runaway growth of algae, which can in turn produce toxins that are harmful to humans, livestock, pets, and wildlife.
We found that Environment and Climate Change Canada and Agriculture and Agri‑food Canada were moving in the right direction, but could have an even greater impact on freshwater quality outcomes if they further coordinated their science efforts and shared information with other organizations involved in water resource management.
Environment and Climate Change Canada and Agriculture and Agri‑Food Canada have important roles to play in balancing economic and environmental interests. Coordination between the departments is vital to addressing water quality issues.
For the next report, as we do each year, we assessed selected departments’ progress in implementing their sustainable development strategies, focusing on transparency and accountability in reporting. Specifically, we examined 12 federal departments and agencies and reviewed their reported departmental actions under the heading of three goals in the federal sustainable development strategy, namely healthy coasts and oceans, pristine lakes and rivers, and sustainable food.
Overall, reporting on actions to achieve the federal goals was poor. For the majority of these actions, federal departments and agencies did not follow guidance on reporting and important information was missing. Consequently, they did not report results for almost half their actions.
The reporting that departments and agencies provide on their actions to achieve the goals set out in the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy should demonstrate transparency and accountability. Gaps in reporting makes it difficult for Parliamentarians and Canadians to understand progress being made against Canada’s sustainable development commitments.
This release also includes the annual report of environmental petitions. The Office of the Auditor General of Canada, of which I am part, acts as a bridge between the Canadians and government organizations on concerns relating to the environment and sustainable development. Over the past year, we received 14 petitions raising concerns in a number of areas, including biodiversity, climate change and toxic substances.
This year’s report also highlights recent actions taken by the government on issues raised in two previous petitions—one on aquaculture on the West coast and one on a proposed recreational trail in Alberta’s Jasper National Park.
I’m going to turn now to my last report, which is not an audit but rather a summary of lessons learned from Canada’s climate change efforts since 1990.
After more than 30 years, the trend in Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions that create harmful climate impacts is going up. Despite repeated government commitments to decrease emissions in Canada, they have increased by more than 20% since 1990.
Canada was once a leader in the fight against climate change. However, after a series of missed opportunities, it has become the worst performer of all Group of 7G7 nations since the landmark Paris Agreement on climate change was adopted in 2015. There has been some recent momentum in the form of legislation and stronger plans, so I’m still optimistic that Canada’s performance can be turned around. But we can’t continue to go from failure to failure; we need action and results, not just more targets and plans.
At the heart of this report are 8 lessons learned from Canada’s action and inaction on climate change.
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 COVID‑19 pandemic has shown that in a crisis, strong, concerted government action has a positive impact. The enduring crisis of climate change looms larger than ever. Like pandemics, climate change is a global crisis, one which 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.
In closing, there is a need for the federal government to achieve real outcomes on environmental protection and sustainable development—not just words on paper or unfulfilled promises. All too often, Canada’s environmental commitments are not met with the actions needed to protect air, land, water and wildlife, now and for future generations. And that is a trend we urgently need to reverse.
This message is so important that I want to say it again in French: Canada was once a leader in the fight against climate change. However, after a series of missed opportunities, it has become the worst performer of all G7 nations since the landmark Paris Agreement on climate change was adopted in 2015.We can’t continue to go from failure to failure; we need action and results, not just more targets and plans. All too often, Canada’s environmental commitments are not met with the actions needed to protect air, land, water and wildlife, now and for future generations. And that is a trend we urgently need to reverse.
Thank you, I am ready now for your questions.