2022 Reports 1 to 5 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

2022 Reports 1 to 5 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 morning and thank you for joining me. I am 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.

Today, I provided Parliament with 5 reports on programs that relate to the federal government’s efforts to address the climate crisis. Last fall, I provided Parliament with an overview of Canada’s climate record and indicated that audits of specific programs like the ones featured today would follow. As the programs are ongoing, my reports provide a type of mid‑term report card that should help improve outcomes, because the climate change clock never stops ticking. By auditing these important programs at an early stage, our intent is to provide Parliament with useful information that can be used before the clock runs out. We cannot afford a fourth decade of failure on climate action.

First, let’s turn to carbon pricing, which is led by Environment and Climate Change Canada. As is recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada and many international organizations, effective carbon pollution pricing drives changes in consumer and producer behaviour that in turn reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon pricing is therefore essential if Canada is to finally succeed in significantly reducing its greenhouse gas emissions.

We found that the department had ensured that carbon pricing systems were in place in all provinces and territories.

In 2021, the department worked to address weaknesses in its initial approach that had allowed some less effective provincial carbon pricing systems to be accepted. However, the department did not fully address some shortcomings that could hinder the overall effort to meet Canada’s emission-reduction targets.

For example, we found that the federal requirements for large emitters continue to undermine the ‘polluter pays’ principle by approving weaker systems for large emitters in some parts of the country. In addition, Indigenous communities and some groups in society remain disproportionately affected by carbon pricing systems.

Canada’s carbon pricing approach needs further improvement to support the achievement of Canada’s national emission-reduction targets, including transparent reporting so that Canadians can better understand the effectiveness and impacts of carbon pricing systems.

Canada is committed to moving away from fossil fuel dependence towards a low‑carbon economy that reaches net-zero emissions by 2050. It is also committed to what is called a ‘just transition’ for the workers and communities affected by this economic shift. This is the subject of the second audit released today.

The burning of coal to produce electricity has been a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Phasing out coal is an early part of the government’s plan to transition to a low‑carbon economy. The government identified Natural Resources Canada as the lead department to deliver just transition legislation in 2019.

When it comes to supporting a just transition to a low-carbon economy, the government has been unprepared and slow off the mark. The department took little action until 2021, and it did not have an implementation plan to address this significant economic shift, which affects a variety of workers, communities, regions and stakeholders. We found that as Canada shifts its focus to low‑carbon alternatives, the government is not prepared to provide appropriate support to more than 50 communities and 170,000 workers in the fossil fuels sector. Without a proper just transition plan in place, there are risks that are comparable to what occurred with the collapse of the northern cod fishery in Atlantic Canada in the 1990s.

In the absence of a coordinated federal approach to support a just transition to a low‑carbon economy, federal organizations relied on existing mechanisms, such as social assistance programs. These fell short of achieving a just transition for coal workers and the communities where they live.

As the coal phase-out is the first of several transitions to a low-carbon economy facing Canadian workers, communities, and governments, there is an opportunity for the federal government to learn from this initial experience to improve future policies and programs. The future will involve changes at a much larger scale than the coal phase‑out, so it is essential for Canada to make up for lost time and ramp up its approach to a just transition.

Hydrogen is the subject of the third report released today. As Canada’s energy mix shifts away from fossil fuels, attention has turned to hydrogen as a possible cleaner substitute. The failure to appropriately project hydrogen’s impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions could jeopardize Canada’s ability to meet its emission-reduction targets.

Two departments—Environment and Climate Change Canada and Natural Resources Canada—both endorse the idea of this clean energy source but took different approaches to project the role hydrogen should play to reach emission-reduction targets.

Environment and Climate Change Canada estimates hydrogen could produce the equivalent of a 15 megatonne reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, while Natural Resources Canada estimates up to 45 megatonnes of reductions by the same date.

In its transformative scenario, Natural Resources Canada assumed the adoption of aggressive and sometimes nonexistent policies, along with an ambitious uptake of new technology. In our view, the assumptions in the federal hydrogen strategy are overly optimistic and compromise the credibility of the expected emission reductions.

This is concerning because Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions have increased significantly since the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was signed in 1992, making it the worst performer of all Group of 7G7 nations since that time. As I noted in the fall, Canada has consistently failed to meet its climate targets despite numerous plans and commitments. Going forward Canada needs realistic goals, credible plans and, most importantly, effective actions. If hydrogen is to be part of Canada’s plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, then Environment and Climate Change Canada and Natural Resources Canada will need to coordinate their approaches and more effectively model and communicate a pathway for hydrogen.

Our fourth report is a snapshot of the Greening Government Strategy launched by the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat in 2017. Federal government operations are a significant contributor to Canada’s total emissions of greenhouse gases.

We found that the Secretariat had taken initial steps to support departments’ efforts to reduce the federal government’s environmental footprint. However, 5 years into the strategy, efforts to reduce emissions are not as complete as they could be. This is important given Canada’s publicly stated commitment to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 and to be a national and global leader in transitioning to carbon-neutral government operations.

At the time of our audit, 8 of 27 departments had created reduction plans covering 81% of departmental emissions. We looked at National Defence—the largest emitter in government—and found that there was no clear information about how the department’s efforts were contributing to the overall reduction target.

The audit found that some important information on greening government was hard to find, unclear or incomplete. There was also a lack of detail on costs and savings.  In addition, the emissions of Crown Corporations were not part of the strategy.

Overall, this lack of information makes it difficult for decision-makers, Parliament, and Canadians to track whether the government will meet its 2050 target and whether Canada is actually being the global leader in greening government that it has set out to be. More work is needed to ensure that the Greening Government Strategy delivers the desired results and that complete plans and methods are put in place to track and report on emission reductions.

In our last audit, we looked at whether selected federal funding programs contributed to more resilient, less carbon-intensive, and inclusive infrastructure investments.

We found that Infrastructure Canada had designed and implemented a way to assess whether funded projects could better withstand the effects of climate change, such as increasing floods and wildfires, and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In the initial roll-out of the department’s Climate Lens assessment tool in 2018, those managing infrastructure projects were required to provide detailed estimates of their projects’ expected emission-reductions.

However, we found that these requirements were weakened when the Climate Lens tool was changed in 2021. This reduced the department’s ability to track and report on the funding programs’ contributions to the government’s climate-related objectives. The information deteriorated to the point that Infrastructure Canada was unable to accurately account for the expected climate mitigation and resilience benefits of the projects it funded.

We also found that Infrastructure Canada did not integrate Canada’s commitments to meeting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals into the design of its programs. The department did incorporate gender-based analysis plus in the design of its programs and collected related information from project proponents, but it did not consistently measure and report on outcomes. Without complete and reliable information on the expected benefits and outcomes of funded projects, the government will not be able to tell whether its investments contributed to less carbon-intensive and more resilient infrastructure, or to its commitments to enhance diversity and inclusion.

As I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks, the climate change clock never stops ticking. We are moving ever closer to some critical deadlines that the government has set for itself. I trust the findings and recommendations that I have brought forward today will help the government improve its performance in these areas of critical importance. Because climate change is an intergenerational crisis with a rapidly closing window for action, it is essential for Canada to translate its commitments and plans into real action and results. Our future depends on it.

Thank you, I am ready now for your questions.