By Virginia Capmourteres
GIER Director Madhur Anand spoke before the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development in May to share her thoughts regarding Bill C-12, the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act. Bill C-12 has now passed and received Royal Assent.
The goal of Bill C-12 is to promote transparency and accountability as Canada moves toward zero emissions in 2050. While the Bill itself does not specify how Canada will reach zero net emissions, it puts the wheels in motion by requiring, among others:
- An emissions reduction plan, as well as progress reports and assessment reports with respect to each target;
- The establishment of an advisory body to the Minister of the Environment to set targets and measures;
- Reports from the Minister of Finance on key measures that the federal public administration can take to manage financial risks and opportunities related to climate change; and,
- Reports on the implementation of measures, produced by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, at least once every 5 years.
After being invited to appear before the Committee, Dr. Anand solicited feedback from GIER Affiliates to ensure a broader and transdisciplinary representation of ideas in her speech. We invite you to hear the words of Dr. Anand below.
Thank you to all the members of the committee for this opportunity and a special hello to MP Lloyd Longfield.
My name is Madhur Anand. I’m a full professor in the School of Environmental Sciences at The University of Guelph. My own research has examined impacts of climate change on ecosystems in Canada and worldwide, and how human behaviour and social dynamics can determine the success of climate change mitigation. Our research, published just yesterday, shows that a growing number of national-level climate agreements can tip the balance towards achieving global targets.
I am also Director of the Guelph Institute for Environmental Research where researchers across all 7 of our colleges — engineers, ecologists, mathematicians, artists, and economists– are all working on the interdisciplinary challenge of climate mitigation. No one group or sector will be able to solve it on its own.
Canada has not met its obligation to reduce emissions according to international climate agreements, and this may very well be because we lacked legislation such as Bill C-12. Research on over a hundred countries worldwide shows that passing a new climate law is correlated to reduced emissions. So, there is hope here. This Act is essential.
The remainder of my comments have to do with Section 10 of the Bill: contents of the emissions reduction plan. This is because we simply cannot afford to reach Section 16 of the Bill (failure to achieve targets). We know that time is short to head off a cascade of climate tipping points; the nation isn’t going to get a second chance to do this right.
Regarding targets, Section 10(a) proposes using “the best scientific information available.'” Emissions targets will be very hard to detect without sustained scientific work in measurement, monitoring, and modelling. The unaggregated data collected by various sectors needs to be accessible to both scientists and the public. Regarding scenario planning for meeting targets, assumptions about human behaviour and societal and uptake of technological change must be made very explicit and realistic. Our research shows that social learning, incentivizing behaviour change, and evolving social norms–can influence the projected peak global temperature by as much as 1 degree Celsius. Emission targets need to account for both social-cultural processes and political speed bumps. These could also include consequences of missing targets, effects which will be cumulative and even harder to mitigate.
Regarding Section 10(b) –description of key emissions reduction measures, Canada needs to see the writing on the wall. A fossil-fuel-free global economy is inevitable. The sooner Canada acts, the easier it will be to participate in the economy of the future instead of languishing in the past. We have evidence for over a dozen measures that have been effective in other countries at reducing emissions for the energy sector and much of the technology already exists. Here I want to focus on other measures that are usually overlooked. The measures need to incorporate land use changes, including the sectors of agriculture and forestry. Measures need to include not just new emissions but also carbon sinks– in other words, the way we manage cover crops, grasslands, peatlands, forests, and avoid land degradation can help us achieve our targets. But, alas, no new political or scientific measure can succeed if it does not have social approval.
This brings me to my comments for Section 10 c) and d) on strategies. Rapid societal change is possible. We have seen in this pandemic how willing the public and private sectors are to work together for a common goal and adopt new behaviours, if they understand the risks and benefits. The strategies should therefore demonstrate the economic, social, and environmental benefits of emission reductions, so people and sectors can see its net benefits for Canada. In developing its strategies, the government must consult not only with natural scientists and economists, but also social scientists and those working across the arts, both within and outside of academia, and with Indigenous groups, all of who are able to help us change the language, change the culture, change the narrative, around climate change mitigation.
Banner photo credit: Chelsey Faucher on Unsplash.