The Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act, which was introduced in the House of Commons by Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson on Thursday, sets out ambitious measures to reach key climate targets within the next three decades.
If passed, the bill would require the government to answer to Parliament every five years — 2030, 2035, 2040, and 2050 — and to report on progress made on a rolling basis. Each of these targets reflects Canada’s international commitments on carbon neutrality, and achieving them would mean that any carbon emissions produced in 2050 would be completely offset by environmental actions such as planting trees — up to 2 billion, according to the government.
If future governments fail to meet the targets outlined in the plan, they will be required to justify what hindered their achievement and detail how to reverse the trend, although no legally binding sanctions are to be enforced as the proposal currently stands.
The bill also provides for the implementation of an independent net-zero advisory body, which will share “expert advice” with the government on ways to achieve climate goals. It will do so by engaging with Indigenous governments, organizations, civil society groups, provinces, territories, municipalities, and more.
An added annual reporting process will help solidify accountability and transparency among all current and future stakeholders, the government said.
In a press release, Wilkinson has welcomed the bill, stressing its crucial importance in the creation of a safer, greener Canada.
“Reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions is what the science says we must achieve, and this 30-year project will require every future government to take actions to grow our economy while reducing emissions in every sector,” he said. “This achievement is necessary to ensure our kids and grandkids can live in a world with cleaner air and water and to ensure our businesses maintain and gain a competitive edge by producing the low-carbon products the world wants to buy, well into the future.”
But critics argue that the plan falls short of their expectations.
In the absence of strong penalties imposed on the government if it fails to meet its targets, opposition parties say the plan is nothing but a smokescreen.
Activists also worry that the current plan will not hold the current government accountable. Groups like Climate Action Network Canada have called for intermediary 2025 and 2030 targets to ensure accountability and avoid backloading climate goals onto future governments, which could end up repealing the bill altogether.
“After five years in power, and a record of unfulfilled emissions reductions commitments, the government has given us more smoke and mirrors,” Green Party Leader Annamie Paul told reporters on Thursday. “There is only talk of accountability about a plan that will be developed at some future date. That's not what we expected, that is not what we need.”
Canada is one of the 120 countries that have committed to net-zero emissions by 2050.
Some provinces and cities, such as Guelph, Vancouver, Hamilton, Toronto, Halifax, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Quebec, have already committed to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Recently, South Korea and Japan, which both sit among the world’s most fossil fuel-reliant countries, have also taken concrete steps towards achieving carbon neutrality within the next 30 years.