Full right climate press in mandate letters, but environmentalists will wait and see
Cabinet ministers’ mandate letters released last week hint at a whole-of-government approach to tackling the climate crisis, but the devil will be in the details, many environmentalists say.
Mandate letters signal the government’s expected priorities, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has asked the cabinet to seek solutions to climate change that divide many critical tasks across multiple ministries.
“We’re seeing support, at least on paper, for a whole-of-government approach to climate change, and that’s really important because historically climate has only been addressed by ECCC (Environment and Climate Change Canada),” said the director of national policies. with the Caroline Brouillette Climate Action Network Canada.
“We know that climate change affects every sector of our economy and societies, so a whole-of-government approach is absolutely necessary. ”
Build climate resilient infrastructure, cap emissions from the oil and gas sector, achieve a 100% net electricity grid by 2035, provide international climate finance, develop a whole-of-government emergency preparedness strategy and demand that Federally regulated institutions develop and disclose climate risks, and net zero plans are just a few of the important climate-related proposals included in the Liberal government’s new mandate letters.
These objectives are distributed among departments such as Public Safety, International Development, Natural Resources, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Finance and others.
Climate change is, for example, strongly reflected in Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s mandate letter, which requires her to ensure that all budget measures are in line with the net zero target by 2050, to work on just transition legislation with other ministries, to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies. in tandem with Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) and launch a $ 5 billion green bond program, among others.
Perhaps more importantly, his mandate letter demands mandatory climate-related financial disclosures and net zero plans from federally regulated institutions, including banks, pension funds, and other government agencies. .
It remains to be seen whether these mandatory disclosures and net-zero plans are “going to be a really strong regulatory approach or not, but it could have a bigger impact than most other government measures,” said Dale Marshall, program manager. National Environmental Defense.
“If this is a strong regulation, it could have a huge impact on the flow of money – private and public – in the future and either lead to more climate action or lead to more fuels. fossils, ”he added.
Adam Scott, director of Shift Action for Pension Wealth and Planet Health, told Canada’s National Observer that the finance minister’s new mandate letter implied that a number of crown corporations will have to change their mandates to s ” align with net zero goals.
“Export Development Canada really tops this list,” said Scott.
EDC keeps much of its funding secret for stated business competitiveness reasons, but its international fossil fuel funding is estimated to be between $ 2 billion and $ 9 billion from 2018 to 2020. EDC also has a separate commitment to end the international fossil fuel financing, which would bring it closer to Ottawa’s climate goals.
Canada also provides more funding to the fossil fuel sector than any other G20 country, channeling that money primarily through EDC. For example, in 2018-19, Enbridge received more than $ 300 million from EDC for business in the United States, while Parex Resources of Calgary received at least $ 94.5 million in loans for the oil and gas extraction in Colombia during the same fiscal year.
EDC’s billions are paltry compared to the hundreds of billions in assets managed by the Canada Pension Plan and the Public Sector Pension Investment Board, two crown corporations that control nearly $ 750 billion. dollars in assets around the world. The Canada Post pension plan is smaller, but still has about $ 27 billion in assets.
As Crown corporations, they are all expected to develop plans to align with a net zero future, making the Department of Finance a key player in Canada’s future climate policy.
“It’s great to promise that budgets should be aligned with climate goals, but when we don’t really have clarity on what those goals are – for example, reducing fossil fuels instead of increasing them while investing in unproven carbon capture – it’s hard to put much value in that promise, ”said Amara Possian, Campaigns Director for Canada at climate group 350.org.
Scott said another important area to watch will be the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI), the federal financial regulator. OSFI regulates banks, pension funds, insurance companies and other financial institutions. Although net zero plans will need to be developed, how quickly emissions will be reduced is an open question, which could make the Paris Agreement target of keeping warming at 1.5 ° C impossible if reductions are made. significant emissions are not quickly reached.
“Good goals are really essential, but we won’t achieve any of these if creative accounting is allowed to continue, and that’s what we have a lot right now,” Scott said. “Creative accounting can take the form of disrupting offsets, it can disrupt the base year, and it can disrupt greenwashing. ”
Among mandate letters from other government departments, NRCan has also seen a significant shift in its priorities since 2019.
“NRCan’s role has gone from being seen as a promoter of natural resource extraction in a context of the status quo to positioning the department as a proactive player in the energy transition,” said Brouillette. “Historically, ECCC and NRCan worked in silos rather than in a complementary and cohesive fashion, (but now) we see a lot of issues shared by Ministers (Steven) Guilbeault and (Jonathan) Wilkinson.
In fact, the first point of the 2019 mandate letter from then-Minister of Natural Resources Seamus O’Regan was to “build and complete the Trans Mountain Pipeline Twinning,” with further references in the letter. to ensure that the energy sector remains competitive. In contrast, Natural Resources Minister Wilkinson’s 2021 mandate letter makes no mention of Trans Mountain (TMX) once, and the only reference to the oil and gas sector is to cap emissions.
Possian said TMX would be a litmus test for the federal government’s commitment to respond in a meaningful way to climate change given that every credible energy forecast, whether international or domestic, shows oil demand falling across the board. scenarios.
“You would think that a budget aligned with our climate goals would reduce public funding for this project. But for now, Trudeau doesn’t even seem open to reconsidering the pipeline approval following these reports, along with wildfires and flooding along the pipeline route, so it’s difficult. imagine Chrystia Freeland presenting a budget that is truly in line with this government’s commitment to keep global warming below 1.5 ° C, ”she told Canada’s National Observer.
Environmentalists have long called for a whole-of-government approach to tackling climate degradation so that the progress of one ministry is not dashed by another, but a more comprehensive strategy raises concerns about who is ultimately responsible for what .
“It seems like this is an open question with this government where the money really stops on the climate, and that could be a problem given the lack of clarity in our government’s approach to actually keeping its climate promises.” , said Possian.
Recently, the federal climate watchdog accused the Trudeau government of “political inconsistency” in a series of scathing reports after discovering it was pursuing policies, like TMX, that directly undermined its own climate goals. A few days later, the Prime Minister announced the mandates of its new cabinet committees and had two climate committees with identical mandates but totally different members.
Despite multiple attempts at clarification, PMO spokesperson Cecely Roy could not identify any difference between the two.
“As we end the fight against COVID-19 and build a resilient recovery, both committees will be able to work on policies to ensure they promote economic growth that works for Canadians and builds a brighter future.” cleaner and greener, ”she repeatedly told the National Observer earlier this month.
Going forward, however, recently passed legislation could help hold the government accountable for its action on climate change, Brouillette said.
“There are certainly concerns about liability for climate change. Historically, we have missed all the climate objectives that we set for ourselves, ”she explained. “However, I think a large part of that answer can be found … in the Canada Net Emissions Accountability Act, where a minister, Minister Guilbeault, has the responsibility to table plans that show how we are achieving our climate goals. ”
This plan should be tabled in March.
“I think this will be a key moment to establish an important precedent in terms of transparency, accountability and the rigor of the foreground that will be tabled as part of this new climate responsibility framework that we have in Canada, but also a place to assign clear responsibility for certain specific measures, ”she said.