On November 19, 2020, Bill C-12 (An Act respecting transparency and accountability in Canada’s efforts to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050) was introduced by the Government of Canada in the House of Commons for its first reading. This federal legislation, bearing the short title Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act, intends to set national targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and promote transparency and accountability in achieving those targets.
This legislation aims to align Canada’s international commitment to climate change mitigation with its national greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. If passed in its present form, Bill C-12 will:
- require that an emissions reduction plan, a progress report, and an assessment report with respect to the national greenhouse gas emissions targets for 2030, 2035, 2040, and 2045 be tabled in both the Senate and House of Commons;
- provide for participation by Provincial Governments, Indigenous peoples of Canada, and other interested persons;
- establish an advisory body to provide the Minister of the Environment, or another federal minister designated under the Act, with advice, including advice with respect to sectoral strategies the Government of Canada could implement to achieve its net-zero emissions by 2050 objective;
- require the Minister of Finance to prepare an annual report regarding the key measures the federal public administration has taken to manage its financial risks and opportunities related to climate change; and
- require the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development to, at least once every five years, examine and report on the Government of Canada’s implementation of these climate change mitigation measures.
Although the intention of this legislation is admirable, whether a net-zero greenhouse gas emission target is in fact attainable remains unclear.
The question of the federal government’s jurisdiction to regulate greenhouse gas emissions to combat climate change is awaiting a decision from the Supreme Court of Canada. In September 2020, the Supreme Court of Canada heard appeals from decisions of the Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Ontario Courts of Appeal challenging the constitutionality of the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act which sets a minimum standard for greenhouse gas emission reduction across the country and applies to provinces that have not adopted their own equivalent standards. The Supreme Court’s ultimate decision regarding the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act may pave the way for increased federal climate change laws or, alternatively, provide grounds for challenges to future federal climate change legislation.
To achieve the net-zero emissions objective intended by Bill C-12, substantial cooperation between the federal, provincial and territorial government will be necessary. Emission reduction strategies limited to what the Government of Canada can legally implement are unlikely to get the country to net-zero emissions without additional legislation being implemented by the provinces and territories.
Bill C-12 still has a number of hurdles to overcome before it becomes law, including two more readings in the House of Commons and three readings in the Senate. Furthermore, it may be subject to a further committee review before both the House of Commons and the Senate prior to receiving royal assent.
Dentons’ Environmental Law team is monitoring developments and will provide updates and analysis as Bill C-12 makes its way through the legislative process.