Third reading of Bill C-12, An Act respecting transparency and accountability in Canada’s efforts to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050

By: The Hon. Peter Harder

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Hon. Peter Harder: Honourable senators, I rise in support of Bill C-12, a piece of legislation aimed at helping Canada achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050. The framework in this legislation is an important step forward, and I am pleased that this Forty-third Parliament will take meaningful climate action.

The basic question I ask is this: What is the climate legacy we wish to pass on to our grandchildren? I doubt I’ll be here in 2050, but I am raising the alarm so that our generation does not continue to fail them.

We have no time to waste. Much bolder measures than Bill C-12 will be required to avoid catastrophe on this planet. However, together with carbon pricing, green investment and innovation, this legislation gives Canada a fighting chance to do our part to meet humanity’s greatest ever challenge. Essentially, this bill requires an emissions reduction plan, with the benefit of an expert advisory body and the government reporting requirements to meet incremental goals. This statute will also survive any change in government in the decades to come, providing there are no attempts to repeal. On that point, the Senate of Canada ought to be paying particular vigilance.

The House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development strengthened this bill, adding reporting requirements in 2023 and 2025 to work toward the critical benchmark of 2030. According to the 2018 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, to avoid catastrophe emissions must fall by about 43% from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching net zero around 2050. These are the numbers required to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. I’ll describe the scientific importance of that threshold shortly. The IPCC commented that achieving this goal will require “. . . rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems . . . .”

Unfortunately, between 2016 and 2019, Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions increased by 3.3%. The recent growth rate is the highest of any G7 country. Since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2016, all other G7 countries, except the United States, have decreased their emissions. Those decreases were between 4.4% in Italy and 10.8% in Germany.

Canada is a wealthy country with very high per-capita emissions. In fact, Canadians are among the top per-capita emitters from fossil fuel combustion, with emissions of 3.4 times the world average in 2019. We’re also stewards of a large part of the natural world, with collective responsibilities to protect many relatively pristine and globally consequential ecosystems. At the same time, Canada is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world, and the Arctic is warming at three times the global rate.

Canada is not doing its fair share to reduce emissions, let alone take a leadership role. Progress has also been difficult to achieve. Just this year, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the federal carbon-pricing legislation, preserving our country’s most effective policy tool after the Governments of Saskatchewan, Ontario and Alberta challenged the law.

Fortunately, there is now almost consensus at the federal level with climate change as a reality and that a price on carbon is rational and efficient in reducing emissions.

Using that tool and massive green investment, we can and must fulfill our commitments under the Paris Agreement.

Canada must earn the credibility to positively influence international cooperation and prevent disaster. To this end, with Bill C-12, the government will be required to develop a rational plan with accountability for its success. Constructively, senators can help develop and support policies to meet our Paris targets.

We can also depoliticize the policy debate through a long-term and evidence-based lens. With climate change, we must rededicate our commitment to following the science, just as we have followed the science in terms of our pandemic response.

Colleagues, the IPCC report begins with a reference that states the challenge before us. From Antoine de Saint Exupéry:

As for the future, your task is not to foresee it, but to enable it.

So let us consider our options in terms of the difference between a planet with a 1.5-degree increase versus a 2-degree increase. According to the IPCC report, keeping warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius will limit the risks of increases in heavy precipitation events, including the number of very intense tropical cyclones and hurricanes. Globally, Western Canada and Eastern Canada are two regions most at risk from increases in such events at conditions of 2 degrees.

Limiting the increase to 1.5 degrees will also substantially reduce the probability of extreme drought and water scarcity. This lower rate of change will enhance the ability of natural and human systems to adapt in terms of ecosystem resilience and food production.

At 1.5 degrees, the risks of catastrophic poverty in terms of energy, food and water availability can be mitigated in Africa, Asia and small island states. At 1.5 degrees, there would be significantly less risk of flood hazard and a much lower risk of extinction for many species. At 1.5 degrees, the likelihood of an Arctic Ocean free of ice in the summer would be once per century compared to once per decade at 2 degrees. By 2100, the global sea levels would be 10 centimetres lower at 1.5 degrees compared to the alternative.

Particularly striking, at 1.5 degrees, 70% to 90% of the coral reefs will be destroyed. At 2 degrees, over 99% of the reefs would die.

We must hold the line at 1.5 degrees, including allowing changes in our lifestyles. Compared to the sacrifices of previous generations, such as those who endured the Great Depression and the Second World War, very little has been asked of us. For example, we can fly less, buy cleaner vehicles and consume more plant-based foods with a much lighter environmental footprint.

The tangible costs of climate change are already evident. Wildfires in Australia, California and Western Canada have been devastating and are a sign of things to come. In Quebec, 66 people died in the heat wave in Montreal in 2018. The Îles de la Madeleine are suffering massive erosion due to the lack of protection from sea ice. The 2019 Hurricane Dorian, worsened by climate change, has caused extensive damage in Halifax.

The consequences of our failure to act in a rich country like Canada will be disastrous for the most impoverished populations on this planet and will take a shameful place in history, unless we change course now.

Perhaps the greatest crime of all is being perpetuated in respect of mass extinction. The eradication of species is an incalculable theft from all future generations and an atrocity against Mother Nature and our fellow creatures. Climate change is occurring at the same time as many other human activities contributing to mass extinction, including habitat destruction, wildlife trafficking, plastic pollution, overfishing and the spread of invasive species. Yet climate change undermines whatever resilience those strained wildlife populations may have left.

In 2018, the World Wildlife Fund released a major report indicating that 60% of vertebrates — mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians — have been eradicated since 1970. Since I was 18-years-old, more than 60% of vertebrates have been eradicated.

A 2019 UN report found that a million animals and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades. This die-off is what scientists now refer to as the Anthropocene extinction, named after us in our dishonour, constituting the sixth mass extinction in the history of the planet.

For context, the last mass extinction in this series occurred 66 million years ago when an asteroid slammed into the earth, killing dinosaurs and wiping out three quarters of animal and plant species. In considering these issues, we must think of the younger generations and the future generations.

In 2019, climate change protests that began with teenagers in Europe spread around the world. On September 27 of that year, hundreds of thousands of Canadians took to the streets calling for bold climate action. Canadians of all generations marched in cities from St. John’s to Edmonton to Vancouver, and as far north as Inuvik in the Northwest Territories. Greta Thunberg met with Prime Minister Trudeau and rallied young people in Montreal. Here in Ottawa, just outside Parliament, one little girl held a sign asking if there would still be whales, turtles and cheetahs when she is 18. An older marcher held a sign urging seniors to fight for the planet. One young person carried a picture of Dr. Seuss’s famous environmental messenger, The Lorax, referred to yesterday by Senator Coyle with the ominous warning: “unless.”

Honourable senators, with Bill C-12, and in our own work, we must stand with and for Canada’s young people, our grandchildren. They have much more to lose with our decisions on environmental matters than we do and their interests are not well represented in the political process or institutions.

In this country and around the world we must put aside political divisions. We must cooperate because one thing is certain: If we do not work together, we will fail together. Just this month, the Parliamentary Budget Officer’s report indicated that the government is not on track to meet its targets. If Bill C-12 and measures like carbon pricing cannot reduce our emissions due to political barriers to rational policies, it may be that the courts will eventually play a role, given the impact of climate change on human rights.

In 2019, the Supreme Court of the Netherlands ordered that the national government take further action against climate change, requiring a 25% reduction from 1990 emissions by the end of 2020. In 2020, the Supreme Court of Ireland quashed the government’s national mitigation plan because it did not give enough detail on the reduction of greenhouse gases. There have been important decisions this year in France and Germany, with the German Federal Constitutional Court indicating that current inadequate measures violate the freedoms of young people. In Canada, there are currently efforts to bring a climate case before the Federal Court of Appeal. Nonetheless, in legislatures and through executive action, all efforts must be directed toward rational and effective ways to reduce emissions.

With the challenge of climate change, we live at the most consequential time in human history. We must not be the broken link in the chain. If we do not cooperate toward the shared and necessary objectives of saving the environment, we will fail ourselves, our children, our grandchildren and all generations. We will fail the miraculous creatures with whom we share this planet. We are now their only hope, and their only threat. We must choose to do better. With Bill C-12, Parliament can commit to taking all the necessary action to begin to turn that tide by creating a rational plan that we can work to implement.

In the Senate, we should contribute to this goal in the critical years ahead and, for the sake of our grandchildren, we should and must be bold.

Colleagues, I call the question.

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